RANCHO MIRAGE, CALIFORNIA | They almost missed the turn. When Lorena Ochoa and her husband Andrés Conesa drove in from Palm Springs International Airport to Mission Hills Country Club, Andrés, who is the CEO of Aeroméxico, looked around at the intersection of Bob Hope and Dinah Shore Drive and said, “Do we turn left here?”
It was easy to get confused. The place has certainly changed in the dozen years since Ochoa last visited Rancho Mirage and The Chevron Championship. “Yes, yes,” Ochoa said to her husband before they missed the turn and ended up at the Agua Caliente Casino.
There was a large contingent waiting on her when she arrived at Mission Hills. Ochoa was a couple of minutes late for her press conference on Wednesday after the announcement that she had been inducted into the LPGA Hall of Fame came the day before. The tardiness didn’t come from a delayed flight or questionable driving from her husband: it was because she couldn’t take more than couple of steps without someone wanting to speak to her. And if Ochoa remains anything, it is unfailingly grateful and polite to everyone from volunteers and fans to the maintenance staff at the course.
“It's too much, you know, to really feel everything at the moment,” Ochoa said of the overwhelming emotions she felt coming back to the spot where she won the 2008 Chevron Championship, one of two major championships among her 27 LPGA Tour victories. “It’s very nice to walk into the clubhouse. The view that you get from the top of the restaurant to the putting green and see all players practicing and the flags, it's very, very special. Gaby (Lopez) is playing this week, so to be able to also think a few Mexicans are playing is even more special.”
Lopez was one of the first players to greet her. But there were others. Angela Stanford waiting around by the putting green longer than she’d hoped to see Ochoa. Stanford’s pro-am time was original 10:05. Thankfully, her group was running behind and she had a moment to say hello and give Ochoa a hug.
Betsy King came over as well, which was no small feat since King is still recovering from a broken femur that she suffered in a fall last year. That didn’t stop Ochoa was hugging her fellow LPGA Hall of Famer and spending almost 10 minutes catching up. “I was just telling Betsy that it's a great surprise to see her. She knows how important it is to me. I have been very emotional for the last couple of days.”
Those emotions started almost a month ago when Ochoa got a call from Nancy Lopez. Because she doesn’t always have the best cell phone reception in her house, Ochoa went into the backyard with her dog to take the call. She thought Nancy was calling to invite her to a fundraiser. Instead, Nancy said, “I have some exciting good news for you.”
Immediately after the call, Ochoa picked up her children from school and said, “I just got a call from a dear friend with some good news,” to which her kids said, “Mom, can you turn on some music.”
That story was classic Lorena, a woman who has always had her priorities straight. After thanking all the media for covering her during her career – the news of her Hall of Fame induction was frontpage of every newspaper in Mexico on Wednesday – she hugged Lizette Salas and Stacy Lewis who waited by the putting green. Then she ventured over to the maintenance department to thank the grounds crew for everything they do for the LPGA Tour.
She continues to set the bar in ways that have nothing to do with career wins.