Former Rolex Rankings No. 1 Lorena Ochoa made an emotional return this week to Evian-les-Bains where on Saturday night she was the recipient of a very special award, the inaugural Evian Championship Prize for a Better Tomorrow presented by Rolex, in honor of the humanitarian work achieved by her foundation for underprivileged children in Mexico.
Ochoa, Mexico's greatest ever player who won 27 times on the LPGA Tour, was presented with the award by Lindsey Vonn, the downhill skiing champion at the 2010 Winter Olympics who piled up a remarkable 82 World Cup race victories during her stellar career, and Laurent Delanney, the Associate Director of Global Sponsorship for Rolex, at the end of a lavish ceremony in the Hotel Royal.
As the hugely popular Ochoa accepted the award, loud applause erupted in a packed function room where fellow golfers Annika Sorenstam, Helen Alfredsson, Lexi Thompson, Brooke Henderson, Anna Nordqvist, Gaby Lopez and Maria Fassi were among those in attendance.
"Franck told me not to cry so I'm not going to cry!" Ochoa said with a broad smile as she turned her head toward Franck Riboud, Honorary Chairman of Danone and Chairman of The Evian Championship, and Jacques Bungert, Vice Chairman of The Evian Championship. "First of all congratulations on your 25th anniversary (of The Evian Championship) to both of you. What your father (Antoine Riboud) and you started, this is a great, great tournament which the world loved right from the beginning.
"I didn't win this tournament, so maybe this is my trophy," Ochoa, who competed in the Evian Masters when it was a regular Ladies European Tour event, said with a grin. "I got second place, third place, fourth place, fifth place, and I was close a few times, so I'm going to take this as my trophy for this tournament. I think it's beautiful, the idea of this award, especially when you talk about how we can leave a better world for the kids and the next generation and how can they improve, not only the underprivileged kids but everybody. I think it's very important to recognize that. I feel that I have been blessed to be able to play golf and not only that but to take that opportunity to achieve many things outside the golf course. I feel blessed to have the support of my family, my sponsors and my friends and I work really hard every day. It doesn't get easier, the retirement (from competitive golf), it doesn't get easier! It's like playing golf. Sometimes it goes really good and sometimes it's difficult! But at the end of the day, it's all worth it."
Ochoa, who was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2017, shocked the sports world by announcing her retirement from competition in 2010 at the age of 28. She has since made just one appearance on the LPGA Tour, competing in the 2012 Lorena Ochoa Invitational where she tied for 18th.
However, she has remained very busy in her retirement raising three children and devoting a lot of her time to the Lorena Ochoa Foundation and its associated school named La Barranca, which is located in her hometown of Guadalajara and was founded in 1998 to support underprivileged children. The school supports children with education based on the development of thought, expression, dialogue, art, teamwork, and social improvement within the community. Involvement by parents is required and, to date, more than 5,000 children have passed through its classes.
LIFELONG ROLE MODEL
Lopez and Fassi, who both compete on the LPGA Tour, were thrilled to attend Saturday's ceremony in honor of someone who has been a lifelong role model for them, on and off the course.
"Every time I ask the name Lorena Ochoa on tour right now, it's impressive the impact that she has actually had in the past couple of years and decade, since she retired," said Lopez, who clinched her first victory on the LPGA Tour at last year's Blue Bay LPGA. "People right now still admire her, respect her and miss her. To me, she has been my number one role model. Growing up I actually dreamed of playing professional golf because of her. Her impact in Mexico, not only for golfers but for the whole country, has been tremendous. She has this amazing foundation for kids with low income and she has changed so many lives on and off the golf course. Every time I think of the name Lorena Ochoa, I think of someone who is so humble and how great a former world number one she was on and off the golf course, how respectful and how humble she handled things every time she was at the top."
Fassi, who made her debut as a professional at this year's U.S. Women's Open soon after winning the NCAA National Championship individual title for the University of Arkansas women's golf team, was in full agreement.
Asked how she had been impacted by Ochoa, Fassi replied: "It's so many things honestly but for me, she's just an amazing role model – golf-wise but then also the person she is and what people don't see is even better than what she did as a golfer. She gives back to the community, she gives back with her foundation to so many little kids, she inspired so many golfers like she did with me when I was younger, and she still does that with me today. It's amazing to be able to call her a friend, to be able to have her as a Mexican and to have her represent us in the way that she does as a role model. It's just unbelievable."
The massive impact made by the inspirational Ochoa through her foundation and her years of dominance on the LPGA Tour marked her out as the perfect first winner of the Evian Championship Prize for a Better Tomorrow presented by Rolex. This award was established to celebrate an individual or an organization linked to women's golf that has made a significant impact on their local community in general and on the world as a whole through a particular initiative. This award also stands for the values shared by The Evian Championship and Rolex - the values of excellence, generosity, continuity and inspiration.
"Tonight we are really proud to announce a new initiative that we have been working on with our friends at Rolex ... and we felt that it would be very interesting to start, very humbly, with the first edition, a new initiative, the idea of this Evian Championship Prize for a Better Tomorrow presented by Rolex," Bungert said up on stage shortly before Ochoa was presented with the award. "The whole idea is to shine a light on an individual or an organization linked to women's golf who are trying to make sure that some people can live differently thanks to the initiative and make a difference. The whole idea is to have a societal and social impact on the local community or the world globally, be it for kids, for health, for nutrition, or whatever."
Delanney added: "Together with The Evian Championship, we wanted to create a movement and we wanted to create a prize to be able to celebrate people who inspire us through their amazing achievements and equally by what they give back. We thought it was important to recognize these people because they make a difference, they make a difference to our world today and they make a difference to our world tomorrow.
"We also wanted to recognize and celebrate a certain spirit, a spirit which I think is completely embodied by these two great champions sitting here, a spirit where you are always striving for perfection," Delanney said with a nod to Ochoa and Vonn. "Where you are fighting to get to excellence and you are always innovating and pushing boundaries, and then you are prepared to share the opportunities that you have earned and the experience that you have gained."