By John Strege
It isn’t often that productive athletes retire in the prime of their careers, or at least while still competitive. The most prominent to do so were Sandy Koufax and Jim Brown.
Koufax was 30 when he retired after completing a season in which he won 27 games and had an earned run average of 1.73. Jim Brown played his last season at 29 and led the NFL in rushing yards and touchdowns.
Jason Dufner (Getty Images photo)
Last week, Jason Dufner indicated he was closer to the end of his PGA Tour career than the beginning. He is only 37 and is coming off a season in which he won the PGA Championship, yet he was talking retirement.
"I’m not going to be one of those guys who plays on the senior tour. It’s not for me," Dufner told Emily Kay of SB Nation while participating in a charity event in Bernardston, Mass. “[I have] maybe another five years left of doing this and then onto something else.”
If he were to shut it down at 42 or so, he would join this handful of golfers to retire not because of injury or because they're no longer competitive, but by choice:
Jones is the standard bearer in this department. The pressure to win had reached uncomfortable levels for him, while diminishing the enjoyment he took from competing. So he retired from competitive golf at 28, after winning the Grand Slam — the U.S. and British Opens, and U.S. and British Amateurs in 1930. All told, he won the U.S. Open four times, the British Open three times, the U.S. Amateur five times and the British Amateur once.
Nelson won 18 tournaments in 1945, including 11 in a row. He won another six in 1946, then quit the game to go into ranching. He did continue to play in the Masters until 1966 and emerged from retirement to win the Bing Crosby National Pro-Am in 1951, but otherwise he was a rancher.
In 1990, Mudd won two tournaments, including the Players Championship, the last of his four PGA Tour victories. The following year, he began to scale back on the number of starts. By 1995 he was down to nine, by '96 to four, at which point he called it a career, at 36. He was tired of the grind, he said, and went into the horse-racing business as an owner.
Lorena Ochoa and Annika Sorenstam (Getty Images photo)
Sorenstam won 72 LPGA events, including 10 major championships. She won three tournaments in 2008, then retired at 38 to start a family. Her daughter Ava was born the following year and son William came along in 2011.
Ochoa, who won 27 events on the LPGA, including two major championships, fulfilled her goals of playing “about 10 years” and becoming the No. 1 player in the world, and retired at 28 to spend more time at home and work on her foundation. She now has two children.
Stricker doesn't belong with the aforementioned five, but we add him here because he semi-retired after the 2012 season at 45, despite the fact that eight of his 12 PGA Tour victories had come in the previous four seasons. Stricker played only 13 events last year and has played only nine this year.