From the momentLorena Ochoa got her first glimpse of the Old Course at St.¬†Andrews--underthe light of a full moon a few hours after she had tied for third in the EvianMasters in France--she had kept a picture in her head of what the followingSunday would look like. True, she didn't envision the drum-and-bagpipe bandplaying Scottish Soldier off the 1st¬†tee, or a Scottish official watchingthe trophy ceremony while wearing a sombrero, or even her teary, gigglingfather, Javier, rushing down the steps between the 1st¬†tee and the18th¬†green to spray her with champagne. In almost every other respect,however, the scene played out just as Ochoa had imagined: There was no rain(the precipitation had finally stopped a few holes back), and there werethousands of people surrounding the final green as she made a putt to win theWomen's British Open, the first women's professional event played at St.Andrews. "It was just the way I had dreamed it," she said. ¬∂ The firstmajor victory for Ochoa, the No. 1 player in the world, was not quite as longin coming as women's pro golf to the venerable Old Course, but it had felt likean eternity for the 25-year-old from Guadalajara, who had been winless in 24previous majors. "There were a lot of people saying I couldn't win amajor," said Ochoa, who shot a one-over-par 74 on Sunday to finish atfive-under 287, four strokes better than Jee Young Lee of South Korea and MariaHjorth of Sweden, who each had a final-round 71. "I did it, and there's nomore to say." ¬∂ No longer will she have to politely answer questions abouther failures: at the 2005 U.S.¬†Open, where she could have taken a share ofthe lead with a par on the 72nd¬†hole but chili-dipped her tee shot intothe water, finishing with a triple bogey and in sixth place; at the 2006 KraftNabisco Championship, where she started the final round with a three-shot leadbut lost in a playoff to Karrie Webb; and again at the U.S. Open in June, whenshe was tied with Cristie Kerr with five holes to play but hit a tree with hertee shot on the 71st¬†hole, made bogey and came in second. ¬∂ "It wasone of those special weeks where everything was clear to me," said Ochoa."I was happy and comfortable even when I made a bogey. There was no doubt.I knew on Monday that I was going to win this."
Even for thosegolfers who spent most of the week second-guessing blind shots and putts ontricky double greens, this Women's British Open was a triumph. Though the OldCourse has hosted women's amateur competitions for more than 100 years, nowomen's professional event had been played at the Home of Golf. In fact, theLadies Golf Union, the body that oversees rules and competition for women andgirls in Great Britain--including the 31-year-old Open, which became a majoronly in 2001--had never approached the St.¬†Andrews Links Trust abouthosting such an event until this one. "Quite simply, the time wasright," says Ladies Golf Union CEO Lesley Burn. "It's a recognition ofwhere the game is."
Just asgroundbreaking, in a lot of players' eyes, was the gesture by the all-maleRoyal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, whose iconic clubhouse sitsbehind the 1st¬†tee of the Old Course. As it does for male pros when themen's British Open passes through, the R&A offered up its locker room tothe women for the week. "We seem to be moving out of the 1800s and early1900s finally," declared Webb, an LPGA Hall of Famer.
The old Courseperfectly suited Ochoa, a creative feel player who reminds her caddie, DaveBrooker, of three-time British Open champion Seve Ballesteros because she has"all these great little shots." With that arsenal and idealearly-morning conditions on her side, Ochoa shot a bogey-free, bunker-free 67in the opening round, which put her two strokes in front and established thecourse record for women pros. "It only took her a few holes [during a]Monday [practice round] for her to realize the usual swing goes out the windowhere," said Brooker, an Englishman who has played a lot of links golf."You have to chip everything here. It was as if she had been playing hereall her life."
Normally ahigh-ball hitter, Ochoa had no problem lowering her trajectory. That becameparticularly important last Saturday, when fierce crosswinds--"normalSt.¬†Andrews weather," proudly chirped one local--arrived to rattle theflags and cause balls to shimmy on the greens. The 35-mph gusts, along with thetoughest pin placements of the week, made haggis of the field. Twenty-sixplayers had rounds of 80 or higher. What the wind couldn't do to blow away thecompetition, Ochoa accomplished with her strategy of hitting draws on the wayout and low punch-cuts on the way in. She emerged from the maelstrom with hersecond straight round of par and a six-shot lead. "I guess you could saywe're all playing for second," said her playing partner, Wendy Ward, whoshot an 80 on Saturday and finished 23rd. "She doesn't make the mistakesthe rest of us make."
Sunday dawneddreich, as the natives say--wet, cold and gray--which was not Ochoa's cup oftea. "I like the wind, it's no problem," she says, "but when itgets cold, I don't like that. A little rain, the club slips, things startchanging."
Afternoon showersmade the back nine so wet that Ochoa, who usually plays without a glove, woreone for several holes. But neither her club nor her lead slipped precipitously.Even with three bogeys on the back nine, she stayed at least four shots ahead.Her only flirtation with trouble came on the Road Hole, where she hit hersecond shot into the face of one of the course's 112 bunkers--only the thirdtime all week she hit into the sand. After pitching out left into the rough,she faced the gaping maw of the Road Hole bunker that had swallowed David Duvaland spit him out four strokes later in the 2000 British Open. As the gallerylooked on in churchlike silence, Ochoa hit "the chip shot of her life,"said Brooker. Her ball cleared the hazard, caught the downside of the mound andbounced once before stopping about 10 feet from the hole.
After she had madea solid tee shot on 18 and walked over the Swilcan Bridge and up the fairway toa little rise before the Valley of Sin, Ochoa knew there would be no breakdownsthis time. "We did it," she said to Brooker. After sinking athree-footer for par, Ochoa raised her arms in triumph, jumped into the arms ofBrooker and soaked up a spritz of the bubbly from her dad.
According to theLinks Trust, this would not be the last time the women play inSt.¬†Andrews. But it would be the last time a woman would win her firstmajor and become the first of her gender to earn a paycheck at the Old Courseon the same day. Quite simply, the time was right.
Listen to David Feherty's Fly on the Ball atGOLF.com.
"There were a lot of people saying I couldn't win amajor," Ochoa said. "I DID IT, AND THERE'S NO MORE TO SAY."
Photographs by Bob Martin
DREAM REALIZED Everything from the weather to her strategy for attacking the Old Course went according to plan for Ochoa.
WELCOME MAT If only for a week, the R&A allowed women pros inside its iconic clubhouse and locker room.