She got the news from a friend, which made it even more special. When the LPGA Hall of Fame Committee voted to change its criteria for entry and eliminate the 10-year minimum playing requirement, Lorena Ochoa retroactively qualified as a member of the most elite Hall of Fame in sports.
Her longtime friend and mentor, Nancy Lopez, called her on March 9, the day of the World Golf Hall of Fame ceremony, to give her the news.
“My brother told me that Nancy Lopez wanted to talk to me,” Ochoa said from her home outside Mexico City. “That was a surprise, but I thought she might have an event or maybe she wanted me to play in a fundraiser or something. We spoke and caught up a little bit about family and things that we have going on today. And then she said, ‘Well, I have some great news for you.’”
Lopez told Ochoa that she would become a member of the toughest club to join. In order to enter the LPGA Hall of Fame, a player must have either won a major championship, been awarded the Vare Trophy for low stroke average, or been the Rolex LPGA Player of the Year, which is also awarded based on points, not votes. Also, the player must have accumulated 27 points, which are awarded as follows: one point for each official LPGA Tour win; two points for each major championship win; and one point each for capturing the Vare Trophy and Rolex Player of the Year. Until last month, the LPGA Hall also required that a player be active on Tour for 10 years. So, in theory, a player could win 30 times in a career, and if she had no majors, no Vare Trophy and never captured Player of the Year, she would not be eligible. No other Hall comes close. That is why the previously configured Hall only had 25 members.
Ochoa won 27 times, including two majors, from 2004 to 2009. During that stretch she won the Player of the Year award and Vare Trophy four times, giving her a total of 37 points. There was only one problem: She retired after eight seasons.
“When I retired, all the media and really everybody around the world, they were worried about the 10-year (requirement) on tour,” Ochoa said. “But I made the decision because it was the right time. It was right for me. I was done. I was really tired, and golf wasn’t my priority anymore. I had other things that I wanted to do, other goals that I wanted to accomplish. It was easy for me to walk away.
“I looked at (the Hall of Fame) like the Olympics. It didn’t happen in my time, and I was fine with that. I understood and I never felt as though (the rules) should be changed. For me, it was easy. I feel pretty happy that I accomplished all the things that I needed to do to be in the Hall of Fame, but I never worried about the 10-year rule. Getting all the points in such a short time, I felt happy about that.
“I was truly surprised to hear the news (of the change) from Nancy. I never saw the call going that way.”
Other changes include adding a point for winning an Olympic gold medal, an event that wasn’t contemplated when the Hall was founded. And all of the remaining 13 Founders of the LPGA not otherwise in will be inducted, a tribute that is, in the eyes of many, long overdue.
As for Ochoa, she will be on site at the Chevron Championship for a ceremonial induction. It is the first time she has visited Rancho Mirage and the Mission Hills Country Club since her retirement a dozen years ago.
“This was all super unexpected,” she said. “I was not thinking about (the Hall of Fame) or anything about that. I’ve been away from the LPGA for some time and I’m living outside Mexico City, doing a lot of other activities.
“I was standing in my yard when Nancy called with this great news, and I was like ‘Wow, what do I do with this?’ I got in my car and was on the way to pick up the kids from school, but Nancy had said, ‘You can’t tell anybody. Maybe you can tell your parents, but please don’t share the news.’ So, I didn’t say anything. Later on, I talked to my parents and my father was very excited.
“I was able, I hope, to express my feelings about how special it was that Nancy was the one to deliver the news. As much as I admire her, and the feeling of the LPGA being our family for all of those years, it was very special coming from Nancy.
“For me to be able to close the circle and be there with such good friends and players that I admire so much, I’m really excited.”