Family matters for Ochoa

IAN HUTCHINSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:37 AM ET

TORONTO - The retirement of Lorena Ochoa didn’t come without warning, but the retirement of the world’s No. 1 female from the LPGA Tour still has jaws on the ground.

Back in February, Ochoa had chatted with the media and mentioned that she had been practising and looking forward to a full schedule, including the CN Canadian Women’s Open later this year in Winnipeg, but something changed shortly after that conversation.

Life was changing quickly for the 28-year-old. In the off-season, Ochoa married airline executive Andres Conesa and suddenly had a family with three children and hopes for more.

“I went to Asia, and after two or three days of being in Thailand, it was really easy to me. It was really clear to see that I didn’t want to be out there, you know. I just was thinking of other things. I wanted to get home. I wanted to start working on (her) foundation. I wanted to be here close to my family,” Ochoa said.

“Once you reach your goals, it’s really hard to find that motivation. You need to be brave to see that — just to really listen to your heart and your feelings and be able to see that and make a decision,” she said.

An early retirement was something Ochoa had talked about for a couple of years, but the suddenness of this week’s announcement caught about everybody off-guard.

“I was really shocked,” Canadian LPGA Tour player Alena Sharp of Hamilton said. “I knew she wasn’t going to play for much longer, but I didn’t know it was going to happen this fast.”

Eight-time LPGA Tour winner Sandra Post of Oakville echoed that thought. “In many interviews, she’s always insinuated it wasn’t going to be a long career, but I guess we didn’t expect it come right now.”

Ochoa’s decision is one that Post can understand. The winner of the 1968 LPGA Championship retired at the age of 34, six years older than Ochoa, but still relatively young by golf’s standards.

“Your heart is torn and you put it out there for so long and now, being married, having a family, she just cannot get to that plateau again. She can’t get herself emotionally and mentally there. If you can’t do that, you’d rather not play. I can understand that,” Post said.

“I had lost the heart and the passion to play. I was playing up to 27 to 30 events a year and this year, the tour’s going to have 24 events. We were also playing around the world, so it wasn’t like it was all domestic,” she said.

“I was kind of burned out. I was still playing okay, enough that I hadn’t fallen all the way off the charts, but I just felt I didn’t have the energy to get back there again,” she said.

So while Ochoa’s retirement, from a personal point of view, makes sense as her life evolves, it’s that lack of tournaments on the schedule that makes her exit a stern challenge for the LPGA Tour, which has been losing sponsors and tournaments with shocking regularity these past few years.

“It’s not great for us, but there’s a lot of talent and up-and-coming talent,” Sharp said. “I’m not worried about it. We have a new commissioner (Michael Whan), who is doing a great job and I think we’re going to be fine, but it’s just sad not to have her out there.”

Despite Sharp’s optimism, Ochoa’s exit does come with bad timing, just two years after the retirement of another of the tour’s great stars, Annika Sorenstam.

The likeable Ochoa has a magnetic personality wrapped in a humble, pleasant package and is easily one of the most approachable stars in professional sports. That has earned her admiration around the world, but particularly in her beloved Mexico, where she is a national celebrity.

Sharp recalled Ochoa’s relationship with Mexicans during one tournament in Phoenix.

“She would go and buy lunch for the grounds crew who are mainly Mexican. She did things like that to take care of the Mexican people,” Sharp said.

The Mexican people returned the love. “She was always aware of her audience and her gallery, especially if she played in Phoenix or Palm Springs where there were more Mexicans that come and watch her play and support her with the flag,” Post said.


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