Mexico and all of LPGA embraces Ochoa

Lorena Ochoa (center) poses for a picture holding a caddie vest she received as a farewell present after the Tres Marias Championship.

Lorena Ochoa (center) poses for a picture holding a caddie vest she received as a farewell present after the Tres Marias Championship.

MORELIA, Mexico – The scene around the 18th at Tres Marias – aka Ochoa Stadium – was the kind that lodges a lump in the throats of grown men. As Lorena Ochoa walked up to the 18th green to strike her final blows before retirement, a sea of Mexicans waved white handkerchiefs and shouted her name. Their hero – in many cases, their first link to this glorious game – was saying goodbye. Ochoa wiped her eyes as she waved to the adoring crowd.

“I tried to put golf behind and just go through the motions and enjoy the moment,” said Ochoa, who closed with a 2-under 71 on May 2 to finish sixth. “I’m proud that I did that. I’m feeling good, happy.”

When play was completed, about 30 LPGA players joined Ochoa on the 18th green for a final farewell. During her acceptance speech, tournament winner Ai Miyazato called Ochoa one of her best friends and broke down in tears as she told the crowd, “I’m going to miss her.”

As Ochoa thanked players for their support during her eight-year LPGA career, she sobbed through a warm embrace with Juli Inkster.

“It’s the perfect time to stop playing,” Ochoa said while addressing the players. “Hopefully all of you, in one way or another, understand.”

“Time for me to stay home, spend time with Andres (Conesa, her husband of less than five months). . . . Give the time back to my family.”

Ochoa needed to finish fourth or better to remain No. 1 in the world. Though she made a charge midway through the final round, a costly bogey on the par-5 16th dashed her chances. Ochoa’s three bogeys came on par 5s, highly uncharacteristic for the long-hitting Mexican who has won three times in Morelia.

Ochoa said that in her mind, she will walk away from the game No. 1 in the world. When asked if she knew what she needed to do to stay No. 1 on Monday after Jiyai Shin won in Japan, Ochoa shook her head.

“I guess they should’ve told me,” she said.

Moments after Ochoa said her final “Gracias,” huge bursts of confetti in Mexican colors (red, white and green) filled the bright blue sky as a mariachi band serenaded the crowd.

“I asked God to help me win today and leave as the best,” Ochoa said in her native tongue. “I can’t ask for more.”

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