GUADALAJARA, Mexico – Lorena Ochoa is having one of the best years of her life, 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 for Mexico’s edition of Hola magazine. Her engagement was front-page news in every paper in the country. But the pending marriage hasn’t helped the struggling LPGA Tour, which needs a dominant star.
Ochoa has won only three times – compared with 21 in the previous three seasons, including two majors – and didn’t contend in any of this year’s four majors. Jiyai Shin of South Korea is about to take the Player of the Year Award, which Ochoa has claimed three straight times.
Ochoa finished tied for sixth on her home course last weekend at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational. Michelle Wie won her first LPGA event and earned much of the attention at the Guadalajara Country Club.
“For me, personally, it been a better year (than the last three),” Ochoa said at her tournament. “If you are talking about the results on the golf course, for sure it’s not the best year for me. But what’s important is I am happy.”
In Mexico, she’s the country’s highest-profile athlete – except for soccer stars Rafa Marquez of Barcelona or Cuauhtemoc Blanco of the Chicago Fire – and expected to win every tournament.
But Ochoa has been candid. She is traveling more, playing less and has more off-course obligations, which include her charity foundation. She’s also planning to move from Guadalajara to Mexico City after her marriage to Andres Conesa, the CEO of Aeromexico airline – one of her sponsors.
Conesa has three children from a previous marriage, so she’ll step into a ready-made family.
“Personally, it’s more important the things that I do outside the golf course,” she said. “And that’s been my main focus right now.”
Ochoa may follow the path of former No. 1 Annika Sorenstam, who married this year just weeks after ending her career. She gave birth to a baby girl in September.
“I will think about a family, but later on,” said Ochoa, who often is described 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 to meetings of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
“She said she just did not have time,” Lincicome said. “I mean, she is still religious, but she told us she had other obligations.”
With all the distractions, Ochoa’s weak spot on the course probably was her putting. She complained about it last week at her tournament, yet was seldom seen 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 a wedding and then also being the No. 1 player in the world and carrying that with you. I’m sure it’s gotta be a lot more difficult.”
Ochoa has recovered from a deep, midseason slump marked by one of the worst rounds of her career – an 8-over 79 in the second round of the U.S. Women’s Open. In early October, she won the Navistar Classic for her third victory. She shot 8-under 64 in the final round of the Mizuno Classic this month to finish second.
Ochoa’s been No. 1 for 2 1/2 years, and she’ll stay there heading into next season no matter what she does at this week’s season-ending LPGA Tour Championship in Houston. But she’s being pushed by Shin, who also leads the season money list.
Sorenstam was a commanding player, and Ochoa was expected to take over the mantle. Sorenstam’s departure may have increased the pressure on Ochoa, who has dominated in stretches but doesn’t quite pull the crowds the way Michelle Wie does – particularly in the United States.
Juli Inkster has been in Ochoa’s shoes.
The 49-year-old Inkster has won seven majors and 31 tournaments, mixing her career 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’re now 19 and 15.
“I really think Lorena still has a passion for golf,” Inkster said. “I still think she wants to be No. 1. But I don’t think golf defines Lorena. Golf is what she does, not what she is.”