Adios, Lorena: Your Retirement Leaves a Void

In eight glorious but too-short years on the LPGA Tour, Lorena Ochoa showed us again and again, in her singularly gracious and winning way, that she was possessed of the talent and the drive to become the No. 1 female golfer in the world. Friday, she revealed quite another side of herself, no less stunning, but one she no longer could deny: She wasn’t wired to live the life of the No. 1 female golfer in the world.
She had achieved her goal of climbing to the top of her sport’s mountain. She had recently married a man who brought three children from a previous wife into the marriage. She wanted to be at home in Mexico with that family. And she wanted to have more children after a while.
She wanted, she said, “to be normal.”
So she announced her retirement from professional golf at the relatively tender age of 28. How do you spell relief?
“I am happy,” she said. “I am at peace.”
Good for her. In almost 40 years in covering thousand of athletes, male and female, in a variety of sports, Ochoa may be the most naturally charming and likable one I have ever interviewed. Of the truly “great” athletes I have written about, she is easily the least pretentious.
She said Friday she will still play a few events a year. And when I asked if she would completely rule out returning for a full schedule any time in the future, she didn’t say absolutely not. But the best guess here is that isn’t going to happen.
“I am ready to start a new life and enjoy everyday things,” she said. “Some athletes are forced to retire.”
That was never going to happen to Lorena Ochoa.
The world will always be a better place as long as Ochoa is in it. The LPGA will miss her dearly. So will golf in general. The women’s game has now lost its two top players – Ochoa and Annika Sorenstam – to retirement in the past two years. This comes at a time when the LPGA is desperate for stars to drive the search for title sponsorship money. This also comes at a time when the best player on the men’s side, Tiger Woods, is still mending fences that stretch farther and taller than The Great Wall of China.
Golf will survive because so many people love to play it. But the game’s highest competitive levels on the men’s and women’s side are facing big, big challenges. Ochoa’s departure puts those problems in bas-relief.
Michael Whan, the new commissioner of the LPGA, properly wished Ochoa all the best. “She has lifted this sport and the LPGA,” Whan said. “And I’m confident that she will continue to do so even as she transitions into the next phase of her life.”
But this is unmistakeably a blow for Whan and his organization. The timing of this for the LPGA, through no fault of Ochoa, is terrible. “I’m just crushed,” Hall of Famer Judy Rankin told The Associated Press. “We won’t get to see her play golf. Mostly, we won’t get to see her.”
Ochoa is hugely popular in Mexico. And, as her country’s preeminent sports person, she is enormously influential. She has talked about helping public charities and stopped just short of committing to government service projects. Clearly, any involvement in that area would be years, and the birth of at least a couple her own children, down the road. But the power of her in her own land can not be overestimated. Mexico has a rich history but currently finds itself torn by an horrific turf war between its army and regional drug lords. Do not be surprised if political power brokers aren’t already thinking of ways to draft Ochoa into public office.
All of which is a long, long way from the pond next to the 18th green at the Kraft Nabisco, where Ochoa and her family and friends soaked and celebrated after she won her second major in 2008. She knows there will be many who don’t understand why she is walking away from full-time professional golf. “It’s even harder to express myself in English,” she said.
But, she added, “I want to be remembered as a person … for the things outside the golf course.”
On the more mundane matter of the World Golf Hall of Fame, Ochoa will certainly gain entry through the veteran committee five years after being inactive, even though she didn’t complete the full 10 seasons of active play required to gain entry through the LPGA’s points system.
“I am making the decision (to retire),” she said, “because all the elements are together.”
Would that we could say the same about the professional game she will no longer be a full-time part of after she plays one more tournament next week in Mexico.
Adios, Lorena. You will be missed, but impossible to forget.


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