May
2
2010
The Lasting Legacy of Lorena Ochoa
By Stephanie Wei under General

Here’s the column I wrote for next month’s issue of Avid Golfer — which I had posted briefly earlier last week, but forgot had to wait until the Mag hit the presses.

Fighting back tears at a media conference in Mexico City on April 23, Lorena Ochoa officially announced she was walking away from professional golf after the LPGA event in Morelia, Mexico, the following week. With humility and grace, she candidly explained why she was stepping down from her place as the world’s leading golfer.

“I’m ready to start a new life,” Ochoa said. “You know, I just want to be a normal person. I just want to live like everyday things and be home, and be back with my family all the time that we lost in the last few years.”

Rising to the number-one spot three years ago, Ochoa has had an impressive run in her short eight-year career. Her resume includes 27 career victories, two major championships and four LPGA Player of the Year awards. At only 28, it seems peculiar she would retire so early, especially since she needs to play another two years to qualify for the LPGA Hall of Fame. But in recent years Ochoa had hinted that she would put set aside her golf clubs to start a family. She married Andres Conesea, the CEO of AeroMexico, last December felt the timing couldn’t have been better.

“I’m really happy to say that everything just came together, and this is the perfect time,” Ochoa said. “I’m at the top. I’m really happy in my life. I want to be remembered like that.”

She will certainly be remembered as one of the best to play the game, not to mention a class act.

I’ve never had the opportunity to meet Lorena, but by all accounts I’ve heard she is nothing short of a saint. In Christina Kim’s new book, Swinging From My Heels, she made a preemptive prediction on Lorena’s retirement — though like most others, believed it wouldn’t be for another few years. But here’s how Christina describes her, which seems to sum it up pretty well:

“[Lorena] is the sweetest, kindest most giving person walking the earth. Any positive word you can use to describe a human being, that would be Lorena Ochoa. She’s got that inner light. I think she’s been touched by God. Honestly, I’m surprised she hasn’t been canonized yet.”

While Lorena will no longer be a full-time LPGA player — and from the sounds of it, the retirement is permanent — she will still remain as an ambassador to the game through her eponymous foundation, which besides her family, she pledged will be her main focus. A few years ago, she built La Barranca, a school in Guadalajara for children ages 6 and older, which she continues to fund. In the works is the Lorena Ochoa School to educate kids and adults. It’s clear she has a true passion for giving and impacting people’s lives through her good works.

“I want to be remembered as a good person,” she said. “I want to be remembered for the things that I would do outside the golf course. I did play golf for a reason, and the achievement and to be able to reach out and help others.”

What also really struck me about her press conference was the advice she imparted onto younger players. Listen up!

“I’m afraid when the young players are 17 and 18 and they’re talking about playing professional golf,” Ochoa said. “So I say stay in college, go to college, stay in college. Figure out what you want to do 100%, so by the time you play three or four years you don’t burn out and you can stay playing golf for longer.”

I hope she continues to relay that message. It frightens me, too, when I hear about kids turning pro at such an early age. I mean, the tour life is tough, and Lorena retiring at 28 is proof of that. Golf will always be there — that’s the beauty of the game — you can play until you’re 70 years old at least. I’ve never understood the appeal of the rush to play professionally. Sure, the money is appealing, but that will always be around, as well. However, the time where you’re supposed to be a kid won’t. So I say, enjoy being a “regular” teenager and/or college student and player, which will be something to value as the years go by.

While no doubt Lorena will be missed, her legacy as a role model — both on and off the golf course — will carry on. Perhaps the most important message she offered in her farewell speech was her happiness with the decision.

“I’m ready to move on,” Ochoa said. “You know, once you achieve your goals and you are at the top, it was good to me. But there are so many other things that I’d like to do. I’m really happy today, and I’m pleased. I’m 100% complete. It’s great news and I’m super happy.”

After all, that’s what brings meaning to life. And lucky for all, she will continue to enlighten thousands with her good works and generous heart for many more years.