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Golf - 03. March 2008.

Article, plus full Q&A with Ochoa's Caddie and an interview with Brittany Lincicome-HSBC Women's Champions: Ochoa's

Article, plus full Q&A with Ochoa's Caddie and an interview with Brittany Lincicome

HSBC Women's Champions: Ochoa's "big statement"

Tim Maitland


Around the LPGA, in the world of women's golf, it can sometimes be difficult to get perspective. Not that it suffers from the say-nothing-at-all-costs approach the plagues many pro sports, but because the friendly respect often overrides everything else.

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When Lorena Ochoa was asked immediately after winning the US$2 million HSBC Women's Champions whether it was important to make a "statement" after Annika Sorenstam had thrown down the gauntlet, there was no sense of a testosterone-loaded in-your-face jubilation. She smiled sweetly and shyly said "yes".

The world number one's caddie, and newly-crowned HSBC Caddie of the Year, David Brooker, offered a more considered assessment of his employer's magnificent 11-shot victory as the stragglers drifted out of Singapore today (Monday) and headed to the four corners of the wind.


"I think it does make a big statement to the rest of the tour that she's ready. She knows it's going to come, people are going to raise the bar, she knew it was coming and this is her answer," said the tall Yorkshireman in measured tones.


In some ways, there's a danger that the magnificence of Ochoa's 11-shot win gets lost because of the apparent ease and the significance ignored because she was so dominant that victory became inevitable.

"The truly great performances can sometimes escape the beholder, because true greatness looks so easy," said HSBC's Head of Sponsorship Giles Morgan.


"That was one of the most magnificent displays I have seen: in golf, male or female, or indeed in any sport. That woman is a true, true champion and that performance was something only a true champion could have produced."


The context of Ochoa's victory is essential to consider because some players – even some great players – might have allowed the build-up to the inaugural event to affect them.


Annika, fit again after a year of neck problems, had stated her aim to wrestle the world number one ranking from the Mexican's grip. Extra spice was added to an already tasty looking dish when the Swede burst into the new season with a thrilling victory at the season-opening SBS Open and jumped up the rankings to number two. Add the fact that Paula Creamer, who would emerge as Ochoa's other rival in Singapore, won the next week and it was clear that she was facing an in-form field.


Yet watching her stroll the snake pits that are the Tanah Merah Country Club's immaculate greens one would have got no sense that the pressure was on.


"Definitely the first two rounds she felt the eyes looking at her and the statement was the best rounds of each day," said Brooker.

"After that it was a case of putting it on cruise control and making sure you don't make any mistakes.

"I think Annika made a big statement first week out and then so did Paula. It was nice to play with them," he added, with typical English understatement. "I'm sure they're looking at Lorena now knowing what the task is ahead of them because she means business."


That was obvious to anyone who watched Lorena, playing with Annika and 2008 Australian Open winner Karrie Webb, on the first tee on the first day. The announcer had barely uttered the words "world number one, Lorena Ochoa" for the first time in 2008, when the Mexican's ball rolled to a halt 50 yards further down the fairway than her Hall-of-Fame playing partner.


"I know players, they try and get fit in the gym, they put muscle on and their swings get finely tuned… and yes the first tee shot was a big statement - the first hole was a statement because she made birdie – and she never looked back. I'm sure all the players who played with her are like "Wow!" Not only is she very accurate and she's got a wonderful short game but she hits it a mile," said Brooker, who in two years at Ochoa's side has banked a share of 13 winner's cheques.


What the HSBC Women's Champions has done has set up a fascinating season for the LPGA. There's no doubt that Annika is back. Paula Creamer's game is good enough that, coupled with a maturing personality, she seems ready to join the elite and both are going to challenge Ochoa because, as Brooker quickly points out, his girl is highly unlikely to have her stunningly hot putter in the bag week-in week-out all year.


"To only have three bogies on this course is amazing… and no three putts, which is also a big issue. It was a freak week. If Annika had putted well… if she'd putted to Lorena's freakishly high standard, she would have been right there with us. We said that to each other on the ninth hole on Sunday," he revealed.


"These kind of events, where she doesn't miss a putt, where she doesn't miss a drive really: that doesn't happen very often. I hope we can repeat it, but it was one of those freak weeks – Annika's had them as well and Paula's had them and Suzann's had them – where everything is working for four days and the result is that you just blow away a field. I don't think that happens very often. I think we're going to have to work a lot harder to win our next event."




The LPGA must be rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect. As Chris Higgs, their Vice President and COO, said as he hopped in a limo to Changi Airport it could be the LPGA's annus mirabilis.

"The start of something special! What we hoped would happen with "One" versus "Two" and "One" is showing why she's "One". This is just the beginning.


