Lorena Ochoa made her dear friend cry.
When fellow LPGA veteran Reilley Rankin hung up the phone after her conversation with Ochoa earlier this week, Rankin wiped away tears of joy and sadness.
“Lorena called to tell me she was finished,” said Rankin, who has known Ochoa since their families began traveling together in a caravan on the Futures Tour eight years ago. “She said she wasn’t going to play anymore, but she said she was very, very happy. She’s in a really good place right now.”
When Ochoa meets the media Friday in Mexico City, she won’t be laying out plans for a leave of absence. She won’t characterize her plans to leave golf as “stepping away.”
At least that’s not the impression she left on Rankin, a close friend who’s played more practice rounds with Ochoa than any other LPGA player and occasionally roomed with Ochoa on the road in their seven-plus years together on tour.
Ochoa is “finished.” That isn’t just the word Ochoa used to describe her plans to part from life on the LPGA’s tour. It’s the strong impression she left on Rankin. She’s finished because she’s committed and excited about beginning anew as a wife, mother and leader of her charitable foundations.
Ochoa will play the Tres Marias Championship in Mexico next week, but it’s unclear how much more she’ll play this season. Rankin said that’s up to Ochoa to say. Ochoa didn’t tell Rankin she would never play again, but Rankin was left with the impression her friend is taking her life in an entirely new direction.
“Right now, her focus is on putting her clubs away, it’s on retiring,” Rankin said. “She’s realized there are more important things in her life. She has to do what makes her happy, what fulfills her.”
Ochoa married AeroMexico executive Andres Conesa late last year and moved from her home in Guadalajara to Mexico City. She became an instant mom to three children. She is building a new life with her husband, a 14-year-old son and 12- and 7-year-old daughters.
“Family is the most important thing to Lorena,” Rankin said. “She’s been very, very happy since she met Andres. I know it was hard for her to be away from him even before they got married. One of the hardest things in their relationship was for her to be away from him.”
Rankin has watched Ochoa become close to the three children in her life now.
“She loves those children and wants to spend more time with them and make an impact on their lives,” Rankin said.
Ochoa also values her foundations, a Mexican-based foundation that funds a school for underprivileged children and a new American-based foundation committed to taking the benefits of golf to Latino and others under-represented in the game.
“Lorena’s going to focus a lot on her foundations,” Rankin said. “She’s a far better person than she is a golfer, which is saying a lot when you look at her accomplishments in golf. She could have the kind of impact on the world that Oprah has. She’s made a huge difference in people’s lives while juggling golf. I’m excited to see the impact she’ll have when it becomes more of her focus.”
Rankin said the power of family in Ochoa’s life was clear in how hard Ochoa took the deaths of her uncle and grandfather and how it impacted her game as she grieved. She said it was clear again a few years ago when they roomed together at an event in Springfield, Ill., after Ochoa received big news following the final round. She was informed that the wife of her oldest brother, Javier, had just given birth to the couple’s first child.
Ochoa asked Rankin to race her to Chicago and O’Hare airport so she could get home as quickly as possible.
“I’ve never packed and left a hotel room so fast in my life,” Rankin said. “I don’t know how we didn’t get a speeding ticket. She had the last flight out. She was very emotional.”
Rankin was emotional hearing why Ochoa would be leaving the tour.
“She told me, `Don’t worry, we will still see each other,’” Rankin said.
The words were at once uplifting and sad for Rankin to hear.