Lorena Ochoa’s rapid rise up the LPGA Tour ranks opened golf for young girls in Mexico.
The now-retired professional golfer from Guadalajara earned more than $14 million, won 27 LPGA tournaments and was the world’s No. 1-ranked women’s player during a pro career than lasted 10 years.
Ochoa’s success shone a spotlight on a problem for aspiring female golfers from Mexico who wished to follow her footsteps. With no professional tour in Mexico for females, their only option was to pursue a career in the United States or Europe, and that costs a lot of money.
That problem prompted Rosalba Papacostas and Marina Villasana to try to do something about it. Both hail from Monterrey, Mexico, and in 2008, they formed a non-profit called Impulsando al Golf Professional Mexicano (IGPM), which is aimed at helping aspiring female golfers get established in the professional ranks.
“We have been involved in junior golf in Mexico,” Papacostas said. “After Lorena, we saw a lot of girls having a hard time trying to realize their dreams and succeed on the LPGA. We realized they needed our help, and we started our association.”
The organization raises money from business and individual donors. It also holds a pro-am tournament every year, which serves as a fundraiser. The tournament has drawn the likes of several prominent golfers, including Violeta Retamozza, who became the second golfer from Mexico to earn her LPGA Tour card.
The organization uses that money to help golfers pay for entry fees, qualifying school and travel costs.
Papacostas, Villasana and Lili Alvarez, a former professional golfer who was one of the association’s first beneficiaries, traveled to San Antonio from Monterrey last week to share their story at the Empower ’14 Conference held at La Cantera by the Executive Women’s Golf Association.
“It’s important for the Latin community in America to know the story of IGPM and to create awareness,” Villasana said. “There are a lot of Latin girls — Mexican-Americans — who are here, and we want them to know what’s going on in Mexico.”
Many of those who seek assistance are those who had successful college careers. Alvarez starred at Tulane.
“Golf was very popular in Mexico because of Lorena, but it’s still not a very affordable sport,” Alvarez said. “Lorena didn’t make the sport affordable, but she brought it down to the people because she is so humble.”
The Impulsando association has helped two reach the LPGA Tour (former Arizona star Alejandra Llaneza and former Southern Cal golfer Tanya Dergal) and one on the LPGA European Tour (Margarita Ramos, who also played at Arizona).
Now that they made some headway, Papacostas and Villasana want to see it grow. Alvarez said the efforts are getting easier. The fact they’ve were able to cull together so many parts may have been their biggest accomplishment.
“It’s really tough to get sponsors in Mexico,” Alvarez said. “It’s tough in any sport. It was good Lorena was there, and it was good Violeta was there. They planted the seed, but it is still very tough to get started.
“What’s amazing about IGPM, Rosalba and Marina is they achieved a sum of efforts. In our culture, sometimes it’s tough to get different parts to build a whole puzzle.”
BY DAVID HINOJOSA