Ochoa may get there first

The LPGA sees its future without waiting for Michelle Wie

Before everybody anoints Hawaii's Michelle Wie the future of women's golf, perhaps they should consider another, more proven player.

Lorena Ochoa won 12 tournaments in two years at the University of Arizona, including eight in a row and eight triumphs in 10 events in 2002.

And halfway through this season, she has virtually sewn up rookie of the year honors on the

LPGA Tour. She's won $495,020, good for fourth on the money list, after finishing second Sunday at Rochester, N.Y. She has not missed a cut.

The future may prove everybody right, and Wie may become the women's version of Tiger Woods. If so, Ochoa might settle for being the next Nancy Lopez. Nothing wrong with that.

'She's a cute, sweet person who's got that little Tiger in her when she's on the golf course,' Lopez says.

Both Wie and Ochoa will play in the U.S. Women's Open, July 3-6, at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club. Wie qualified as an amateur and on Sunday won the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links. 'I've never won a national title,' says Wie, 13, who starts high school this year. 'Pretty cool.'

Ochoa, 21, still seeks her first

LPGA win, although she has two seconds and two thirds. 'She just got out here. She has to be patient,' Lopez says. 'Someone that good expects a lot early.'

Ochoa seems primed for success. Her agent has secured five big sponsors and developed an Ochoa Web site.

When she plays, Ochoa feels the nation of Mexico behind her. For good luck, her putter sports the colors of the Mexican flag.

Ochoa comes from Guadalajara, and she started playing golf at age 5 with her father at Guadalajara Country Club. Very few girls played golf, so she played alongside boys for years. She won eight junior national titles in Mexico and five in the United States.

'I feel proud to be Mexican,' Ochoa says. 'My family helped me a lot, the Mexican federation helped me a lot, and I owe them. And I can help the game grow in Mexico.'

She earned the Nancy Lopez Award, given to the nation's top amateur, for her stellar sophomore season at Arizona. After turning pro, she immediately made an impact by finishing first on the Futures Tour money list, which earned her an LPGA card for 2003.

Ochoa, only 5 feet 5, drives the ball 260 yards consistently.

'She's very bright for her age,' Lopez says. 'Works on her game, has a good family background É she has a lot going for her.'

Ochoa did not grow up idolizing Lopez, who is of Mexican descent. 'I admire her very much, and I'm trying to follow in her footsteps, but I didn't know much about her in Mexico,' she says.

For the U.S. Women's Open, several relatives will fly in from Mexico to watch Ochoa play. Pressure?

'Right now, I don't care about pressure,' she says. 'I learn to take pressure in a good way, because I enjoy what I do. I love golf.'

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