x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Ochoa's retirement is another untimely setback for women's golf

The departure of Mexico's Lorena Ochoa, the world No 1, leaves the women's game reeling.

Lorena Ochoa's retirement has left women's golf without a high-profile personality.
Lorena Ochoa's retirement has left women's golf without a high-profile personality.

Women's golf, desperately short of household names as it battles to retain its small percentage of the global spotlight alongside the thriving men's tours on both sides of the Atlantic, has received a second crushing body blow in barely a year. Still reeling from the decision of the charismatic Annika Sorenstam to "step away" from the game after enjoying an unprecedented spell of world dominance, the LPGA was stunned by the announcement of Lorena Ochoa that she would do the same at the tender age of 28.

Ochoa, the Mexican who took over the world No 1 ranking from Sorenstam before the Swede retired to pursue domestic and business interests, will give her reasons at a media conference in her homeland tomorrow. She was married last year, and it is already being assumed that she is ready to start a family. Sorenstam, who has given birth to a baby daughter since she waved an emotional goodbye to the golfing sorority at the 2008 season-ending Dubai Ladies Masters, was less taken aback than most when informed that Ochoa will be following in her footsteps.

"I must admit that I was surprised, but not shocked, when I heard the news that Lorena is going to retire," Sorenstam told visitors to her website. "She has always said she would play for maybe 10 years and then leave the game to start a family. She just got married and obviously feels that she is ready for that next chapter in her life." Nobody has rivalled the wonderful achievements of Sorenstam in women's golf, the superb Swede having amassed 90 tournament wins - 10 of them in major championships - during her outstanding career. But Ochoa could have got close.

The female rival to the original "Supermex" Lee Trevino in a country not noted for producing world-class golfers, the pride of Guadalajara has in only eight years as a professional collected 27 LPGA titles, although only two of them - the 2007 British Open and the 2008 Nabisco Championship - are majors. Her departure will add to the concern of tournament directors around the world who are struggling to retain sponsorship in difficult financial times. Big names bring in funding as Tiger Woods proves whenever he ventures into pastures new. Big names are hard to find at the top of the women's game.

Three of Ochoa's four closest pursuers in the world rankings - Jayai Shin, Yani Tseng and Ai Miyazato - are from the Far East, as are 10 of the top 20. They are all unrecognisable to all but the most devoted followers of the game, as are to a lesser extent, it must be said, the two Europeans in the top 10, Suzann Pettersen and Anna Nordqvist. Australia's Carrie Webb is one who stands out in a crowd, as does Paula Creamer, the American, but the former's best days are ehind her and the latter has not yet fulfilled the great expectations brought about by her eye-catching arrival as a teenage talent.

Michelle Wie, who topped the bill and almost won the Dubai Ladies Masters four months ago, has the stature at 6ft 2in and the glamour to pick up the baton from Sorenstam and Ochoa. She, too, was regarded as a schoolgirl phenomenon, driving the ball farther than many male professionals. Whether she has the ability to become the new figurehead of women's golf is another matter. wjohnson@thenational.ae