LOPEZ, NANCY (b. 1957)
Born on January 6, 1957, in Torrance, California, Nancy Lopez, the daughter of Domingo and Marina Lopez, was a "wunderkind" of golf. When she was very young the family moved to Roswell, New Mexico, where Domingo ran an automobile repair shop. At age eight, Nancy learned the game of golf, carrying her mother's 4-wood and trailing her father as he played the arid municipal course. She developed an unorthodox swing, taking her club back slowly with her arms stretched high over her head, pausing, and then unleashing a powerful downswing.
Lopez won a Peewee League girls' tournament by 110 strokes at age nine (the prize was a Barbie doll), the New Mexico Women's Amateur Tournament at age twelve, and five national and regional junior championships as a teenager. As an amateur, she placed second in the United States Women's Open in 1975 and, while attending the University of Tulsa, captured five collegiate titles. She turned professional in 1977 and in 1978 won nine tournaments, a record-setting five in a row, including the Ladies Professional Golf Association Championship (LPGA). That year she was the leading money-winner, won the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, and was named both Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year.
Ever flashing a telegenic smile, Lopez infused women's golf with an expansive spirit; she became, said one observer, "the whole sport of women's golf." More women took up the game, the media gave increasing coverage to the lpga tour, and galleries at lpga events multiplied. Heretofore eclipsed by women's tennis, gymnastics, and running, women's golf was soon equally popular.
Lopez won eight tour events in 1979 but slipped comparatively from 1980 through 1984, claiming two to three titles each year. Contributing factors were a failed marriage to Tim Melton, her pregnancy following her marriage to Ray Knight, a major league baseball player, the flattening of her swing, and stiffer competition on the tour. She returned to preeminence in 1985 when she won five tournaments. She attributed her renewed success in part to Knight, who, understanding the demands facing professional athletes, gave her "peace of mind."
Lopez won thirteen championships from 1986 through 1993 despite cutting her play because of two pregnancies and the demands of domestic life. After 1993 her scoring average remained nearly at old levels, but she did not claim another title until 1997. She has been named Player of the Year four times and was elected to the lpga Hall of Fame in 1987.
Carl M. Becker Wright State University
Deford, Frank. "Nancy with the Laughing Face." Sports Illustrated, July 10, 1978: 24.
Lopez, Nancy, with Peter Schwed. The Education of a Woman Golfer. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979.