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Lopez, Nancy Marie

LOPEZ, Nancy Marie

(b. 6 January 1957 in Torrance, California), golfer best known as three-time winner of the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) Championship and four-time LPGA Player of the Year; the only golfer to have received the Vare Trophy, Rookie of the Year, and Player of the Year awards in the same season (1978).

Lopez was the second daughter of Domingo Lopez, an auto body shop owner and three-handicap golfer at local public courses, and Marina Griego Lopez, a homemaker. Although she was born in California where her parents had been visiting friends, Lopez grew up in Roswell, New Mexico. By the time Lopez was seven, her mother had become ill with a lung disorder. To lessen the severity of her health problem, Marina took up golf.

Without the funds to afford a babysitter, the Lopez family had to take Nancy with them when they practiced their game. As a result, Lopez was exposed to discrimination at an early age. She and her parents had to travel almost 200 miles to Albuquerque because Mexican Americans were not allowed to play golf at the nearby Roswell Country Club. At the age of eight, when her parents realized that she had talent, Nancy was given her first set of golf clubs, Patty Berg four-woods that were cut down to size. With her father acting as coach and teaching her how to cope with the game on an emotional level, Lopez won the Pee Wee tournament at the age of nine, and at ten, the Girls' State Championship. At age twelve, Lopez surpassed all other competitors at the New Mexico Women's Amateur title on her third try, the youngest person ever to do so. In 1972 and 1974 Lopez was victorious at the U.S. Golf Association Junior Girls' Championship. She also won the Western Junior Girls' Championship three times.

While attending Goddard High School in Roswell, Lopez played several sports including gymnastics, basketball, flag football, track, and swimming. She became the first female member on an all-male golf team at the high school. However, Lopez was not able to join local golf clubs because they were too expensive and did not permit Mexican Americans to join. Even without the benefit of club membership, Lopez earned $7,040 for winning second place at the Women's Open during her last year of high school. She also represented the United States on victorious 1976 Curtis Cup and World Amateur teams, and was the best amateur woman golfer in the world.

Lopez intended to major in engineering at the University of Tulsa in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and was offered an athletic scholarship. The school's first and only female coach, Dale McNamara, immediately noticed that Lopez played well enough to turn professional and encouraged her to do so. Soon after, Lopez's hectic golfing schedule interfered with her studies, so she quit school after her sophomore year in 1977, but not before becoming the women's inter-collegiate champion. She placed second in her first three professional tournaments, breaking rookie earnings records for both men and women in that year.

On 29 September that same year, however, Lopez was faced with a devastating setback when her beloved mother unexpectedly died of a heart attack. Although her game suffered for a short while afterward, Lopez began to see her mother's death as an inspiration for her to work harder.

In 1978, her second year as a professional golfer, Lopez surpassed the previous earnings record of $150,000 and won an unprecedented number of tournaments in a row—five—including the LPGA Championship at King Island, Ohio, with a total score of 275. She was victorious in nine events that year and was the recipient of the Vare Trophy for the lowest average on the professional tour. In 1979 Lopez married Tim Melton, a television sportscaster, and limited her participation on the tour.

After divorcing her first husband in 1981, Lopez married Ray Knight, a broadcaster for the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network (ESPN) and former Cincinnati Reds player and manager, on 29 October 1982. The couple has three daughters. When Lopez became pregnant in 1983, she took part in only twelve tournaments, but still exceeded the $1 million mark in tour earnings.

In 1985 Lopez was in top form, winning five events including the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) Championship. In addition, she won the 1985 Henredon Classic with the lowest seventy-two–hole score ever recorded—268. By the time she turned thirty in 1987, Lopez had thirty-five tour wins, qualifying her for induction into the LPGA Hall of Fame. The following year she won the LPGA Championship and was LPGA Player of the Year for the fourth time. By 1989 Lopez was in second place in career earnings on the LPGA tour with more than $2.5 million, and in November of that year she was inducted into the Professional Golf Association (PGA) World Golf Hall of Fame.

After not winning any title for more than three years, Lopez won her forty-eighth career title in 1997 at the Chick-fil-A Charity Championship, the only LPGA Tour event in Georgia. This win was after Lopez lost forty pounds, worked out for two hours a day, and spent even more time practicing her swing. She then finished second at the U.S. Women's Open after firing four rounds in the sixties. To date, Lopez is the only woman to do this, yet she finished fourth and became runner-up in the Open—a title she has never won.

The LPGA Chick-fil-A Charity Championship, which Lopez won in 1997, was renamed in her honor the "Chickfil-A Charity Championship Hosted by Nancy Lopez" in 1998. In 2000 Lopez established an annual award in her name, "The Nancy Lopez Award," for the best female amateur golfer in the world. Also in 2000, Lopez became spokesperson and a member of the Board of Directors of The First Tee chapter at Albany, Georgia. The First Tee is a World Golf Foundation initiative dedicated to providing affordable golf access to everyone who otherwise might not have an opportunity to play the game, with a special emphasis on young people. In 2001 Lopez made a hole-in-one during the third round of the AFLAC Championships presented by Southern Living.

Lopez is playing editor for Golf for Women magazine and founder of the Nancy Lopez Golf Company. She has received numerous accolades, including the Golfer of the Decade tribute for 1978–1987 by the Centennial of Golf in America celebration (1988), the Flo Hyman Award (1992), the Bob Jones Award (1998), the Richardson Award of the Golf Writers Association of America (2000), and the Old Tom Morris Award by the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (2000). The Flora Vista elementary School that Lopez attended as a child was renamed the Nancy Lopez Elementary School in her honor in 1991. In 2000 Lopez was named one of the LPGA's top fifty players and teachers in honor of the organization's fiftieth anniversary.

Lopez overcame prejudice and fulfilled her childhood dream of becoming a Hall of Fame golfer. Her determination and the support of her close-knit family helped to build the character necessary for Lopez to become one of the greatest golfers ever.

Lopez's autobiography is The Education of a Woman Golfer (1979), written with Peter Schwed. A collection of true golf stories, Don Wade, And Then the Shark Told Justin (2000), includes a section on Lopez, and the book's foreword was written by her. Articles on Lopez appear in People (12 June 1978, 25 Apr. 1983); the New York Times (2 July 1978, 31 Mar. 1985, 19 May 1988); Sports Illustrated (3 Apr. 1995, 20 May 1996, 5 May 1997, 21 July 1997); and USA Today (16 Mar. 1994, 28 Mar. 1995, 13 Nov. 1996, 14 May 1977). Biographical sketches of Lopez can be found on the official website of the Ladies Professional Golf Association at http://www.lpga.com, as well as on the Golf Journal website at http://www.golfjournal.org/.

Adriana C. Tomasino

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