HAVRE DE GRACE, Md. - Lorena Ochoa should be wondering what the hell is going on. She should be throwing a Terrell Owens fit, railing against a world that just doesn't seem to like her.
Instead, she gets giddy over receiving a free French fries head cover from McDonald's, the big dollar sponsor of this week's LPGA Championship at Bulle Rock.
"It's fun," Ochoa crows, smiling brighter than Paris Hilton figures to upon release from jail. "I got a head cover of French fries. I'm going to keep that."
Listen to Ochoa and you'd think she was a cubicle office worker who doesn't get out much. Even sportswriters - the cheapest, most freebie-seeking breed on the planet - don't go gaga over a McDonald's head cover. Does Ochoa even realize that she's the No. 1 ranked golfer at Ronald's big event?
Forget the head cover. Ochoa should be getting a McDonald's franchise. Or three.
Only Ochoa hardly gets anything at all. The No. 1 ranked player in women's golf garners all the respect of a weekend hacker playing in jean shorts from the major golf manufacturers. Lorena Ochoa does not even have a club deal.
Think about that for another moment. No company pays the LPGA's best player to swing their sticks. There are no glowing press releases sent out by Ping, Callaway, TaylorMade, anybody, when Ochoa wins - and she wins more than anyone else on Tour right now.
That's unfathomable for the 144th ranked player on the PGA Tour. Heck, some club pros have club deals.
"What can I say?" Ochoa shrugs. "Sad. One thing I see is that they don't spend the money or put the dedication into women's golf. There are so many good players out here that deserve better. In my case, I have really good support back home, and here in the United States, it's hard to get a club deal that is worth it."
Calling this a women's golf handicap oversimplifies things, though. Forget Michelle Wie, who operates in a different endorsement stratosphere than some ordinary NFL players, let alone women's golfers. There are still many other LPGA players of lesser status than Ochoa cashing checks from big U.S. companies.
Morgan Pressel is decked out in so much Ralph Lauren that she seems to be doing a commercial for the company when she's simply putting. Or stretching. Or breathing.
There are still corporate dollars swirling around LPGA players (though not as many as commish Carolyn Bivens wants you to believe). Ochoa's snub is about more than just her gender.
You cannot help but conclude it may have something to do with the fact she's Mexican. With immigration reform almost turning into as much of a hot-button, divisive issue as abortion these days, Ochoa is the wrong nationality for certain U.S. companies. (She does have a deal with Lacoste and more international-leaning companies such as Rolex).
Still, here it's too often: Why go with an endorser who could turn off potential customers when you can use one of the blondes with a ponytail?
Ochoa suffers from dominating while Mexican.
Only Ochoa refuses to let it be. She's too happy go lucky to let the callus, calculating views from boardrooms toward ignorance torment her. Ochoa is the rare woman out here, the rare person anywhere really, who seems completely happy with who she is.
And that just might be the most polite pro athlete on the planet.
When a Swedish reporter asks Ochoa whether she will play in Sweden this summer, the world's top ranked female golfer apologizes for not being able to make it so earnestly that you're certain she feels for all of Scandinavia.
Those who have carried the title of The Best Golfer To Have Never Won A Major usually treat it like it's a crown of thorns. Who will ever forget how Phil Mickelson wrestled with the questions for years, turning them over and over again, until he'd only twisted himself into another pretzel.
Ochoa is the best golfer in the LPGA without a major win. She's zero for 21 on the big stage. She clearly choked away one U.S. Open. Yet, she almost hugs the inevitable question.
"My dad is also always asking me that," Ochoa laughs.
There really seems to be no ego here. Ochoa jokes about how even people in Mexico recognize her face and have no idea who she is.
Many mistake her for Lorena Herrera, a Mexican model, and offer hearty congratulations for her career on the catwalk. Others are certain she is a famous tennis player, going as far as offering racquet tips.
"They still come and say hi," Ochoa says. "I think it's neat that they see my face and know that I'm trying to play good and represent Mexico ... Whatever I play."
Is it any wonder that Ochoa is seen as the anti-Wie in the clubhouse, the player Pressel says, "you can't help but respect."
Maybe if Ochoa went off, maybe if she angrily protested against her club manufacturers shutout, maybe if she loudly wondered why her press coverage is less, she'd be a more ruthless finisher on the course too.
But then, she wouldn't be nearly as much fun to root for.
June 7, 2007
Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.
Anyone looking back at the final scores of the 2009 Ricoh Women's British Open at Royal Lytham and St. Anne's will almost certainly come to the wrong conclusion that this was a comfortable three-shot win for Catriona Matthew. It was anything but as the seemingly imperturbable Scot struggled to hit a fairway throughout the final round and was only rescued by some superb recovery shots and a bunch of astonishing long putts.
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