Top-ranked golfer Lorena Ochoa announces sudden retirement

Lorena Ochoa became the second LPGA Tour star in three years to step away from golf when she announced her retirement Tuesday.

In this August 2007 file photo

In this August 2007 file photo

MEXICO CITY — Lorena Ochoa retired Tuesday, following the path of Annika Sorenstam and marking the second time in the last three years the biggest star on the LPGA Tour left the game.

The 28-year-old Mexican announced her decision on her website and will discuss her plans Friday. Ochoa, who has been No. 1 in the world the last three years and won 27 times over the last six years, may well be the best-known athlete in her country who is not a soccer player.

“Lorena Ochoa confirms her retirement from the LPGA, as news reports in some media have said today,” her statement said. “The reasons and more details on the matter will be given by Lorena personally in a press conference on Friday in Mexico City. Lorena will share this news of a new stage in her life with her sponsors, family members and friends.”

Ochoa made more than US$14.8 million in official LPGA earnings.

The tour told The Associated Press it would not comment until Friday’s news conference.

Ochoa is scheduled to play next week in the Tres Marias event in Morelia, west of Mexico City. It was not clear if she would indeed play there or if this month’s Kraft Nabisco Championship in California, where she finished fourth in the year’s first major, was her finale.

“I’m just crushed,” Judy Rankin, a Hall of Famer and television analyst, said upon hearing the news. “We won’t get to see her play golf. Mostly, we won’t get to see her.”

Sorenstam was 37 when she announced her retirement in May 2008, saying she wanted to pursue other interests and start a family. She now has a daughter.

The newspaper Reforma first reported Ochoa’s retirement and said she wanted to concentrate on her family and charities. She was married in December to Andres Conesa, the chief executive of Aeromexico airline. He has three children from a previous marriage.

“I must admit that I was surprised, but not shocked, when I heard the news yesterday that Lorena is going to retire,” Sorenstam said on her blog. “She has always said she would play for maybe 10 years and then leave the game to start a family. She just got married and obviously feels that she is ready for that next chapter in her life.”

Ochoa has also talked openly about wanting to have children of her own. Last year she began travelling more, playing less, and had more off-course obligations, which include her charity foundation.

“Personally, it’s more important the things that I do outside the golf course,” Ochoa said last year before a tournament she hosts in her hometown of Guadalajara. “And that’s been my main focus right now.”

Her retirement is a blow to the LPGA Tour, which has been struggling in a tough economy and has only 25 tournaments on its schedule this year, 14 of them in the United States.

Sorenstam became the face of the LPGA Tour by winning the career Grand Slam, becoming the only woman to shoot 59 and playing in the Colonial, the first woman in 58 years to compete on the PGA Tour.

Ochoa never quite assumed that star power, playing before moderate crowds even as she was going for a record-tying fifth straight victory in Tulsa, Okla., two years ago.

Ochoa was defined as much by her dominance as her graciousness. Mindful of her heritage, she often would go to the maintenance barn during LPGA Tour events and speak with the workers, many of them from Mexico.

She rose to No. 1 in 2006 by winning six times, and she captured her first major at St. Andrews a year later by winning the Women’s British Open. Ochoa’s other major was the 2008 Kraft Nabisco Championship, where she took the traditional jump into the pond with her family as a mariachi band serenaded her.

She won her fourth consecutive LPGA Tour player of the year award in 2009, narrowly holding off Jiyai Shin. Ochoa played four times this year, with her best finish at the Kraft Nabisco Championship when she finished fourth.

“While the LPGA will certainly miss her great play, warm demeanour and smile, I am personally very happy for her,” Sorenstam said. “The most rewarding days are ahead of her, and I wish her all the best.”

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