HOFer's Ochoa, Mallon: Mutual admiration society

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Almost a week removed from the announcement that they will be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame next year, Lorena Ochoa and Meg Mallon are still aglow with the news.

It should be noted they are kindred spirits in how they approached the game and impacted the people around them.

Their legacies go beyond their great triumphs.

Ochoa and Mallon will go down as two of the classiest players ever to play professional golf.

Somewhere in the cosmos, Arnold Palmer must have been saluting them with his classic thumbs-up gesture. Ochoa and Mallon could have been graduates of the Palmer School of Charm and Etiquette, if there were such a thing. They are ambassadors of the game cut from same cloth as Palmer, two of the most adored players in the women’s game.

“I absolutely love Lorena,” Mallon told GolfChannel.com. “I just respect her so much, not only for her play, but what she’s done off the course and what kind of person she is. She’s one of my favorite people that I have ever played with on tour, an amazing ambassador for the game.”

Ochoa was equally effusive in her praise of Mallon, sharing how she cherished Mallon’s advice after joining the tour, and how she cried on Mallon’s shoulder in tough times making the adjustment to tour life.

“I didn’t realize she thought that way about me as well,” Mallon said. “I was touched by that.”

Ochoa, 34, and Mallon, 53, were from different eras, but those eras overlapped.

Ochoa won 27 LPGA titles, two of them majors. She reigned as Rolex world No. 1 for 158 consecutive weeks, still the longest reign atop the women’s rankings. Ochoa also won the Rolex Player of the Year Award four times and the Vare Trophy for low scoring average four times.

Mallon won 18 LPGA titles, four of them major championships, two of them U.S. Women’s Opens.

Mostly, Ochoa and Mallon won the respect and admiration of their peers, even as they were whipping up on them.

Ochoa succeeded Annika Sorenstam as the game’s best player, rising to No. 1 not long after winning the Corona Morelia Championship in her beloved Mexico in 2006, the first of three titles she won there. It says a lot about Ochoa that she counts her first victory in her Mexican homeland as the highlight of her career. While she says she will always treasure winning the Ricoh Women’s British Open at St. Andrews in ’07 and leaping into Poppie’s Pond after winning the Kraft Nabisco in ’08, winning the first time in Mexico resonated beyond a major.

“To be able to share that with my country is at the top of my list,” Ochoa told GolfChannel.com.

Ochoa and Mallon will make their inductions very much family affairs.

They both ended their careers early for the sake of family.

Ochoa retired at 28 to start a family. She’s the mother of three young children today, two boys and a girl.

“I wouldn’t change my life today for anything,” Ochoa said. “I confirm every day the decision to stop playing was the right one.”

Ochoa is still busy promoting the game in Mexico and overseeing the Lorena Ochoa Foundation and the school she started in Guadalajara, her hometown. The LaBarranca School has grown from a small school to one that now houses 360 underprivileged students from first through 12th grade.

Next month, Ochoa will host the ninth annual Lorena Ochoa Invitational, an LPGA event in Mexico City. With two Mexican women making the Olympics this summer, and with news of Ochoa’s induction, there’s a buzz in the buildup to this year’s event that Ochoa’s enjoying.

“We’re moving in the right direction,” Ochoa said of her devotion to growing women’s golf in Mexico. “It’s exciting.”

Like Ochoa, Mallon’s focus on family defined the first and final chapters of her career.

Mallon was the last of six children in her family, her sister, Tricia, the fifth. Meg got into the game because she idolized Tricia, and as a youngster tagged along with her sister to play together at Lakelands Golf & Country Club near their Birmingham, Mich., home. With Tricia dying from an abdominal cancer, Meg temporarily left the tour at 45 to help care for Tricia. Meg spent the final 100 days of Tricia’s life beside her. Meg would retire a little more than a year after her sister’s passing.

Mallon’s parents are both gone now, too, but her induction will be a big family affair with siblings and nieces and nephews.

“Typical Irish me, I was told not to tell anybody when I got the news I was going into the Hall of Fame,” Mallon said. “But I had to call my brothers and sisters right away. We all laughed together and cried together over the news. That’s the best part of this, but it makes me miss my parents and my sister too, because they would have been front and center in this.”

They would have enjoyed saluting both Mallon and Ochoa as two of the game’s great ambassadors.

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