THE BEST paradesare spontaneous. You're standing outside a drugstore, say, or in a desertarroyo, and suddenly a thousand people with flags and banners march by. Ormaybe it's just a couple of big Mexican flags and hundreds of daily ticketsdangling from shirt buttons, but there are smiling kids running around and momspushing baby strollers, and at the head of the parade you've got a jazz band ona flatbed truck or a world-class golfer with an insurmountable lead. ¬∂ OnSunday, for example, a parade broke out during the final round of the SafewayInternational. The parade was led for the second straight year by Lorena Ochoa,the undisputed No. 1 player in women's golf, and it ended—after a five-hourhike through a high-end desert housing development—with a trophy ceremony onthe 18th green of the Superstition Mountain Golf and Country Club, outside ofPhoenix. ¬∂ Yes, it started as a golf tournament. But by the time Ochoa drovethe green on the 310-yard, par-4 14th hole—setting up the sixth of eightfinal-round birdies—she might as well have been clutching a bouquet of rosesand waving a gloved hand from the backseat of a red convertible. Ochoa'sfour-round total of 22-under-par 266 was four better than her winning score of2007, and her margin of victory, seven, was the biggest LPGA blowout since,well, a month ago, when Ochoa won the HSBC Women's Champions in Singapore by 11strokes.
This is an article from the April 8, 2008 issue
But the numbersaren't the story. Ochoa leads the parade because of what she represents.Mexicans see her as a national hero. Mexican-Americans see her as a symbol ofopportunity. The rest of us—at least those of us who aren't lobbying Congressto build an electrified border fence—see a role model for children of allstripes. "I'm just, you know, trying to give a good example," Ochoasaid on Sunday, "and trying to really fight for my dreams and always tryingto keep my head up."
There is apalpable sweetness to Ochoa, a guilelessness that Disney's imagineers could runwith. One little girl, a freckled redhead right off an Irish travel poster,clung to her mother's neck on Sunday, singing, "Lo-RAY-na ...Lo-RAY-na." You could have sold a thousand Ochoa dolls at the concessionstands.
Maybe twothousand. The Safeway attracted an LPGA-record 44,600 fans on Sunday, and itdrew a record 159,300 for the week. And while those figures are suspect—thetournament organizers use the same count-the-number-of-cars-and-make-a-guessalgorithm pioneered by the PGA Tour's Phoenix Open—there's no doubt that theSafeway started drawing big crowds when Ochoa, who starred at the University ofArizona, started winning tournaments.
The maincompetition on this week came from two of the tour's lesser-known but capableplayers, Angela Stanford and Jee Young Lee. Stanford shot a course-record 62 inthe first round, signaling that the perfectly groomed Prospector course couldbe had. "It was kind of like an out-of-body experience," the Texan saidafterward, looking appropriately dazed. Stanford hung in until the final nine,when she suffered a bogey, triple-bogey collapse and fell back into afourth-place tie with Eun-Hee Ji.
The othercontender was 23-year-old Lee, a South Korean whose American fan base iscomposed of the dozen or so people who know that she won the 2005 CJ NineBridges Classic (as a non-LPGA member) and finished second three times in '07,most notably at the Women's British Open. Alas, Lee's game went all wrinkly onSunday. She took 31 putts, shot 72 and finished second for the fifth time inher career.
So all Ochoa hadto do on Sunday was show up and look invincible. It was not a flamboyantperformance; Ochoa wins by driving the ball long and straight, hitting herwedges close and making her share of putts. But she stirred the masses when shedrove the 14th green, and after that it was parade time.
"When you takeseven months off to have a baby, you come back feeling really fresh and readyto go."
—KAREN STUPPLES, after a first-round 67
LADIES OF THE SUN:A TIMELINE
With title sponsorSafeway pulling out after a five-year run, the LPGA's best-attended event couldfold. Here are a few highlights from the tournament's 29 years in Phoenix.
Jan Stephenson wins the inaugural Sun City Classic.
ESPN provides live coverage of the LPGA's first Skins Game. (The champion, MaryBeth Zimmerman, wins $7,000.)
Pat Bradley becomes the tournament's first two-time winner.
Local favorite Danielle Ammaccapane wins back-to-back titles.
Patty Sheehan's victory boosts her into the LPGA Hall of Fame.
An 18th-green memorial service is held for LPGA player Heather Farr, who diedof breast cancer.
Laura Davies becomes the first player to win an LPGA event in four consecutiveyears.
Charlotta Sorenstam upstages older sister Annika with her first (and only) LPGAwin.
Annika Sorenstam sets or ties six LPGA records and becomes the first woman toshoot 59.
Se Ri Pak wins with a record 23 under par.
Annika makes up four strokes down the stretch and beats Lorena Ochoa in aplayoff.
Ochoa triumphs, and 151,000 fans walk through the gates, an LPGA record.
Follow this week'sKraft Nabisco Championship at GOLF.com.