Ochoa leaves LPGA on her own terms

Lorena Ochoa announced her retirement from the game Friday in Mexico City.

Lorena Ochoa announced her retirement from the game Friday in Mexico City.

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Lorena Ochoa wipes away a tear as she announces her retirement from the LPGA.

MEXICO CITY – Not long after Lorena Ochoa’s formal press conference had concluded, Andres Conesa walked into a small conference room at the Banamex Center and gave his wife a sweet kiss.

“Somebody has to work, no?” the AeroMexico CEO said with a laugh as he headed back to the office. Ochoa joked that she should have recognized Conesa as her newest sponsor since she will retire at the blissfully young age of 28.

Ochoa announced Friday that she will step down as an active member of the LPGA following next week’s event in Morelia. The news came three years to the day she became the No. 1 player in the world. She plans to play in her own Lorena Ochoa Invitational this fall and perhaps a couple of majors in 2011. Ochoa won 27 tournaments and two majors and ranks third on the all-time money list with $14,817,850.

“Today I can say proudly that this is the time,” she said.

Ochoa wanted to retire as the No. 1 player in the world; she wanted her last tournament to be on Mexican soil; and she wanted to start life’s next chapter – that of being a wife and a mom – without the rigors of tour life.

“I want to live and enjoy everyday life,” she said.

Ochoa yearns for simple things, such as buying fresh flowers for her new home with Conesa and sticking around to enjoy them. After Morelia, she plans to sign up for cooking classes.

“Annika, she knew how to cook, but not me,” Ochoa said, laughing.

Many suspected that Ochoa chose to leave in the middle of the season because the newlyweds were expecting a child. Ochoa understands why people would jump to that conclusion, but said she simply came back from the Asian swing with no motivation to play.

“I didn’t want to make a mistake and go too long,” she said.

Ochoa and Conesa, 40, wed in December but have been together for nearly three years. The father of three was a part of her life when she was on top of her game, winning seven times in 2008. And he was there when she confessed to him last summer that she didn’t know if she could keep playing.

“Without him, I didn’t have any more energy,” she said.

Ochoa credits Conesa for motivating her to finish strong last year to collect her fourth consecutive Player of the Year trophy. She fully intended to play all of 2010. Her brother/manager, Alejandro, said his sister worked harder than ever last offseason and was in tremendous shape heading to Asia. But her mind and her heart were back in Mexico, and several days into the trip Ochoa knew the time had come.

Her inner circle supported the decision immediately. Ochoa’s father, Javier, half-jokingly said, “We’re all so tired.” Even though Ochoa spent less than eight full seasons on the LPGA, building this career took much longer. And like everything in her life, it was a family effort.

While there were plenty of tears from Ochoa and her family Friday morning as her sponsors and close supporters expressed their thanks, they were tears of joy. Everyone in the Ochoa camp seems grateful for the ride but ready for life’s next chapter.

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Baldry: Ochoa retirement timing a shock

Lorena Ochoa always spoke about retiring early, but why this soon? Beth Ann Baldry weighs in.

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Alejandro knocked on the door of 35 Mexican companies eight years ago before finding one, Office Depot, that would take a chance. Today, he announced that all of Ochoa’s sponsors will stand by her as he transitions her contracts to give companies more personal time with the Mexican star.

Lorena and her brother always have known her career would not be long, so they built her academies and foundation years ahead so that the moment she wanted to put away her clubs, the next phase would be ready.

Ever the philanthropist, Ochoa looks forward to spending more time playing soccer with the children at the school she funds.

“The best present from God has been my foundation,” she said.

Ochoa also believes her academies could be “huge” in Mexico and South America, but concedes she needs to be there more. Her brother hopes to finalize plans on an academy in China sometime later this year. She’ll also dip her toes into golf course architecture, focusing on Mexico and Asia.

Ochoa truly seemed at peace as she explained her decision to a standing-room-only crowd, perhaps the happiest she has looked all season. She’d like to have two children of her own with Conesa, but said that’s probably two years away. She wants to sleep in on the weekends, visit with friends and plan last-minute trips to the beach.

“There’s no need to rush,” she said. “I feel like I deserve that time.”

Ochoa defined the game of golf in Mexico, inspiring millions to take an interest in a sport that, as she said, “wasn’t even on the map” when she started. The unsuspecting power player spent 157 consecutive weeks at No. 1. As LPGA vice president Jane Geddes said, Ochoa will be remembered among players as much for her humility as her performance.

“I will miss seeing Lorena on a regular basis and competing against her in the near future,” Paula Creamer said in an e-mail. “Lorena has established herself as a great player, but to be honest, she is even a better person.”

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