This is a year that Gaby Lopez and Alejandra Llaneza never dreamed of as girls growing up with the game in Mexico City.
They learned golf at Club de Golf Mexico, with Llaneza, five years older, leading the way through the junior circuit, on to collegiate golf success and now the LPGA. Llaneza, 27, played at the University of Arizona, worked through the Symetra Tour and on to the LPGA. Lopez, 22, played at the University of Arkansas and is a rookie on the LPGA this season. They have played in the shadow of and under the watchful eye of World Golf Hall of Famer Lorena Ochoa.
They dreamed big about making it to the world’s top tour for women. But the potential of representing their country in the Olympic Games only recently became a reality, with both players solid entries in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for Mexico in the first Olympic Games with golf since 1904. The women’s 72-hole event is slated for Aug. 22-28. The men compete the week before, with Rodolfo Cazubon and Carlos Ortiz representing Mexico.
“The Olympics is actually the reason I turned professional late last year,” Lopez said. “I never thought of the Olympics as a golfer. What every athlete dreams of is representing your country. We’re ready to take our place in the Olympics.
“I’m very, very excited not only because we’re golfers. This will not be like another golf tournament. There will be different countries, different athletes. I can’t wait to see all of the athletes in the Olympic Village. I can’t wait for the Closing Ceremonies. I am going to stay for that and fly from Rio to Canada (Canadian Pacific Women’s Open) for the next event on Monday. It’s a long trip, but it’s worth it.”
Llaneza and Lopez have known each other since they were pre-teens. They received a boost toward professional careers via the Impulsando el Golf Professional Mexico (IGPM), a non-profit organization led by Monterrey, Mexico businesswomen Rosalba Papacostas and Marina Villasana to benefit aspiring professional women golfers. The organization, formed in 2008 after Mexican women met a roadblock on their road to the LPGA, raises money from businesses and individual donors to pay entry fees for Mexican professionals.
“Once you make it to the LPGA it’s easy to get sponsors,” Llaneza said last year. “But it’s very hard to bet on you when you’re just starting your career. It’s like starting a job without previous experience. Everything is done by the book. We’re like a team.”
Even though the Olympics format calls for 72 holes of individual stroke play “we know we can achieve our dreams in the future together,” Lopez said.
Lopez is playing her rookie season on the LPGA, where she currently ranks third in the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year standings. This weekend she will earn a Communications degree from the University of Arkansas. In three months, the Olympics will dominate her summer.
Ochoa teamed with Greg Norman to bid as co-designers for the Olympic course in Rio. American Gil Hanse won the bid, but Ochoa will still be involved in the Olympics, albeit only as an observer.
“Lorena didn’t want to be the star of the show, she wanted the focus to be on the players,” Lopez said. “She wanted respect for us. Just having her e-mail me every week on the LPGA to inspire me has been incredible.
“I get chills every time I think about representing Mexico. Wearing the colors on the golf course will be the ultimate.”