Lopez Plays In Old College Town - and Shes Still the Same
For the record, Nancy teed it up in Tulsa, Okla., at the Williams Championship this week, and shot 82-77. She is only a part-time player this year, having devoted herself fulltime to raising a family. Her daughters are 17, 15 and nine, and throw in husband Ray Knight and you have the better part of the day spent on motherhood. Except - there is much more than just three daughters and a husband.
Somehow this busy lady finds time to do all those motherly things PLUS having her own golf club line; PLUS having to answer an incredible amount of mail each week; PLUS having to make an appearance here and there because she is, after all, Nancy Lopez.
Last week she went back to Tulsa to play for the first time since 1977, when she left the university after two years to turn professional. Her golfing days have left her with a painful legacy - she has a right knee that's stripped of its cartilage, making walking somewhat of an ordeal. Her days as a mom has added more difficulty - she still aches from a fall in her Albany, Ga., home that left her right shoulder in a dull, constant pain. She hadn't played in 1 ?-months prior to the Tulsa tournament.
'I was afraid I wasn't going to get to come here,' said Nancy. Her scores were a reflection of that - she probably should have stayed home until she felt a little more chipper, but then, this was Tulsa. And, 'Tulsa has been dear to my heart since college,' she said last week.
She first played golf at age eight on a moonscape that served as the municipal course in Roswell, N.M. Trailing behind her mom and dad, she learned to keep it out of the 'rough,' which was basically a series of enormous potholes with a liberal sprinkling of rocks and dirt. By the time she was 12, she already was good enough to win the New Mexico Women's Amateur. She won the U.S. Girls Junior championship at 14 and again at 16, and by the age of 18 - while still an amateur - she played in the U.S. Women's Open. She finished second, by the way.
Tulsa, it might be added, was just starting to add women's golf when Lopez decided to attend there in 1975. Why Tulsa? Well, for starters, they were the only college that offered Nancy even a partial college scholarship.
Coach Dale McNamara could hardly believe her good luck when Lopez began playing. Her partial-scholarship golfer won the individual college woman's championship in 1976, and nine tournaments altogether. But it was time to leave after two years - she knew it, and Coach McNamara knew it.
'Halfway through Nancy's freshman year, it was so obvious,' she told the Golf Journal. 'Quite frankly, we talked about it as it was probably the thing she should do. I've never said this to another girl, but Nancy needed to turn pro when she did.
'I believe every girl needs to have a college education and background, but with Nancy, she had the personality, the charisma, that was just ready to expose.'
Lopez, it should also be explained, wasn't an honor student. The Golden Hurricane women's team quickly became a national power and oil companies in the area made sure that the girls flew to all the tournaments in private company jets.
'Trying to major in engineering was pretty much impossible because I was on the girls' golf team; I was gone all the time. I had tutors teaching me calculus,' said Nancy. 'I said, 'I want to do this,' but I just didn't have the time to give it because I was playing so much golf.'
So Lopez left the University of Tulsa and turned pro in 1977, with the blessings of her coach. Immediately she started winning - five in a row as a rookie and nine times total that year, eight more times her second year, 48 during her wonderful LPGA career. She was young when her age allowed her to be, partaking liberally of the nightlife during her first four or five years as a pro. But when it became time to be a mother, she approached motherhood with all the energy that she once gave to golf.
'She was an instant star, but it never affected her,' said another Hall of Famer, Joanne Carner. 'Nancy never changes. She's the same today as she was the first day she came out here.'
The Tulsa ex surely is the most loved golfer among her fellow players. 'She may be the nicest lady on tour,' said Laura Davies. 'She used to be the best, and she still is the best, even though she doesn't play that much.'
Barb Mucha knows her simply as 'a sweet lady. She's as nice in person as she seems to be on TV. She takes time out for people, gives a little something extra to spectators. She has had to earn everything she gotten, and I know she's very appreciative of everything that has come her way.'
It hasn't been easy being Nancy Lopez Knight, if just for the fact that it's hard to keep your head when the entire world is prostrate at your feet. But she is still just the little girl from Roswell, the college girl from Tulsa, or maybe the mom from Georgia.
'Throughout my life, that's what I've tried to do, to put myself on the same level with everybody else,' said Nancy. 'I've wanted everyone else to feel that way about me.
'It's hard for me sometimes when people walk up to me and react the way they do. I'm like - 'OK, hey, I'm just Nancy.' I'm honored, but I don't want to be singled out.'
Jan Stephenson knows a little about fame. She was the LPGA's 'sex symbol' in the late '70s and early '80s, but she always knew who the 'queen' was - Nancy Lopez. And it didn't bother her one bit to acquiesce to this Tulsa ex.
'Her humility is so special,' Stephenson. 'As great a player as she is, you know that she knows she is a great golfer.
'But she never, ever lets on that she's anything but just another woman out here playing golf. Inwardly - she knows. Outwardly - she's the sweetest person out here.'
Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59
Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.
While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.
He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.
"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."
Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.
"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."
Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot
When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.
Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.
"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"
The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.
Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.
"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."
DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate
World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.
Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.
"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."
Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.
Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.
"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."
Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.
"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."
LPGA lists April date for new LA event
The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.
When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.
The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.
The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.