By Ken Klavon, USGA
Phoenix – An emotional Lorena Ochoa, who retired from the LPGA Tour at age 28 last April, accepted the Bob Jones Award on Saturday, February 5, 2011 at the USGA’s Annual Meeting.
Presented annually since 1955, the USGA’s highest honor is given in recognition of distinguished sportsmanship in golf. The Award seeks to recognize a person who emulates Jones’ spirit, his personal qualities and his attitude toward the game and its players.
After a video tribute highlighting her achievements was shown, Ochoa accepted the award from USGA Executive Committee member Geoff Yang and USGA President Jim Hyler before taking the podium.
Clearly shaken, she said: “It’s a great honor to be here tonight. This speech was hard to write, but it would have been easier in Spanish,” she said to laughter. “When I learned I was getting this award I was speechless.”
Similar to Jones, who retired at 28 after winning the Grand Slam in 1930, Ochoa chose to walk away from competitive golf as the No. 1 player in the world. This, after telling her mother as a little girl that she one day wanted to be the best female golfer in the world. She devotes much of her time to the foundation she created, which has benefited hundreds of Mexico’s underprivileged children.
The Lorena Ochoa Foundation runs La Barranca, an elementary school in her hometown of Guadalajara with an enrollment of 250 students. The foundation also began operating a high school for 21 freshman students in 2008.
Ochoa has said she played golf for a reason: the foundation. She used it as motivation to keep playing and practicing for many years.
Ochoa took up the game at the age of 5. Three years later, Ochoa was already competing internationally. She won her first state event at 6 and as a junior golfer won 44 national titles in Mexico. In 1999, she was a semifinalist in both the U.S. Girls’ Junior and U.S. Women’s Amateur championships.
She said she holds a special place in her heart for the USGA.
“It’s how they make you feel, how they talk to you, how they give you advice,” said Ochoa, who spent some time afterward signing autographs.
A two-time NCAA Player of the Year at the University of Arizona, Ochoa set an NCAA record in her sophomore year by winning her first seven tournaments and eight of the 10 events she entered.
In a 2½-year stretch that began in April 2006, Ochoa won 21 times on the LPGA Tour, including two major championships.
Beloved in her native Mexico, Ochoa married Andres Conesa Labastida in December of 2009. She ended her acceptance speech by singling him out and saying she will always be by his side. The couple lives in Mexico. Ochoa remains active in golf, playing in exhibitions and hosting an LPGA Tour event – the Lorena Ochoa Invitational – to benefit her foundation.
She touched on the subject of playing competitive golf again, saying only that her focus was on helping the youngsters in her foundation to learn how to read and write.
“What makes a great person,” she said, “is the way you look at things. God gave me so many blessings in so many ways. … Golf has given me more than I ever expected."