 

 

Q&As


David Brooker (Ochoa's caddie and HSBC Caddie of the Year)

Q: What's your take on her performance and achievement at the HSBC Women's Champions?

A: She's definitely done a lot of good work over the off season. I guess the areas she wanted to improve were her putting and short game and it showed this week. She really hasn't missed a putt all week and her driving was awesome. I think it does make a big statement to the rest of the tour that she's ready; she knows it's going to come, people are going to raise the bar, she knew it was coming and this is her answer.

Q: But she's answered before they even had a chance to say anything!

A: I think Annika made a big statement first week out and then so did Paula. It was nice to play with them. I'm sure they're looking at Lorena knowing what the task is ahead of them because she means business.

Q: But the other girls have spent all winter getting their game in shape, got themselves fit, got themselves ready, come out and won – game on – and then she walks out here cool as a cucumber and blasts them away!

A: Yeah. Underneath the surface she's really paddling hard. She's been working really hard. Her coach has emailed me a few times and said how disciplined she's been. She's been at it for six to eight weeks, from seven until two every day, she hasn't missed a day. I kind of expected her to come out and put in a good performance, but not quite as good as what we saw.

Q: You've been with her for two years, how would you rate it compared to her other performances?

A: After the first two days the pressure was kind of off. She just had to stay clear of trouble. It was different from a pressure perspective, because there's been other events where you can really feel the pressure going into the last day. As far as the overall performance? To only have three bogies on this course is amazing… and no three putts, which is also a big issue.

Q: All of the other girls on that leaderboard have got themselves ready for the season, they've won, and here we are in March and they're going to have to go back and reconsider everything.

A: There's nothing to reconsider, they're just going to have to keep practicing hard. These kind of events, where she doesn't miss a putt, where she doesn't miss a drive really: that doesn't happen very often. I hope we can repeat it, but it was one of those freak weeks – Annika's had them as well and Paula's had them and Suzann's had them – where everything is working for four days and the result is that you just blow away a field. I don't think that happens very often. I think we're going to have to work a lot harder to win our next event.

Q: Still, when you take the context of having everyone looking at Lorena saying "OK, Annika's back, how good are you?"…

A: Yeah, definitely the first two rounds she felt the eyes looking at her and the statement was the best rounds of each day. After that it was a case of putting it on cruise control and making sure you don't make any mistakes.

Q: How significant was it when Lorena hit her first tee shot of the tournament 50 yards past the others?

A: I know players, they try and get fit in the gym, they put muscle on and their swings get finely tuned… and yes the first tee shot was a big statement - the first hole was a statement because she made birdie – and she never looked back. I'm sure all the players who played with her are like "Wow!" Not only is she very accurate and she's got a wonderful short game but she hits it a mile.

It was a freak week. If Annika had putted well… if she'd putted to Lorena's freakishly high standard, she would have been right there with us. We said that to each other on the ninth hole on Sunday.

Q: You said earlier that she's paddling hard underneath…

A: It looks like things come easy for her, and she does have natural talent, which is of a very high level, but it doesn't come without a lot of hard work. I know how hard she works. She has a month solid in December where she doesn't do anything and then - I know what goes on in Guadalajara – she goes to the gym for two hours a day and she practices for six hours a day.

Q: So when she said she was on a beach when Annika was winning… probably not?

A: Maybe not (laughs).

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SINGAPORE - FEBRUARY 29: Suzann Pettersen of Norway tees off on the ninth hole during the second round of the HSBC Women's Champions at Tanah Merah Country Club on February 29, 2008 in Singapore. (Photo by Getty Images for HSBC)


Brittany Lincicome

Q: She's won by so much, do you think in some ways people have almost missed out on what dominant performance it was.

A: She is just 100 per cent that good. She's just an All-American all round what-you-see-is-what-you-get nicest person you'll ever meet and a great golfer.

Q: There has to be a fierce competitor inside though, otherwise you have to ask how does someone that nice dominate?

A: She has a game face which is on the golf course, but when she comes off the little give-you-her-shirt-off-her-back girl; whatever you need she'll give it to you. It's great. She has both angles covered.

Q: She beat a leaderboard full of all of the in-form golfers of 2008 didn't she?

A: Pretty phenomenal! She's pretty good (laughing at the understatement) especially to win by that many.

Right off the first round she did what she had to do and just kept it going.

Q: If you took her name off, people would have said what a great contest – the Australian Open winner, the Fields and SBS winners and two of the runners-up from that tournament….

A: Yeah. What she's doing for women golf, just let her go and keep going! The people will appreciate close calls coming down the last hole, but it's good for us both ways. Either way.

Q: Are you already thinking what do I have to do to get into the same league as her?

Exactly. We have three weeks off and I am really looking forward to taking some time off and regrouping and figuring out what the heck just happened here.

Q: How do you catch up?

A: Yeah. She did something right this off season.

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