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Golf is changing on so many fronts

Ai Miyazato, one of the stars of the LPGA, shed tears Sunday after she had won her third tournament of the year, the Tres Marias Championship in Morelia, Mexico.

It’s not unusual for winners to weep for joy, but Miyazato’s tears were not for herself. They were for Lorena Ochoa. The Tres Marias was Ochoa’s farewell tournament. One of golf’s best and dearest was calling it a career and she’s only 28 years old, still has a kind of little girl look to her.

She’s taking her brilliant game and going home to spend time with her new husband and three stepchildren. She said she’s going to spend a normal life now, sleep in on weekends, visit with friends, go to the beach and take cooking classes.

She played the LPGA Tour for eight years, won 27 tournaments – including two major championships – and spent three years as the No. 1 women’s player in the world. Such was her popularity in Mexico, she was always playing not only for herself but her country, but she said she never felt the pressure, “just joy and happiness.”

Not many sports figures, especially golfers, retire so young. The only golfer who comes to mind was a great one, Bobby Jones. He did it in 1930, two months after winning the Grand Slam.

Most players leave reluctantly, usually after their ability has declined. If you’ve had a great career, though, if you’ve reached your goals and you believe you can be happy in a new life, why not?

Sunday was a day filled with drama and emotion, a day during which we felt a subtle shift in the game. On the day Ochoa played her last tournament round, a little bit of heaven fell to earth at the Quail Hollow Championship, the heavenly golf of Rory McIlroy, a Northern Irish lad who was three days shy of his 21st birthday. On a sternly challenging course, he shot a 10-under-par 62 to beat a powerful field and remind us of what we already knew, that a new generation of golf stars is at the doorstep.

It was stunning golf, powerful, beautiful, fearless. Given the situation, the stakes, competition and the difficulty of the course, it was the finest round I’ve ever seen.

Just ahead of McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, who is 21, was shooting a 67 to finish sixth. His potential, like McIlroy’s, is off the charts.

But both got upstaged Sunday by yet another young player with seemingly endless possibilities. Ryo Ishikawa, 18 years old, was shooting a 12-under-par 58 to win a Japan Tour event. That’s 58, not 68. That’s 58, not 68.

And somewhere Matteo Manassero is turning heads with his dazzle. He was 16 years old when he won the British Amateur last year, 16 when he played in the U.S. Open, 16 when he made the cut in the Masters this year.

Get ready world.