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Lorena Ochoa: ‘I just want to be a normal person’

Lorena Ochoa, the world’s best women’s golfer for the last three years, said Friday she’s leaving the LPGA Tour now because the time is right.

“All the elements are together,” she said. “I’m ready to start a new life. I just want to be a normal person. I just want to … be home and be back with my family.

“There are so many other things that I’d like to do.”

Ochoa said she has been mulling retirement for nearly a year but made the decision to walk away during the LPGA’s season-opening tournament in Thailand two months ago.

“It was really clear to see that I didn’t want to be out there,” Ochoa said during a conference call from Mexico City. “I wanted to get home. I wanted to be here close to my family.

“Once you reach your goals, it’s really hard to find that motivation. You need to be brave to see that. Just to really listen to your heart and your feelings and be able to see that and make a decision.”

Although Ochoa, 28, confirmed her retirement plans on her website earlier this week, she didn’t make it official until Friday, the third anniversary of her ascension to the top of the LPGA rankings, a spot she held for 157 consecutive weeks. Her last tournament as a full-time tour member will be next week’s Tres Marias championship in Morelia, Mexico.

“I always wanted to finish here in Mexico,” said Ochoa, who will continue to play in the annual LPGA tournament in Guadalajara, which is named after her.

Ochoa’s retirement comes at a difficult time for the LPGA and new Commissioner Michael Whan, who has been on the job just six months. The tour schedule has been pared to 26 events, down eight from 2008, and purses were down by 20% last year.

TV ratings and sponsorships have also declined and those numbers may be difficult to turn around now that Ochoa has joined Annika Sorenstam on the sidelines. Sorenstam, an eight-time player of the year and the LPGA’s all-time leading money-winner, retired two years ago

Ochoa has built a legacy in her native Mexico, where golf was once little more than an afterthought. Although there are just more than 200 golf courses in Mexico, the LPGA, lured by Ochoa’s immense popularity, will play three tournaments there this year. And the golfer’s foundation supports several educational programs at home.

Ochoa said she plans to spend much of her newfound free time working on her foundation and traveling with husband Andres Conesa, the chief executive of Aeromexico airlines, whom she married in December.

“We can take vacations together. Just be normal for a couple of years and then hopefully we can start a family,” Ochoa said.

kevin.baxter@latimes.com


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