Lorena Ochoa does it all

AP Photo/Guillermo Arias

Lorena Ochoa said goodbye to the LPGA Tour as the No. 1 player in the world but says golf will always be a part of her life.

Lorena Ochoa surprised the sporting world in 2010 when, at only 28 years of age and at the top of the LPGA rankings for 157 consecutive weeks, she decided to retire from professional golf.

"I left at a good time and for the right reasons," Ochoa said of her decision to dedicate herself to her philanthropic work and to start a family with her husband, Andrés Conesa.

"I've been very lucky in my career and in achieving my goal of becoming No. 1 in the world, and I'm retiring in time to be able to start a family," said Ochoa, voted the fifth-most-influential Hispanic female athlete of all time by a panel of blue-ribbon voters assembled by espnW and ESPN Deportes. "It was a natural decision and wasn't very hard for me. There are lots of athletes who have to retire because of physical problems or an injury or problems with sponsors. I was able to do so by choice, and that is something very nice."

Reaching the top of the golf world was a goal Ochoa set for herself when she was a teenager, and she says she owes much of her success to her family and her coach, Rafael Alarcón.

"My parents were the most important thing for me in my career," she said. "From an early age, I always had their support, and Rafael Alarcón's, my coach, who was with me in every step of my career.

"When I told them I wanted to be the best in the world, they took me very seriously, and it was very important that they believed in me and supported me."

Born in Guadalajara, Mexico, on Nov. 15, 1981, Ochoa grew up in a family with a passion for sports. She lived just a few paces from her first course, the Guadalajara Country Club, where she picked up her first golf clubs at the age of 5.

Showing an excellent aptitude for sports, Ochoa experienced a meteoric rise, winning tournaments from a very young age. She won the Junior World Golf Championship a record five times in a row.

She moved to the United States in 2000 to study sports psychology at Arizona, where she became one of the most successful collegiate golfers in the history of the NCAA, winning seven consecutive titles as a sophomore. Ochoa turned pro in 2002 and experienced another rapid rise through the LPGA, winning 27 tournaments in a career of only eight years.

In 2007, at age 25, she achieved the much-desired No. 1 world ranking, a spot she held until she retired. She also was the LPGA money leader from 2006 to 2008 and the Rolex player of the year from 2006 to 2009.

AP Photo/Chris Carlson

Lorena Ochoa was the first Mexican golfer -- male or female -- to be No. 1 in the world.

"As time passes, you realize how hard it was to stay No. 1 for so many years," she said. "Now the names rapidly change every two or three months, and that's something which makes me very proud. To know that I was there, that I dominated the sport, and hopefully my career will serve as an example for future generations."

Her image as a role model is something that Ochoa is particularly proud of, and she hopes that her presence in a sport with relatively few Latin American athletes can inspire others.

"When I played [I didn't have a Latina role model], but that helped in a way, as I didn't have anyone to compare myself to," she said. "You can't imagine how many bad times, failures and tragedies happened to me. But the most important thing is to never give up. And it's a very beautiful thing, when -- in particular, Mexican or Latina -- girls are inspired by my career. That gives me a lot of satisfaction."

Ochoa, who is expecting her second child soon, has said goodbye to her first love, golf, to dedicate herself to her two new priorities, her family and the Lorena Ochoa Foundation, which promotes the academic, physical and cultural education of kids from deprived backgrounds.

"Each thing happened in its own time," she said. "When I played, I was very concentrated and golf was my 100 percent priority for many years. Now I have the time and can dedicate it to my family, and I feel very happy to be able to have found that balance and be able to do both things at the right time."

Ochoa also created a series of grants to support the development of golf in Mexico. She is the founder of the Lorena Ochoa Invitational, which takes places each November and is another important source of revenue for the foundation.

"[Being a professional golfer] is a complicated life. You have to practice every day for many hours, which is something I can no longer do," she said. "But I'll always be in contact with golf. I promote it, I do clinics, because our goal is always to obtain more funds for the foundation, which is the most important thing. We now provide for more than 350 children and we have to work hard. It's a big worry and responsibility to collect these funds, and I promise to keep playing, but now in a more relaxed way."

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