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The 'comet' that was Lorena Ochoa

By Gerard Gallagher, Golf Editor

(Sports Network) - That Lorena Ochoa is retiring while she is still the No. 1 player in the world is a blow for the LPGA Tour, but not an entirely shocking development.

Call it a "Breaking News" story years in the making.

Ochoa has always maintained that she would step away from golf sooner than we thought, much like the previous women's No. 1, Annika Sorenstam, who announced her own retirement less than two years ago.

Ochoa is set to announce her plans Friday at a press conference in Mexico. It is unclear when the retirement will take effect, though Ochoa is set to defend her title at the Tres Marias Championship next week in her home country.

Whether she stays away from the game is the real mystery -- and it will depend on her reasons for retiring.

If the Mexican star is stepping away to have a child with her new husband, airline executive Andres Conesa, then the chances she will return to playing golf are likelier than if she is simply leaving to focus on her charitable work.

If the second scenario is true, then it would seem that playing golf is simply not that important to Ochoa anymore. If she is leaving to start a family, like many LPGA players have done in the past, then there is at least the hope that her retirement was forced by a pregnancy, and not simply a decision.

The news comes while the LPGA Tour is scrambling to fill a threadbare schedule amidst an organizational shakeup last year that included a change in commissioners.

An anonymous source told the Mexican newspaper Reforma, "It is not a goodbye but a see-you-later," and hinted that Ochoa could return.

After Sorenstam announced her retirement in May 2008, she played the remainder of the season and left the door open for a return to golf sometime in the future. But Sorenstam, who gave birth to a daughter last year, has so far stayed away.

At least Sorenstam gave us 15 seasons of winning golf. She captured 72 wins and 10 major championships before stepping away at the age of 38.

Ochoa, who is only 28, has compiled 27 victories and two majors since joining the LPGA Tour as a rookie in 2003 -- but 24 of them have come in the last four seasons alone.

She has not yet played 10 years, the minimum required to qualify for the World Golf Hall of Fame through the LPGA point system, but would likely be elected in the veterans category should she not return.

Sorenstam wrote on her blog that she was surprised by Ochoa's decision, but not shocked. Citing Ochoa's recent marriage, Sorenstam speculated that she "obviously feels that she is ready for that next chapter in her life."

"She has accomplished so much in such a short time, and has other business endeavors that have become more of her focus. This includes an amazing foundation and school for children. I know she plans to grow these areas," Sorenstam wrote.

Sorenstam went on to say that she understands what Ochoa is going through because it's the same thing she experienced just two years ago.

"Though I was older than Lorena, it is still hard to play and play at the level you demand of yourself when your heart and mind are somewhere else," Sorenstam wrote. "While the LPGA will certainly miss her great play, warm demeanor and smile, I am personally very happy for her. The most rewarding days are ahead of her and I wish her all the best."

Ochoa won her fourth straight Player of the Year award in 2009, capturing the honor on the final weekend of the season. But she has been visibly frustrated in her four starts this year and has only posted one top-10 finish, a fourth at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the first major of the season.

Reaction to Ochoa's impending retirement poured in from fellow LPGA players on the Internet, with Suzann Pettersen saying it's "always sad when the best ones in the game decide to go" and Brittany Lincicome offering that "She will be soooooo missed by all."

Perhaps the best comments on the matter weren't a response, but a prediction.

Christina Kim wrote in her new book "Swinging from My Heels: Confessions of an LPGA Star" that she wouldn't be surprised if Ochoa retired as early as the 2012 season.

"Lorena is like a comet passing by," Kim wrote, "you better enjoy her now, because she will be gone before you know it."

04/20 14:05:12 ET


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