The Saga of Mother Nancy Comes to a Close
Shes 45 now, with three daughters, a husband, balky knees, girls basketball practice and a kid going to Auburn. Nancy Lopez has decided at last that it is too much. The most popular woman in sports will step down from the grind of LPGA golf when this season ends.
The LPGA plays its ADT Championship this week, officially ending the season. And with the passing of the year, its also the passing of the Lopez Era. She finds it difficult to say goodbye, and as she fades into the background, Nancy suddenly realizes why legions of great athletes have found it so difficult to leave center stage.
I look at players like Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer and players in basketball and baseball that are in a position where they look like they are struggling, and Im thinking, Gosh, if theyre not playing the way they know how to play, why do they keep playing?
Its tough to know when to stop and at what time of your life. Its a tough decision, said Lopez, clinging with all shes got but feeling it slowly slipping from her grasp.
She hung on to the game so fiercely, at the same time she has hung on to her three daughters and her husband. But she knew she could not have all of them together. Something would have to go, and in the end she made the decision she knew all along she would have to make ' her family over golf.
It just became too tough ' the times of having to leave when the girls had a social obligation; of having husband Ray Knight go off to coach this baseball team or manage that team; of having to battle the ongoing drama of what 35 years can do to the body; or having to wear so many different hats ' mother, wife, and LPGA superstar. She has finally let go, declaring that she no longer considers herself a fulltime player, but she will forever consider herself a fulltime mom and wife.
I always said, If I cant play the type of golf I want to, and I have to be away from my family, then Im wasting my time, Lopez said earlier this year when she announced she is stepping down. I really felt like I needed to be with my family.
You know, theres other things to life than just a game. Family, to me, has always been very important, and I am just glad I could experience (all of it). Im glad I could win during all that stuff that was going on, all the babies and all the sicknesses and all that stuff that was going on, I was glad I could experience it. Im very blessed.
For many athletes whose time to back off has come, the decision is easy. For many mothers who want to forego practice and travel, this break is welcomed. For Lopez, though, its gut-wrenching.
Ive loved doing it all these years, she said. I loved being out here. I love the pressure. And I think I just kept playing for even more years than I probably wanted to because of the fan mail I got and the people that always encouraged me to stay our here and play more.
The list of accomplishments is impressive: Lopez has won 48 times, she holds the record of five tournaments win a row, nine victories in her rookie season. Rookie of the Year, four times Rolex Player of the Year, three times the winner of the Vare Trophy for lowest scoring average name it and she has done it.
Others have won more tournaments: Kathy Whitworth with 88 and Mickey Wright with 82 come immediately to mind. But no one ' NO ONE ' has had the impact of Lopez.
Lopez has had a certain charisma since that time she came in as a rookie in 78. At first it was as much glamour appeal as it was golfing appeal. Nancy was attractive AND a great golfer. But always, she was great in front of a microphone.
She had children beginning in 1983, and she turned into a Mom of the Year. Later, about 1990, she became Everyones Favorite Mom. And she remained hugely popular through it all, the golfing public hanging on every single utterance as though it were a pronouncement from the heavens.
No one before her could match her popularity ' oh, Patty Berg is just as outgoing, but she came along long before television could make her an icon. Lopez was the best for 10 years or so, and the women who have come along since her storybook ascent ' the Beth Daniels and Annika Sorenstams and Karrie Webbs ' just dont have the same rapport with the fans as Lopez did. Its difficult to imagine anyone in any sport who has.
I dont think theres anyone capable of doing that anymore, said Webb. I think it would take a few of us out here with the younger players to just fill those shoes and do some of the similar things she did as just one person.
So the golfer supreme has turned into the mother extraordinaire. Has the sacrifice of family before golf cost her some tournaments? Yes, undoubtedly. How many? Thats hard to say, but undoubtedly, she would have won more often if she had a more single-minded purpose.
Maybe I could have won a few more tournaments if I worked a little bit harder, she agreed. But I just realized that I couldnt give it the time I needed to. I think because you are so public with your career, I didnt want to just shoot 72, 74. But you humiliate yourself with this golf game if you are not prepared.
If you are going to be out here ' I want to be in that last group with Annika and Karrie, even if I am 45. I want to have that golf game and I know I could have it if I worked hard on it. But I just dont have the desire to do that.
And the loser is the world of golf.
Its going to sad to see her retire, said Laura Diaz. I loved her from when I was growing up as a kid, and I dressed up like her in the fifth grade. She has achieved everything that I would like to achieve.
Nancy Lopez is by far the greatest female golfer of our time, of all time. Shes had the greatest impact on womens golf, and shes definitely one of my personal idols and heroes. I really respect her.
Lorie Kane is another womens golfer who has been touched by the smile and the kind personality of Lopez. Im said to see her decide that shes wanting to wind down her career, because I still want to see Nancy. The relationship that Nancy and I have isnt one where we talk every day or even every month or every couple of months. But I judge a true friendship by not having to spend very much time, and when you get back together, it takes five minutes to catch up on whats going on.
What shes done for me out here is given me the confidence to be the smiling Lorie that I am.
Se Ri Pak told about the time not long ago when she won the U.S. Women's Open, and she was overwhelmed and a little confused by the huge number of interview requests and demands on her personal time. She was huddled in her locker feeling lost, when who should appear but Lopez - herself a lonely, confused girl as a young phenom many years before.
She starting to say that how to control yourself, what to do, this way to help you, or this part of your game, and then at the same time part of your job, said Pak in her charming Korean way of speaking.
I ask her if Im doing the right things to do, and she just keeps telling me that.
Lopez, of Mexican descent, and Pak, a Korean, look somewhat alike. Thats another reason that Pak feels so comfortable around her.
She looks like my mother, said Pak, laughing. I comfortable when I talk to her. She always say, This is my daughter, kind of joking, but she is a great person.
I hope to see her every day, every year, but she is going to retire soon. Kind of little bit make me upset, but shes really a great person. I never forget her in my life, I think.
Well, she isnt going to actually retire. I hate that word, she said with a wide grin. I dont think people should retire until theyre 90. You shouldnt ever retire; I think you get old when you stop doing what you want to do.
She plans to just gracefully bow out, and pop up only occasionally to play an event or two. When shes gone, she says, someone else will be there to pick up the slack.
Maybe when Im gone, the focus will fall on someone else, she said. I mean, I appreciate the focus theyve given me, but they havent gone on because Im still there. Maybe theyll find someone who has been there all along, but they havent let go of me.
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.