Oh, That Smile!
As a full-time rookie in 1978 she won nine tournaments, including a record-setting five in a row. The following year she won eight times and set the LPGA record for being the youngest player to reach ten career wins. By 1987, she had accumulated 35 victories qualifying her for the LPGA Tour Hall of Fame. Over the last 25 years, she has accumulated an astounding 48 wins, been honored with awards from many organizations and associations, and has become the most beloved player on the LPGA Tour.
Nancy Lopez was, is, and always will be one of the LPGA Tours most valuable and admired players.
In March of this year at the LPGAs tour stop in Phoenix, Nancy Lopez made the announcement that her fans didnt want to hear. This year will be her last full season on the LPGA Tour. Already dubbed the Nancy Lopez Farewell Tour the Hall of Fame golfer said she has plans to compete in all her favorite tour stops so she can see her many friends around the country and say farewell.
This will be my last year committed to the LPGA as a full-time touring professional, she said, But I am not walking away from golf. I am at the beginning of a brand new chapter in my golf career. You will see me because I will be participating in corporate golf events, television, golf course design and working with Womens Golf Unlimited to develop new ideas for my namesake club line.
Nancy is scheduled to compete in the brand new Kellogg-Keebler Classic in Aurora May 27-June 2 so make plans to come out and say farewell to one of the all time greats in professional sports.
Nancy Lopez, to me, personifies grace, professionalism, sportsmanship and represents her sport better than any athlete in any sport. She is giving, honest, down-to-earth, and an all-around beautiful person. Her actions both on and off the course represent a person who loves what she does, shares her passion for the game openly and goes about her business with integrity and thoughtfulness toward others. Nancy Lopez has that something special that draws people to her. Her ability to relate to people, her charisma, her magnetism, cannot be taught, cannot be coached, cannot be faked. She is one-of-a-kind, a P.R. persons dream, a fierce competitor with a gentle soul. She is my hero and she will be missed.
I have had the pure joy of meeting Nancy several times over the years and have been witness to why she is so beloved.
Back in 1993, I was playing on a pro-am team that I had organized to raise money for ailing LPGA Tour player, Heather Farr. The morning of the pro-am I went to the locker room to change into my golf clothes, and there was no one else around until all of a sudden the door opened and there she was - Nancy Lopez and me alone in the locker room. At first, I didnt say anything because I was so awe-struck, but then I decided to tell her about my team because I knew Heather was one of her good friends. We talked for about 15 minutes that morning and as she prepared to leave the locker room, she thanked me for being there and for helping out her friend. I sat there for a few minutes trying to digest what had just happened. Nancy Lopez had talked to me! She set the tone for the rest of the day, which turned into something truly special. We raised lots of money for Heather, I met Nancy Lopez, and I FORGOT TO GET HER AUTOGRAPH! What could I have been thinking? Nancy, you made me feel so comfortable and at ease that I forgot I was with my sports idol. For those 15 minutes I was with a friend.
A couple of years later, I was attending the LPGA Tour stop at White Eagle Country Club in Aurora as just your average fan. My group was following Nancys group when it started pouring rain. We were near the clubhouse at the time so everyone, fans and players alike, ran inside to take cover. All of the players raced into the locker room to wait out the storm, as did Nancy for all of about 10 minutes. Suddenly the locker room door opened and out she cametalking to the fans, signing autographs, laughing and smiling at everyone. She could have stayed in the locker room with everyone else and taken it easy, but Nancy Lopez doesnt work that way. She charmed everyone out there that afternoon and made many more new friends that day for herself and for the LPGA Tour. To quote the Master Card commercialsshe is priceless!
In February of 1999, my good friend on the LPGA Tour, Marianne Morris, and her family suffered the worst tragedy one can imagine. Mariannes brother was working late in the golf store that they owned together outside of Atlanta, Georgia. A creep came in, robbed the place, and tragically murdered Mike. It was an unthinkable horror to the Morris family and Marianne was about as far from home as one could get when it happened. She, just hours before, had landed in Australia for the LPGA event that was starting that week. Marianne had barely unpacked when she got the terrible news and had to repack and head for home to be with her family. Mariannes Mom, Barbara, called me the day after it happened and was crying hysterically the whole time. I was stunned and so saddened I didnt know what to say to comfort her so I just let her cry and talk all she wanted. In between all the tears, and while learning what had happened, Barbara said to me, One of the first people to call here was Nancy Lopez. She was so kind and thoughtful and asked if there was anything she could do to help. I can tell you from later conversations Ive had with Barbara that Nancys call was a huge comfort to them. Just the fact that she had taken the time to call them right away when it happened meant so much to them all.
Some of you may know about the fledgling Womens Senior Golf Tour that started two years ago with the Great Lakes Classic in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The WSGT is for tour players 43 (now 45) years of age or older. That first year was extremely important for launching this new tour and having Nancy Lopez on board was crucial toward making this first-time event a success. As I arrived that week to play in the pro-am, word was spreading that Nancy might not show due to her knees being bad, her nanny had just quit and she wasnt playing well due to injury. Any other athlete would have said, forget it and gone home to recover and reconcile her situation. But not Nancy Lopez. She showed up weary and sore and played her heart out. She didnt play well that weekend, but you would never have known it from her demeanor around the fans or the media. She was all smiles and had the biggest galleries the whole time. As one of the marketing reps for this tournament for the Chicago market, I knew the importance of having Nancy there to play in this event. This is not to slight any of the other wonderful ladies from the WSGT like Kathy Whitworth, JoAnne Carner, Jan Stephenson to name a fewits just that if you have Nancy in your field, you have fans at your eventclear and simple.
As Nancy Lopez embarks on her farewell tour this year, we can only hope she will do what so many other professional athletes have done recently. Retire, and come back, retire and come back. Yes, I know this is highly unlikely, but I dont want to let go of her just yet. I still want her to win a U.S. Womens Open title, I want her to reach that 50-victory mark, and I want her to unexpectedly come into a locker room I happen to be in and chat with me like an old friend. But most of all, I want Nancy Lopez to do whats going to make her happy so shell never lose that smile.
Oh, and Nancy, I still want that autograph!