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López, Nancy (1957—)

López, Nancy (1957—)

In 1978, twenty-one-year-old Nancy López became the first Hispanic to win a Ladies Professional Golf Association tournament. One of the youngest women golfers ever to win at the professional level, López went on to become one of the greatest women's golf champions of all time. Born to Mexican-American parents in Torrance, California, in 1957, Nancy López was raised in Roswell, New Mexico. She learned golf from her father and by age eleven she was already beating him. While Nancy was growing up, her parents struggled to give her the best opportunities possible to perfect her golf game; however, many doors were shut to the López family because they could not afford to join the country clubs where the best golf was taught and played. Nevertheless, Nancy persevered and at the age of twelve she won the first of three state women's tournaments, including the New Mexico Women's Open. As a teenager, she was the only female member of her high school golf team, and in 1972 and 1974, López won the U.S. Golf Association Junior Girls tournament. As an eighteen-year-old high school senior, she placed second in the U.S. Women's Open.

After high school, López attended Tulsa University on a golf scholarship, where she was able to win the intercollegiate title. This helped her to make the decision to drop out of college to become a professional golfer. In 1978, during López's first full season as a pro, she won nine tournaments, including the Ladies Professional Golf Association Championship, which she would later win two more times; she was the first Hispanic golfer in history to do so. López was named Rookie of the Year, Player of the Year, and Female Athlete of the Year; she also won the Vare Trophy. On her first year on the professional tour, she set a new record for earnings by a rookie: $189,813. Since entering the pro circuit, López consistently ranked among the top women golfers in the world. In 1979, she won eight of the nineteen tournaments she entered, which Sports Illustrated classi-fied as "one of the most dominating sports performances in a half a century."

After marrying baseball star Ray Knight, López took a break from her career when she gave birth to daughter Ashley Marie in 1983. Two months later, López began touring again, and by 1987 she had won thirty-five tournaments and qualified to become the eleventh member of the Ladies Professional Golf Association Hall of Fame. In all, López has nearly fifty tournament victories on tour. López's most outstanding year was 1985, when she won five tournaments and finished in the top ten at twenty-five others. That year she also won the LPGA Championship again and earned more money—over $400,000—than any other player on the circuit. By 1987, she had earned over $2 million. During the 1990s, age and injuries began to take their toll on López, but now she plays without much pressure and truly enjoys the game that she has done so much to popularize.

—Nicolás Kanellos

Further Reading:

Kanellos, Nicolás. Hispanic American Almanac. Detroit, Gale Research, 1997.

Telgen, Diane, and Jim Kamp. Latinas! Women of Achievement. Detroit, Gale Research, 1996.

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