GUADALAJARA, Mexico (AP)—Lorena Ochoa is having one of the best years of herlife, and it has nothing to do with being ranked No. 1 in golf.
She’s getting married next month in her hometown, which will be a boon forMexico’s edition of Hola magazine. Her engagement was front-page news in everypaper in the country. But the pending marriage hasn’t helped the struggling U.S.LPGA Tour, which needs a dominant star.
Ochoa’s won only three times—compared to 21 times in the previous threeseasons including two majors—and didn’t contend in any of the four majors.Jiyai Shin of South Korea is about to take the player of the year award, whichOchoa has claimed three straight times.
Ochoa finished tied for sixth on her home course last weekend at the LorenaOchoa Invitational. Michelle Wie won her first U.S. LPGA event and earned muchof the attention at the Guadalajara Country Club.
“For me, personally, it’s been a better year (than the last three),” Ochoasaid at her tournament. “If you are talking about the results on the golfcourse, for sure it’s not the best year for me. But what’s important is I amhappy.”
In Mexico, she’s the country’s highest profile athlete—except for footballstars Rafa Marquez of Barcelona or Cuauhtemoc Blanco of the Chicago Fire —andexpected to win every tournament.
But Ochoa has been candid. She is traveling more, playing less and has moreoff-course obligations, which include her charity foundation. She’s alsoplanning to move from Guadalajara to Mexico City after her marriage to AndresConesa, the CEO of Aeromexico airline—one of her sponsors.
Conesa has three children from a previous marriage, so she’ll step into aready-made family.
“Personally, it’s more important the things that I do outside the golfcourse,” she said. “And that’s been my main focus right now.”
Ochoa may follow the path of former No. 1 Annika Sorenstam, who married thisyear just weeks after ending her career. She gave birth to a baby girl inSeptember.
“I will think about a family, but later on,” said Ochoa, who was oftendescribed as a “great ambassador” and an “awesome person” by other players.
Brittany Lincicome says Ochoa hasn’t changed this season, except she seems“more stretched with other things.” Lincicome said Ochoa has stopped coming tomeetings of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
“She said she just did not have time,” Lincicome said. “I mean, she isstill religious but she told us she had other obligations.”
With all the distractions, Ochoa’s weak spot on the course was probably herputting. She complained about it last week at her tournament, yet was seldomseen practicing on the putting green. Paula Creamer, who finished second to Wie,made a point about how much time she spends on the practice greens.
“You see it with No. 1 players in the world,” Angela Stanford said.“There are a lot more demands on their time. … I can’t imagine planning awedding and then also being the No. 1 player in the world and carrying that withyou. I’m sure it’s gotta be a lot more difficult.”
Ochoa recovered from a deep, midseason slump marked by one of the worstrounds of her career—an 8-over 79 in the second round of the U.S. Women’sOpen. In early October, she won the Navistar Classic for her third victory. Sheshot 8-under 64 in the final round of the Mizuno Classic this month to finishsecond.
Ochoa’s been No. 1 for 2 1/2 years, and she’ll stay there heading into nextseason no matter what she does at this week’s season-ending LPGA TourChampionship in Houston. But she’s being pushed by Shin, who also leads theseason money list.
Sorenstam was a commanding player, and Ochoa was expected to take over themantle. Sorenstam’s departure may have increased the pressure on Ochoa, who hasdominated at times but hasn’t quite pulled the crowds the way Michelle Wie does— particularly in the United States.
“With Annika stepping away, it was bigger than most people thought,” U.S.LPGA spokesman David Higdon said. “Lorena was caught in the middle a littlebit. Annika had always been the iconic star. I think people probably didn’trealize how much Annika allowed Lorena to grow as a player.”
Higdon acknowledged the U.S. LPGA desperately needs a superstar. It’sblessed with a strong rookie class including Shin, but it needs one player toemerge.
“When you have a close race like we have right now, it’s interesting andexciting to watch,” he said. “But I always feel like when you have a dominantplayer like Lorena, it raises the level and everybody picks up their game.”
Juli Inkster has been in Ochoa’s shoes.
The 49-year-old Inkster has won seven majors and 31 tournaments, mixing hercareer with raising a family.
“It wasn’t easy, and my results showed the ups and downs,” said Inkster,who began traveling with her daughters six weeks after they were born. They’renow 19 and 15.
“I really think Lorena still has a passion for golf,” Inkster said. “Istill think she wants to be No. 1. But I don’t think golf defines Lorena. Golfis what she does, not what she is.”