NO. 1 AND NOT LETTING UP
__Lorena Ochoa is doing what she's always tried to do:
By Peter Morrice | Swing analysis by Rafael Alarcon
As a kid at Guadalajara (Mexico) Country Club, Lorena Ochoa used to shadow Rafael Alarcon, a club member and tour player. One day Alarcon invited her to play a few holes. As they walked he asked her why she was copying him. "She looked at my eyes," recalls Alarcon, "and said, 'I want to learn to beat you, because then I can become the best player in the world.' "
Score one in the childhood-dream column.
Ochoa has ruled the LPGA Tour since 2006, winning 20 times in 2½ years, including five of her first six events this season (by an average of more than six strokes). She has replaced Annika Sorenstam as the top female player in the world.
Ochoa's golf swing is not textbook-perfect, but she has learned to embrace its idiosyncrasies. Her trademark move is an unusual head tilt away from the target on the downswing (see photo). Alarcon says the move started when as a junior she played with a long, heavy driver that pulled her so far back that she lost sight of the ball, prompting her to drop her head back so she could see it again. A few years ago the pair worked to eliminate the move, but it didn't improve her shots, so they stopped trying.
"We decided to focus only on things that affect impact," says Alarcon. "We started working on shortening her backswing, because her club tends to cross the line at the top [Frame 4], then she gets handsy trying to catch it up at the ball."
Ochoa admits she gets quick with her hands, especially when a tournament is on the line. She reminds herself to start back "low and easy" (Frame 2) and to "be patient" at the change of direction. Still, Alarcon says she plays best when she's swinging aggressively, at about 90 percent.
"When she really slows down, old habits kick in, like swinging long or overusing her hands," says Alarcon, who believes learning to hit aggressive shots under pressure is one of the biggest leaps Ochoa has made during her recent surge.
"You have to push yourself to a new level and get comfortable there," says Alarcon. "I tell her, 'Try to win every tournament, and the rest will come.' "
Chances are she'll take that tip. After all, it comes from the first pro she ever wanted to beat.