Sunday, April 25, 2010

Lorena Ochoa bows out ... she says she

is happy and at peace

MEXICO CITY -- Lorena Ochoa finally made official her retirement from professional golf after almost eight years in the LPGA and the past three as the No. 1 female player in the world.
In an emotional news conference Friday with no shortage of tears, Ochoa explained the reason that triggered this unexpected and surprising decision was her determination to assume her role in life off the golf course. She said that she will now undertake some personal projects with her husband -- Aeromexico chief executive Andres Conesa -- and will live a normal life away from the constant travel.
In a mix of emotions, Ochoa talked exclusively with ESPN about this moment. She was sad because of the parting, happy because of the way in which it's happening, excited about the new phase of her life.
"I've thought through this decision and I'm telling you sincerely … I'm at peace, and I've never been happier in my life because I've achieved everything I wanted to achieve," Ochoa said. "I started very young and with high dreams of becoming the best. … I've been No. 1 in the world for three years, and now, after one more year, I'm giving you this news. But it's very good news. It's a message of joy, of happiness. I feel satisfied, very peaceful."
Despite the emotional aspect of her departure and the mixed feelings of fans and the sports media over this decision, Ochoa wants everyone to know that she is happy, for she is leaving professional golf after fulfilling all her goals.
"We are all going through the same [emotions]," Ochoa said. "We get sad. I've heard that people are sorry they won't be seeing me play any more on weekends and that is true, we're all going through different emotions. But at the end of the day, what I want to convey is that this is good news, something that fills me with joy. It gives me great peace to have taken it with all my heart. I can't be happier and I want to pass on that joy."
Ochoa made history in Mexican sports by taking a sport like golf, usually reserved for the wealthy, to the general population. When the Guadalajara native began to shine in the LPGA, many fans and media outlets started turning their attention toward greens and fairways.
"I think the most beautiful thing that my career has given me, and of what I dare say I'm very proud of, is the impact that golf has had in this country," Ochoa said. "What was something unknown to all of us, including the media, is now a popular sport practiced by many children and adults. So I think that the impact that golf has had in this country, with the construction of new courses, well, it's been incredible. I am very happy to have been a part of building the road toward such a nice sport as golf [in Mexico], and I hope it continues forever because I will keep in touch with golf my entire life."
As for Ochoa's legacy on the golf course, her first major victory couldn't have been better. For the first time in history, St. Andrews -- the legendary course where golf was born -- allowed ladies to play. The first winner was a Mexican.
"St. Andrews is something very difficult to put into words," Ochoa explained of her victory in 2007. "There are many beautiful emotions, but the Sunday before the tournament I came to the 18th green with my brother Alejandro. It was getting dark, around 8 p.m. The 18th green could barely be seen in the dark, but the stands were empty and the course was clear. Talking with my brother, I told him to imagine Sunday's final round, walking to No. 18 with all the public, with all the gallery overflowing with emotion, and me getting the last putt to win the tournament, and that was just as it happened, just as we [foresaw] it.
" Much of it had to do with the fact that I had the courage to dream for it to become true. It was a gift from God because every shot I made was perfect. I enjoyed it very much despite the bad weather, and I won the tournament, the most special of my career."
And just as there were great victories, there were also some difficult near-misses throughout her career. The biggest of those was the U.S. Open, a tournament Ochoa was poised to win several times but always came up short.
However, she believes all those losses came with a purpose.
"It's not a thorn, honestly," Ochoa said. "Golf has given me so much and I've accomplished so much that I can't ask for more. I think there are people who are never really satisfied, but there's also a time for acceptance because I never imagined that I would achieve so much. So I can't ask for more. The opportunities that I had at the U.S. Open were also experiences that gave me the strength to become who I am today."
Ochoa will play her last tournament as an active LPGA player next week, when she tries to defend her title at the Tres Marias Championship in her native Mexico. The goodbye was part of another wish she was hoping to have fulfilled, saying farewell before her people.
Ochoa's Greatest Hits
Lorena Ochoa falls short of the 10-year playing requirement to be eligible for the Hall of Fame but retires with an accomplished résumé:
• 2 majors, 27 titles • $14.2 million in earnings • 4-time player of the year
"I'm happy to finish in Morelia before my fans and I look forward to entering this new phase in my career," Ochoa said. "I think I deserve it and I want to share it with everyone. I achieved everything I wanted and I'm happy. I will cry from Hole 1 on Thursday to Hole 18 on Sunday, and I think that's the beauty of it, that we'll all have the opportunity to enjoy it, to enjoy me playing, and for people to enjoy it, to live it. I think it will be something unforgettable."
Ochoa would, of course, like to win before stepping away, but said she doesn't want to think about that. Instead, she'd prefer to enjoy those four days.
"I do not want to press myself because the most important thing is to enjoy every moment, each step on the golf course each day," she said. "I will be there 100 percent, giving time to my fans because I have to, and mostly because I want to, to thank them for all these years."
At the news conference, Ochoa was accompanied by her entire family, all of her sponsors, her coach Rafael Alarcon, who dedicated some heartfelt words to his pupil, and hundreds of national and international media outlets. She took the opportunity to deny the rumor that her unexpected retirement was due to a pregnancy and made it very clear that she longs to be a mother, but in the future, because now she has many projects at hand with her husband.
Ochoa also noted that she'll continue playing golf to keep in shape and be able to participate in invitational tournaments, like her Lorena Ochoa Invitational in Guadalajara. Plus, she said she'll participate in clinics and exhibitions, and will be working hard at her academy and her foundation.
Ochoa also expressed her gratitude for the great support she's always had, but especially from her fans.
"I'm so grateful to all the fans, to God for all he's given me, and to my family," she said. "I thank you with all my heart for the company you have given me all these years and I will keep on doing many things."
John Sutcliffe is a reporter for "SportsCenter," ESPN Radio Formula and covers golf for