Lorena Ochoa won the Safeway International LPGA tournament in Superstition Mountain, AZ.

Like most in the sports world, I was caught by surprise today at the announcement of Lorena Ochoa’s retirement. With more news to come on Friday, it’s with great hope that all is well in her world.

I’ve been shooting professional sports and athletes for almost 25 yrs, the last fifteen for national publications such as Sports Illustrated, Sport (now defunct) and The Sporting News. During that time, I’ve met and photographed the likes of NASCAR champions (Kyle Busch), baseball all stars (Albert Belle), Hall of Fame quarterbacks (Steve Young) and basketball one-of-a-kinds (John Wooden, Phil Jackson). Some are exceptionally nice, others not so much. Anyone who follows sports can figure out which are which (hint: Mr Wooden is a saint!). Honestly, though, Lorena Ochoa is as nice as they come.

I’ve written about her before on this blog, but it doesn’t hurt to repeat it now. She treats her fans, media, parents and especially the hard working grounds crews with respect, something often missing from the top tier of sports stars. With 27 wins by the age of 28, including two majors, she’s the best in the game. Yet she always finds a smile and a humble approach to each day. Watching her walk hand in hand with her father to the first tee years ago in Tucson, I was greatly impressed. Here’s a young lady with all the upside in the world and she finds time on tournament day to say a prayer with her parents, tell them she loves them, then walk off to play a game. On the way she would greet people with kindness.

I hope she returns. She’s a champion in the truest form, on and off the course.

The question now is who will fill the void for a tour that has struggled to remain relevant? Ochoa stepped to the plate and took over the role held by Annika Sorenstam for so long. Who’s turn is it now? Michelle Wie, Paula Creamer, Ai Miyazato? I’m sure the LPGA would love Wie to assume the role, but it’s not likely she’s ready at this point.

Will Michelle Wie step up and take over as the face of the LPGA?

Todd Bigelow Photography

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