Ochoa This is the Right Time


Lorena Ochoa always knew she would walk away from golf in her prime.

She knew she wanted to exit when she was on top.

She envisioned it coming as she started a new family with her life changing and the game becoming less important.
Lorena Ochoa
Lorena Ochoa has 27 career victories on the LPGA. (Getty Images)
Ochoa knew all of this, and yet she didn’t know exactly when to leave until she was standing on a tee box in Asia at the LPGA’s season openers in Thailand and Singapore two months ago.

After a hard season in 2009, when she was scrutinized for losing her edge, for winning only three titles and barely claiming her fourth Rolex Player of the Year title, Ochoa tried to rededicate herself in the winter. She did this after boosting expectations with 21 titles in the three previous years.

“I came home, and I recharged my batteries,” Ochoa said Friday near her home in Mexico City in a teleconference after announcing her retirement. “I said, `OK, I'm going to practice hard. I'm going to make sure I work hard and get ready, and I'm going to try to play one more year,’ but I want to be honest with all of you. I went to Asia, and after two or three days of being in Thailand, it was really clear to see that I didn't want to be out there. I was thinking of other things. I wanted to get home. I wanted to start working on the foundation. I wanted to be here close to my family.”

The No. 1 player in women’s golf knew that at 28 it was time for her to leave the game and devote herself even more fully to her new husband, AeroMexico executive Andres Conesa, whom she married in December. She knew then it was time to give more of herself to her three stepchildren and to the foundations she cherishes.

On the other side of the world, Ochoa could more clearly see details of the ending she always imagined. She could see the retirement she announced Friday. She will say goodbye in the Tres Marias Championship in Morelia in her beloved Mexico next week, continue to play the Lorena Ochoa Invitational in her homeland each November and maybe play an odd event here and there.

Ochoa knew in Asia that it was the right thing to do with 27 LPGA titles, two majors, four Rolex Player of the Year titles and four Vare trophies already equaling a life’s work in golf.

“Once you reach your goals, it’s hard to find motivation,” Ochoa said. “You need to be brave to see that. You need to listen to your heart and make the decision. Fortunately, it was clear to me. That’s it. My last tournament will be Morelia.”

There were no stunning revelations when Ochoa announced her retirement Friday. She left for the reasons she always said would make her leave. She just left earlier than anyone imagined.

“I'm just ready to start a new life,” she said. “I just want to be a normal person. I just want to live everyday things, to be home and to give back to my family all the time that we lost in the last few years.”

Ochoa, who emerged as a young phenom in Guadalajara to become a two-time NCAA Player of the Year at the University of Arizona, seized the No. 1 ranking from Hall of Famer Annika Sorenstam on April 23, 2007. She announced her retirement exactly three years later, after 157 consecutive weeks on top. She said the pressure of being No. 1 did not weigh in her decision, though fellow players have seen her show uncharacteristic frustration in her game the last year.

“Retirement didn’t come faster [because of the pressures of being No. 1],” she said. “Maybe that’s how it looks on the outside, but it came at the right time. I never felt that pressure. It was joy and happiness for the support from media and fans.

“I’m simply making the decision today because this is the right time. This is the perfect time. I’ve always said I wanted to leave at No. 1. I’m really happy. I’ve never been this happy. I’m ready to lead my life in a different way.”

Ochoa knew in Asia that the game could no longer make her as happy as it once did. In fact, her colleagues could see the game making her unhappy. They could see little bursts of temper from one of the most good-natured players the game's ever known.

“You could sense she didn’t really want to be there,” Morgan Pressel said of her final round pairing with Ochoa at the HSBC Women’s Champions in Singapore. “She just didn’t look like she was having as much fun as she usually does.”

Ochoa, who said she hopes to expand her family with Andres by having children together, sounded like a woman with no regrets. The frustration in Asia confirmed what she’s been struggling with the last year. She can’t give all of herself to all of the endeavors that mean so much to her. She has the Lorena Ochoa Foundation, based in Mexico and dedicated to youth, education and health causes. She also just launched the Lorena Ochoa Golf Foundation, based in the United States with an aim at bringing the benefits of the game to Latinos and others “under-represented” in the game.

“It was time to make a decision from my heart,” Ochoa said. “I never doubted it. It’s why it was easy. There are so many things I would like to do. I am happy, at peace and 100 percent complete.”