Could Lorena retire as No. 2?
MORELIA, Mexico – Ai Miyazato broke the course record with a 10-under 63 in the first round of the Tres Marias Championship and no one was happier for her than Lorena Ochoa.
This, of course, is Ochoa’s time to shine. She requested to play with good friends Miyazato and Natalie Gulbis for the first two rounds of her last tournament before retirement. Ochoa, however, isn’t the type of person to begrudge Miyazato for somewhat stealing her spotlight. Her heart is too good for that.
Lorena Ochoa always spoke about retiring early, but why this soon? Beth Ann Baldry weighs in.
“We never pay attention to how we hit the ball or how many birdies we make,” said Ochoa, who opened Thursday with a 7-under 66. “It’s more about quality time with your friends.”
Ochoa dreamed of closing out her career at No. 1. Yet a Miyazato win this week could shatter that perfect ending. LPGA officials will outline all the various scenarios once Round 1 is in the books and they can determine strength of field. World No. 2 Jiyai Shin is playing this week in Japan, so her results will factor into the equation. Suzann Pettersen, No. 4, also has a chance to take over, but she’ll have to play hard the next several days to catch up after a 73.
(Editor's note: Click here for an update on the different scenarios.)
Miyazato’s spotless round included 10 birdies and 22 putts. The No. 5-ranked player exudes an impressive confidence after winning last year at the Evian Masters and the first two events of 2010 in Asia. While Ochoa knew on the second hole in Thailand that her career would soon be over, Miyazato seems to be warming up.
“Right now I feel like I can showcase what I can do,” said Miyazato, who struck her irons exceptionally well today and enjoyed the extra yardage the altitude of Morelia provides.
The atmosphere of the 9:20 a.m. group appeared tension-free. Ochoa, Gulbis and Miyazato hail from three different countries, speak three different languages and have vastly different swings and games. Yet the trio shares one thing in common: They’re universally loved. Players, fans and media all agree they’re three of the sweetest players in golf.
Those fans who braved the insanely hilly back nine of Tres Marias, one of the worst spectator tracks in golf, enjoyed terrific play from Miyazato and Ochoa. On the back nine alone they combined for 10 birdies and an eagle. For the day, the pair poured in 17 birdies and one eagle. Gulbis struggled with her putter and finished even.
“I’ve never seen somebody who has so much control of her game,” said Ochoa of Ai.
“There are players like me who go all over the place ... For her she has so much control. She’s not the longest player, but she knows what she’s doing.”
At the post-round press conference, Ochoa answered questions in Spanish and then obliged several English-speaking reporters afterward. She was asked if she tires of the Q&A exercise.
“It’s OK,” Ochoa replied. “Only three more days.”
Those who have watched Ochoa closely the last 18 months agree she’s immeasurably happier since announcing her retirement. Her disposition is more relaxed, her face more radiant. She truly seems at peace.
Last summer, Ochoa told her now husband, Andres Conesa, that she didn’t know if she could finish the season. The airline executive encouraged her to finish strong.
Ochoa asked childhood friend Shanti Granada to join her on the road for support. She needed someone to help motivate her for the second half of the season. Granada pulled her friend out of bed to go running in the mornings, helped check her mechanics on the practice green and talked about friends back home in Mexico to make her smile. This week in Morelia marks Granada’s 16th event with Ochoa.
“We were practicing on the golf course (last week) and she was completely another person,” Granada said.
Ochoa’s longtime swing coach, Rafael Alarcon, said she was the happiest he has seen her in three years at last Friday’s press conference.
“I’m completely at peace (with the decision) when you see somebody who is that happy,” he said.
Ochoa didn’t want a farewell tour like Annika Sorenstam. She has accomplished her goals and is ready to start the next phase of life.
“Lorena does everything from the heart,” Juli Inkster said.
And the heart says it’s time to go.