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Lorena Ochoa’s early retirement was ‘the best decision of my life,’ though it kept her from LPGA Hall of Fame…until now

Miguel Tovar

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – Lorena Ochoa returned to Mission Hills Country Club on Wednesday, this time not as a star, but as a mother of three, a wife, an ambassador, a mentor, a philanthropist and the newest member of the LPGA Hall of Fame.

Ochoa, 40, was here to be honored by the LPGA, inducted finally after the tour eliminated its rule requiring a player to have been a tour member for 10 years before consideration for enshrinement.

A native of Mexico who lives outside Mexico City, Ochoa played only eight years before retiring in 2010 with Hall of Fame credentials, whatever the LPGA rules – 27 victories, two major championships, four times the LPGA’s player of the year, and enshrinement in the World Golf Hall of Fame. One of those majors came here in 2008 in what then was called the Kraft Nabisco Championship.

“I'm just really, really excited to be back at Mission Hills,” she said. “It's a place that is very special to me. Not only me, to my friends, my family, and we love this event. This is for sure one of my favorite stops on tour, and it's nice to be back. A lot of memories. Early this morning I woke up and I saw the mountains, a little bit of now, and it was calm with no wind, sunny day, and I though, wow, this is perfect for a tournament.”

News of her pending enshrinement was delivered via telephone by Nancy Lopez, another World Golf Hall of Fame and LPGA Hall of Fame member.

“I was very surprised,” Ochoa said in a booth adjacent to the putting green at Mission Hills. “I didn't know what to do, how to react. I was like, ‘What do I do?’”

She did what moms often do. She went to school to pick up her kids. “And then I’m there and I say, ‘OK, I got a phone call from my friend, very special news,’” she said. “They didn’t care. They didn’t understand. ‘Mom, can you please put music on?’ I said, ‘OK, this is not going to work. I’m not going to explain.’”

No explanations were necessary to those in the field here who stopped by to pay their respects, among them Stacy Lewis and Lizette Salas. Ochoa’s old friend and mentor Betsy King, a World Golf Hall of Famer walking with a cane after suffering a broken femur, was there, as well.

“I was just telling Betsy that it's a great surprise to see her,” she said. “She knows how important it is to me. I been very emotional for the last couple days. We become good friends with the time. I think what I most treasure is the opportunity to spend time not only with Betsy, but with other players and just to be able to sit down and talk about how is the life on tour.

“Betsy helped me a lot through my career. And I told her, ‘Betsy I'm not going to be here forever. I want to do so many other things back home, and I'm not going to play many, many years.’ She told me, ‘No, it's going to be impossible. You are going to be here for many years, because then you get in a mode where you feel comfortable, you play, you practice, travel, it's a beautiful game, and they treat you so well.’

“But to me was a little bit different. I could really tell that it was the right time to stop. That's why regardless the [LPGA Hall of Fame] rule, I say this is not going to change my mind because really what I felt in my heart was different, and I was ready to start a family.

“And even today I always say thank you to God because I was strong enough to make the decision. You know, I was very honest to myself. It turned out to be the best decision in my life, because now I wouldn't change myself for anything, and the opportunity to have a family and my kids and the foundation.”