For the second time in less than two years, the most decorated player on the LPGA tour is announcing a retirement. First Annika Sorenstam at 37. Now Lorena Ochoa at 28.
Each instance is a blow to golf, in particular the women’s game. Each retirement can be called premature, particularly Ochoa’s, because she leaves 40 or so major championship opportunities on the table.
It has been said Ochoa, who married an airline executive last December, wasn’t enjoying the tour experience much anymore. Only she knows what makes her happy. The collection of big trophies means only so much. We just have to wish her well.
Yet her departure is the sporting public’s loss. I’ll admit it – it bothers me a bit anytime a genius at his/her craft leaves prematurely. The world is deprived of the rare skill they have been blessed with. Potential goes unrealized. But then let’s face it: Money creates options for people.
Ochoa hardly is the first to say goodbye when it’s still time to say hello. The Beatles, Jim Brown, Bobby Jones, Byron Nelson, Sandy Koufax, Barry Sanders and Sorenstam are among others who split during a stage of their prime and left people wanting for more.
Former Notre Dame basketball coach Digger Phelps wisely said he retired at 50 instead of 60 because there were so many things he could do between 50 and 60 that he couldn’t physically do between 60 and 70.
The flip side also applies. Rare athletes also have limited windows. Vijay Singh and Kenny Perry aside, they can achieve in a way between 28 and 40 that they usually can’t later.
The technical term is “milking the cow for all it’s worth.”
In times like this, I wonder how long Tiger Woods’ candle will burn.