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Golf - 09. February 2009.

Ochoa reveals even the best burn out


By Tim Maitland

World number one Lorena Ochoa has revealed that the gaps in her schedule this year are designed to make sure she doesn't suffer a repeat of what was, by her standards, a relative loss of form in the second half of 2008.

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The 27-year-old Mexican won the US$2 million HSBC Women's Champions in February last year to mark the start of a run of five victories in her first six tournaments, but only won twice more in the remaining seven months of the season.


She returns to Singapore in March to defend her HSBC title confident that the gaps she's introduced in her plan for 2009 will produce a prolonged run of the excellence that has typified her play during three years of dominance on the LPGA.


"I'm hoping it will be a better year this year; a bit more balanced… rest when I need to rest and try to take it easy outside the course. Hopefully those things will improve," she said.



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Ochoa, who plans to manage AeroMexico CEO Andres Conesa in December, will play only the McDonald's LPGA Championship in a six week period in May and June, will have another three weeks off in August and will miss five weeks (including the Autumn Asian swing events in China, Japan and Korea) in October and November.


To call her second half of the season a slump would be ridiculous given that once her winning streak ended Ochoa only finished outside the top 20 once (31st at the US Open) in 16 events, but she admits her sensational early-season explosion definitely caught up with her.


"I was very tired. I was exhausted," she admitted.



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"I played well early and I had a lot of expectation and a lot of pressure from the media and a lot of things to do with my sponsors outside the course. That was very tough and I just couldn't handle it anymore. I just couldn't do it anymore."


Two family tragedies – the death of an uncle in May and her maternal grandfather in June – contributed to a demanding year, but Ochoa feels that grief was not a contributory factor.


"It's just one of those things and you learn from the experience and then you go from there. You never know what's going to happen, so I'm making sure this year I'm well prepared and I'm going to do better," she said with a wistful laugh.



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Ochoa's pre-season has been much the same as the programme that produced such a spectacular start to last year. The main difference being that she says she has done more weightlifting to increase her strength. Apart from that, she says she's tinkered with her swing, resulting in around five yards more distance with her driver and three to four yards more with her irons; distance that she believes will help her defend her crown at Tanah Merah.


"You've got to have the distance (for the HSBC Women's Champions) and I think this year I'm hitting my driver a little farther and I think it's very important to have the distance, to be aggressive and go for it," she explained.


"It's like any pre-season. You need to fine tune. I've been making a few changes    in my back swing, to make sure I can create a hard swing and have a little more control of it at the bottom. That's going well. I also changed my putter. I have a new putter. It's called the (Ping) Piper. I think that's going to help my stroke to be better. You know with all those changes I'm excited and I can't wait to see the results out on the course.



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"I think one of the things I have more room to improve is my putting. The new putter is a little bigger and a little shorter. I just need to be a little bit better reading the lines. It will help me with my backswing and in that way I can just be more accurate with my putting and hopefully make more birdies."


Ochoa might need, to given the generational change among her closest rivals. Twelve months ago her challengers were Hall of Fame members Annika Sorenstam and Karrie Webb. Once again all of her main rivals will be present in Singapore, only now they're 20-year-olds Yani Tseng and Ji-Yai Shin and 22-year-old Paula Creamer.


"All of them are very young and they're not afraid. They're very aggressive. But I never think of them. I just play for me, rather than think of them, because there's always somebody who is going to give you a hard time," she chuckled, before focusing on the improvement the Pink Panther showed during a four-win season in 2008.


"I think she gained more confidence. I think she's understanding her game more. Experience is better for her and now she's been playing for a few more years. You can see it in the way she plays and the way she talks, the way she handles herself in the last few holes. But, like I say, they're all good players."

The recipe to repeating her 2008 performance at Tanah Merah, Ochoa said, is birdying the long holes and having a hot putter.


"The HSBC Women's Champions was a spectacular week and I think last year I took advantage of the par fives. I think I was really good on the par fives. I had a lot of eagle chances, although I don't think I made any eagles. I think my putter was really good. From the pre-season it was really good. I had a lot of practice. My putting went down later in the year, but early in the year I was making everything! Those things are the keys."



 

Lorena Ochoa Interview


 

Q: Have you been working hard this off-season?

I've been working a lot here. I don't think you can slow down. The competition is so tough. I'm doing pretty much the same as I did last year. It worked and there's no reason to change. I've been doing a little more working out; lifting more weights so I can be a little stronger. Hopefully that helps me to perform better.

 

It's like any pre-season. You need to fine tune. I've been making a few changes     in my back swing, to make sure I can create a hard swing and have a little more control of it at the bottom. That's going well.

 

I also changed my putter. I have a new putter. It's called the (Ping) Piper. I think that's going to help my stroke to be better. You know with all those changes I'm excited and I can't wait to see the results out on the course.

 

Q: Does the new putter work for you?

Yes. I think one of the things I have more room to improve is my putting. Just because of what I said and the way I stroke (the ball) I know for sure I can improve on that. The new putter is a little bigger and a little shorter. I just need to be a little bit better reading the lines. It will help me with my backswing and in that way I can just be more accurate with my putting and hopefully make more birdies.

 

Q: Some people were saying that in the second half of the year a little bit of a head movement crept into your putting stroke. Did you agree with that?

I move my head while I'm swinging. It's something I've been doing forever, since I started playing. I'm not worried about my head – that's not something that I need to change – it's more about the line and the stroke.

 

Q: Was putting the main reason that wins weren't so frequent in the second half of the year?

No, no. I think I was very tired. It was more than that. I was very tired. I was exhausted. I played well early and I had a lot of expectation and a lot of pressure from the media and a lot of things to do with my sponsors outside the course. That was very tough and I just couldn't handle it anymore. I just couldn't do it anymore. I'm hoping it will be a better year this year; a bit more balanced, rest when I need to rest and try to take it easy outside the course. Hopefully those things will improve.

 

Q: Unfortunately I know personally about family tragedies (Lorena had two bereavements last year)… it teaches you many things, but it can surprise you when it catches up with you can't it?

You know… it's just one of those things and you learn from the experience and then you go from there. You never know what's going to happen, so I'm making sure this year I'm well prepared and I'm going to do better (laughs).

 

Q: Looking at this season, it's especially exciting for the Singapore fans because two of them – Yani Tseng and Ji-Yai Shin are young Asian girls.

All of them are very young and they're not afraid. They're very aggressive. But I never think of them. I just play for me, rather than think of them, because there's always somebody who is going to give you a hard time (laughs).

 

Q: Paula's been around so long, we forget how young she is… but last year she jumped to a new level didn't she?

I think so. I think she gained more confidence. I think she's understanding her game more. Experience is better for her and now she's been playing for a few more years. You can see it in the way she plays and the way she talks, the way she handles herself in the last few holes. But, like I say, they're all good players.

 

Q: You know the answer to the next question better than anybody else in the world… what do you have to do to score well on the Tanah Merah CC Garden course?

The HSBC Women's Champions was a spectacular week and I think last year I took advantage of the par fives. I think I was really good on the par fives. I had a lot of eagle chances, although I don't think I made any eagles (note: she didn't. 23 birdies and 3 bogies).

 

I think my putter was really good. From the pre-season it was really good. I had a lot of practice. My putting went down later in the year, but early in the year I was making everything! Those things are the keys.

 

You've got to have the distance and I think this year I'm hitting my driver a little farther and I think it's very important to have the distance, to be aggressive and go for it.

 

I think I'm hitting (driver) about five yards further and my irons are three to four yards further. All of that will make things easier. 

 

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