Saturday, November 14, 2009

12 Hours in Guadalajara

Thursday night, I took the 7-hour overnight bus to Guadalajara (the country's second largest city, a couple hundred miles west of the Distrito Federal), to see the penultimate tournament of the 2009 LPGA season. The Lorena Ochoa Invitational was first played last year, it is a 36-player invite that despite only being in its second presentation already draws all of the top players in the world. The event is played at Guadalajara Country Club, the course where Lorena Ochoa, currently the top-ranked player in the world, grew up playing golf. The course was really cool, with lots of hills, some solid foliage, very close to downtown and lots of cool modern condo buildings surrounding it.

I walked 18 holes with a group of three Americans (a rarity in the increasingly Asian-centric LPGA). The group was Cristie Kerr (a former US Open champion with over $10 million in career earnings), Brittany Lang (a 24-year old former Dukie) and Brittany Lincicome (also 24, the winner of this year's first major, the Kraft Nabisco Championship). The group all started the day at 3 under after shooting 69s the first day, and they all shot 70s yesterday. I spent most of the round talking with the player's families and agents/reps (there was a group of about 8 following the group), and they were all nice.

Every time Lorena's back home, everyone wants her attention constantly. Combined with launching some new ventures and being engaged to a divorced airline CEO with three kids, Lorena has had a relatively tough year by her standards. That being said, she still has a chance to win the player of the year race (the season concludes next week). Her main rival is Jiyai Shin, a 21-year old South Korean rookie who has already won seven times on Tour (including one major, the 2008 British Open). Jiyai enters today's third round with a three-stroke lead over Michelle Wie, the 19-year old Stanford Cardinal who has still yet to win professionally. Ochoa is a few more back. The tournament is on the Golf Channel today and Sunday at 3pm central (tomorrow is the 4th and final round).

Some random thoughts:
-Overnight bus rides aren't so bad

-Watched 'marley and me' on the bus ride home last night (dubbed in Spanish, obviously), first time I had seen it, I definitely liked it

-Guadalajara Country Club is amazing, it has an equestrian park, tons of tennis courts (including two with roofs/lights), a great course, and a beautiful clubhouse (snuck in for a tour / free food in the press center). Listing price to join: $185,000 US! (the average country club in the US costs between $30,000-$40,000 to join). That fee doesn't include annual dues, etc.

-These players just play mistake free golf. Jiyai Shin usually only drives it 240, hits tons of fairway woods when other plays are hitting mid-irons, but just doesn't make mistakes (bogey-free 66 for her yesterday)

-Laura Davies seems to follow my philosophy on the driving range: take approximately 2 seconds until hitting the next shot

-They all take forever on the putting greens

-Jiyai Shin was really personable when I snuck into the press conference. She has a good command of English and made me laugh a few times. That being said, language barriers aside, I do think the LPGA faces a marketing challenge when it comes to the fact that so many of their top players are Asian. One thing that really surprised me as that for many of the Asians, when their name was called on the first tee, they barely looked up. It's one thing to not be able to speak with the fans, etc., but you don't need to speak English to look up and wave and smile at the crowd.

-Will Wie win? (I'm an alliteration aficionado)

-Mexicans still aren't the most sophisticated golf fans (soccer fans, lucha fans, etc.) in the world. Several fans would routinely applaud Ochoa's playing partners for missing putts. Very weak sauce move right there.

-Good food and drink selection, but I was disappointed with the lack of desserts in the press center

-Natalie Gulbis withdrew due to back injuries. Tough start to my day.

-One marshall allowed us to enter a crossing, and thinking she actually knew what she was doing, we did so without looking. Turns out Juli Inkster was addressing her ball on the tee box. Woops!

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