In April 1995, at something called the Senior Sprint Challenge, LPGA legend Mickey Wright, then 60, teed off for what would be the final competitive round of her career. Dozens of LPGA pros turned out to sneak a peek at her famous swing, and that day has now passed into mythology.
The modern-day version of this tale happens in Mexico every year at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational, when the eponymous host pegs it in the Wednesday pro-am. Ochoa, 33, walked away from the LPGA five years ago at the height of her powers to start a family and concentrate on her charitable foundation. But for one day every year she turns back the clock, to the delight of everyone who catches a glimpse.
“You can see her game is not quite tournament-sharp but that swing is still a thing of beauty,” says Christina Kim, who won the Invitational in 2014. “So athletic and free. So pure. It’s always great to see Lorena out on the golf course but it does make me miss having her on tour. I’m pretty sure the whole world misses having her on tour.”
Ochoa grew tired of the constant grind of traveling the world and having the weight of a nation on her shoulders, and she has said many times that she remains at peace with her decision. For her, golf was always a deep passion but it hardly defined her. Ochoa came from a traditional Mexican family and lived with her parents deep into her 20s; at tournaments her father, Javier, would often hold her hand as they walked to the first tee and send his daughter off with a kiss on the cheek and the sign of the cross on her forehead. Ochoa’s iconic status in her homeland helped the LPGA colonize Mexico, adding three tournaments to the schedule. (Two of them vanished more or less the second she announced her retirement.) Ochoa’s mission was always to pay it forward.
“I know I am now in a position of influence,” she told me in 2007. “It is a responsibility I take very seriously. The game has given me so much. I have a lot of giving back to do.”
Today, Ochoa devotes most of her energies to supporting the La Barranca Educational Center in her hometown of Guadalajara, a specialized school that is home to 350 kids between first and 12th grades. Ochoa makes appearances, speeches and pitches to sponsors to rally support to help cover the annual operating budget of 8 million pesos (about $900,000.) “I’ve worked with other [charities],” Ochoa once said, “but in the end, I could tell education was the only way to really change a kid’s life and to break that cycle of poverty and the problems that go along with being disadvantaged.”
Ochoa’s own kids—with hubby Andre Conesa, the CEO of Aeromexico—remain the center of her new life. Pedro, 3, and Julia, 1, have completed her in a way golf never could. “She’s the most loving, natural mom,” Kim says. “She just lights up around her kids.”
With the British Open soon returning to the Old Course it’s impossible not to think of Ochoa, who won the Women’s British there in 2007, one of her 27 career victories. But after spending three straight years at number one, Ochoa knows the price of competing at the highest level and she is candid that she no longer wants to pay it. LPGA fans will always hold out hope for a comeback, but for those who miss Ochoa’s graceful presence a better plan would be to travel to Mexico City in November to steal a glimpse of a woman who had to give up golf to truly find herself.
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