Hola Lorena Ochoa! by Dave Finn
Riviera Maya Mexico – How often do you get the chance to play golf with a former number #1 golfer in the world? No, not Rory, Lorena Ochoa – the #1 female golfer in world for 157 weeks in a row and Mexico’s national icon.
That was my great fortune when I was invited to participate in the Annual Aero México Golf Tournament at the El Camaleon Mayakoba Golf Course in the Riviera Maya, Mexico. While it was only a single hole and a single shot, I understand how Lorena has managed to win the hearts of not only her fellow Mexicans but fans around the world.
Lorena did more than simply lend her ‘Celebrity’ name to the event. From the Opening Celebration Dinner to the charity auction held to raise funds for her foundation and throughout the entire event, Lorena was engaged and involved creating magic ‘Mexican moments’ not only for the tournament participants but for others who did not have the same opportunity that I had to meet her personally. More on that later…
I had played the El Camaleon Golf Course on a previous visit to Cancun and in my mind I rated it one of my ‘top 5’ favorites in the world so it was with great anticipation that we headed out for our day of play. When we signed up for the tournament, we had been asked to submit our official handicaps and upon arrival that morning learned that we were playing individually using the ‘Stableford’ scoring system. What can I say, I was ‘jacked up’ to say the least for the opportunity to play with Lorena Ochoa and the possibility of winning a return trip to Mexico!
Our group started off on the 13th hole, a narrow Par 5. I drew first and hit my first drive straight down the middle of the fairway, in prime position to attack the green in two. My guest Mark launched his drive just as straight and almost as long. Meanwhile our playing partner Patricio snap hooks his and Humberto slices his into the mangoes that line the fairway. Unfortunately, they both have to hit provisional shots, my worst nightmare. Fortunately for them both found their first shots but had to lay-up. Feeling confident that I could make the green in 2, I pulled out my trusty 3 wood, only to chunk it 20 yards. Determined to salvage the hole I take out my 5 wood and hook it into the mangoes and its’ all ‘downhill’ from there. My opening hole scores as a triple bogey 8. Everyone else bogeyed. All I can say is thank goodness the drinks on the course were included in our round!
Sometimes it’s best not to relive every hole after the game, if you know what I mean, but I have to share just one more. The highlight of the round, if not the entire trip was waiting for us at the 16th hole where we met up with Lorena. She graciously signed autographs, carried on a conversation in both Spanish and English, smiling sincerely even when she was having her picture taken with me! While that was powerful, I was equally impressed when this diminutive 5’6” frame pulled out her driver and smacked a perfect draw shot over 355 yards. She had left us with only a 165 yard shot on this Par 5. With my head in the clouds, I yanked my second shot into the lake and hobble my way to a double bogey. Talk about being embarrassed! Good thing Lorena didn’t finish the hole with us. Afterwards, I heard she reached the 374 yard 6th hole and the 371 yard par 4, 11th hole with her drive.
After the round, I spoke with Ernesto Perez, the Golf Operations Manager for El Camaleon at the time. We had met on our last trip to the Cancun/Riviera Maya and I wanted to thank him for his kind hospitality, then and now, and to tell him that despite my lacklustre performance today, my second time playing his course reinforced why it ranked in my ‘Top 5’. I also wanted to tell him not only what a treat it was to see how Lorena hit the ball but also how I was struck by her genuine interest in people as she signed autographs and had her picture taken with each and every one of us. He went on to tell me a story about Lorena when she was a teenager and a spectator at a tour event in Mexico where her idol was playing. She asked him for his autograph, which he flatly refused and she was broken hearted. Ever since then she vowed to always take the time to sign an autograph and have a personal word with a fan. Another insight into what makes Lorena the champion she is and a good lesson in humility for me.
That evening, Fernando shuttled us back to our room. As he loaded up our clubs he asked where we had golfed that day. I told him El Camaleon and that we had had the privilege of playing a hole with Lorena Ochoa. To say that he was amazed and astounded is putting it mildly.” She’s my hero” he blurted out. “How I wish I had met you yesterday so I could have asked you if there was any way you could get an autograph for me.” There was no denying that he was a true fan. The enthusiasm in his voice and the look in his eyes said it all so I reached into my bag and handed him the ball Lorena had signed for me. “Are you sure?” asked Fernando, “This is the best gift I have ever received and I will cherish it.” Fortunately for me Lorena had also signed my cooler bag so we both had a memento of the occasion.
The next morning I ran into Fernando and joking asked if he still had the ball or had he sold it on E-Bay? Without hesitation, he confirmed what I already knew. “No way! When I showed it to my co-workers they accused me of signing it myself but we both know that is not true. I am keeping this forever!” There are times like this you realize how lucky you truly are!
A couple of years later, while I was visiting Riviera Nayarit Mexico, I had the great privilege of meeting Jason Taylor, the President/CEO of the Lorena Ochoa Golf Foundation. When I reminisced about my personal experience he confirmed to me that “She is the same person whether in private or in front of the camera. I could tell you dozens of stories about how nice she is that would leave you shaking your head in disbelief”. He also let me know that Lorena has two charities, one in Mexico (www.fundacionlorenaochoa.org) and one in the USA. “The USA charity is Lorena’s Links (www.LorenasLinks.org) whose mission is to provide opportunity for children and adults with family based health, fitness, education and inclusion programs that are delivered through family golf activities in Southern California and is expanding into Texas in 2014.”
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