As soon as Lorena Ochoa picks up the telephone in her Mexico City home the joy in her voice is apparent. "I'm really happy," she said with a hint of an accent in her sweet voice. Ochoa knows all about the thrills of international success. She was the number one ranked women's golfer in the world for three years straight when she decided to put away the clubs and retire last April.
This accomplished athlete went from practicing eight hours a day to being busier than ever, but staying closer to her home in her native Mexico. Ochoa said, "It still feels good I made the right decision at the right time. I miss the competition and my friends and the way we travel with a suitcase, but I think this is behind now."
What's in front of her is the Lorena Ochoa Foundation, the Ochoa Golf Academy and other charitable causes. That's why this future LPGA Hall of Famer will fly into Central New York on Monday. She is competing with eleven other world class golfers in the Notah Begay III Challenge at Turning Stone Resort and Casino's Atunyote golf course.
Lorena expects her competitive juices to flow once she tees it up despite not playing competitively this season for the first time since being the LPGA rookie of the year in 2003. On her way to winning 27 tournaments and more than $14 million she practices eight hours a day. It's different now. "I've been practicing very lightly, three to four hours a day, hanging out with friends," Ochoa said with a smile and a laugh. "And it's a lot better this way."
Lorena's primary focus these days is personally overseeing the Project La Barranca in the community of La Coronilla which is just outside her hometown of Guadalajara, Mexico. La Barranca is a school that is educating 300 impoverished children in grades first through ninth. While still playing a full LPGA tour schedule Ochoa could only monitor progress of the students and the school from afar. Now she can visit and motivate the students in person.
La Barranca emphasizes the involvement of parents in their children's education. Mothers come to the school to cook breakfast. Students learn in a high tech environment. They take theatre and the arts. They play soccer and basketball. The Ochoa Foundation has helped grow the school from serving only elementary children to include middle school and the start of high school. Lorena has made education the sole mission of her foundation because the average child in Mexico only reaches the fourth grade and the majority of people are functionally illiterate.
She takes a break from that work Monday to reunite with former LPGA competitors Annika Sorenstam, Morgan Pressel and runway model Anna Rawson among others. They will team up with PGA Tour members including Vijay Singh, Camilo Villegas, Ricky Fowler and Hunter Mahan. Ochoa looks forward to the competition, but also helping Notah Begay's charitable work. "It's very simple. I'm always willing to help as much as I can and he knows that," said Ochoa about Begay's foundation work. "When he approached me I said yes. The more we can help the better. I love this idea."
As our conversation wound down Lorena detailed her upcoming retirement schedule. She flies to Syracuse for the NB3 Challenge Monday. Then she has two exhibitions in Mexico, a trip to China in October and hosts her own golf tournament back home in Guadalajara in November. That's retirement in the eyes of the premier woman golfer in the world.
For more information on the NB3 Challenge, head to Notah Begay III's website.
To listen to a full-length interview with Ochoa, click on the video player above.