Lorena Ochoa noticed that Friday was the third anniversary of the day she first became the world's No. 1 women's golfer. It was no coincidence that, although she is only 28 and still is ranked first, she chose that day to announce her retirement. She wanted to go out on top and move on.
"I'm ready to start a new life," she said in a teleconference. "You know, I just want to be a normal person."
That will not be easy, considering she is one of the most famous athletes Mexico ever has produced. But she is going out on her terms, following previous world No. 1, Annika Sorenstam, who retired in 2008 at 37 to start a family and now has a daughter. Ochoa, who married Aeromexico chief executive Andres Conesa in December, said she would like to start a family in a year or two.
She will play next week in the Tres Marias tournament west of Mexico City, and will play once every year in the Lorena Ochoa Invitational. Otherwise, she is content with her 27 victories, including two majors, and four Player of the Year awards.
It is rare that any star leaves at such an age. One notable exception was the American amateur golf legend Bobby Jones, who also retired at 28. Like Ochoa, he played annually in the tournament he founded, the Masters.
"Once you reach your goals, it's really hard to find that motivation. You need to be brave to see that," Ochoa said. "Fortunately, it was so clear to me that I just came home and said, 'That's it.' "
Ochoa never was a great drawing card outside of her home country. She was, though, an impeccable ambassador known as much for gentle-heartedness as her gritty competitiveness. "She has lifted this sport and the LPGA, and I'm confident that she will continue to do so even as she transitions into the next phase of her life," LPGA commissioner Mike Whan said in a statement.
The golfer has remained close with her parents and siblings. "We all started together and we all finished together," she said. She now has three stepchildren from Conesa's previous marriage. Family and faith always have been important to her. Before she won her first major, she extracted a vow from her caddie that, if she did win the 2007 Women's British Open, he would have his children baptized. Each held up their part of the agreement.
Ochoa is leaving as the men's No. 1 player is returning. Tiger Woods said Friday on his website, "Although we never played together, I met her several times, and she is a wonderful person and a great champion. The game of golf is definitely going to miss her. I hope she decides to stay involved in one form or another."