Lorena Ochoa is retiring, just as Annika Sorenstam did two years ago, leaving the struggling LPGA Tour without its No. 1 player again and depriving the sport of one of its great ambassadors.
Ochoa, probably the best-known athlete in Mexico who is not a football player, announced her surprise decision on Tuesday and will discuss her plans tomorrow.
The 28-year-old got married last year, setting off speculation she might be putting golf aside to raise a family. She has been No. 1 in the world the last three years and won 27 times over the last six.
“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.”
The LPGA said it would not comment until tomorrow’s news conference.
The LPGA said late on Tuesday that Ochoa had not withdrawn from next week’s Tres Marias event in Morelia, west of Mexico City, and indicated she was expected to play. She finished fourth earlier this month in the Kraft Nabisco Championship in California, the first major of the year.
“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 retired 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. In December, she wed Andres Conesa, the chief executive of Aeromexico airline. He has three children from a previous marriage.
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“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 children of her own.
Last year, she began traveling more, playing less and taking on more 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.”
“I will think about a family, but later on,” added Ochoa, often described as an “awesome person” by other players.
Her retirement is a blow to an LPGA Tour buffeted by the rough economy. It has only 25 tournaments on its schedule this year, 14 of them in the US.
Sorenstam became the face of the 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, Oklahoma, two years ago.
Ochoa was defined as much by her dominance as her graciousness.
Mindful of her roots, she often would go to the maintenance barn during LPGA Tour events and speak with the workers, many of them from Mexico.