A Great Career For Arizona's Ochoa

By Michelle Smith

Lorena Ochoa was winning tournaments in Mexico as a junior golfer, more than any other young player before her. She brought her winning game to the United States for more junior success.

And that led her to Tucson, home of one of the nation's best women's golf teams.

It turned out to be a very good fit.

Ochoa, a native of Guadalajara, Mexico, was already becoming one of her country's most famous athletes when she arrived on the University of Arizona campus back in 2001.

She came to the desert campus needing to learn English. Teammates would help her with her schoolwork. Some days she would just smile and nod.

As a golfer, however, she was ready to win from the get-go.

She became one of the most dominant student-athletes ever to play college golf. She played 20 tournaments in her college career, winning 12 of those tournaments with six runner-up finishes. In her sophomore season, she won eight tournament titles, including a run of seven in a row. She twice finished second in the NCAA Championships.

She was named NCAA Golfer of the Year in 2001 and 2002.

Ochoa said that she chose Arizona "because I already had some friends playing there and because it was the No. 1-ranked team in the country." She wanted to follow in the footsteps of her idol, Annika Sorenstam, who had played at Arizona before turning pro.

"It was an honor for me to play for them," Ochoa said.

Ochoa said playing for the Wildcats was "a great time."

"Being a college athlete, it was a different experience for me. It was a different responsibility," Ochoa said. "It was my first real taste of what it would be like to play professionally. I had to learn to take care of things on and off the golf course."

Ochoa never finished a college event more than three shots out of the lead during her career at Arizona. She left in 2002 to turn professional and immediately became a star on the LPGA Tour.

She was the LPGA's Player of the Year in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009 and one of the most beloved players in the game, known for talking to the groundskeeping crews before tournaments and winning over fellow golfers and galleries with her down-to-earth charm.

Ochoa retired from professional golf in April of 2010 at the age of 28 at a time when she was still the No. 1-ranked golfer in the world. At the time, Ochoa said she was weary of the constant travel and wanted to spend more time with her family, including her husband, Andres Conesa, the chief executive of Aeromexico Airlines.

She played the last tournament of her career last May in her native Mexico. She finished her professional career with 27 tournament victories, including two major tournament championships.

In February, Ochoa said was "super happy," and that she retired at the right time.

Ochoa is living in Mexico again, working on her foundation for underprivileged kids and writing a book about her career.

In February, Ochoa was awarded the Bob Jones Award by the United States Golf Association for distinguished sportsmanship in golf.

Ochoa has only fond memories for the two years that she was at Arizona.

"I still have really close friends from my time in Arizona and I still like to see them when I'm there," Ochoa said.

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