Catching up with Nancy Lopez at the new Max A. Mandel Golf Course in Laredo, Tex.

By Mike BaileyNovember 1, 2013, 7:06 pm

Well before Annika Sorenstam or Lorena Ochoa came along to dominate women's golf, there was Nancy Lopez. Growing up in Roswell, N.M., with her self-taught swing and abundance of talent, she didn't just win at a young age, she lapped the field.

She won the New Mexico Women's Amateur at age 12, U.S. Junior Girls and in 1972 and '74, was an all-American at the University of Tulsa and took the LPGA Tour by storm her rookie year in 1978, winning nine times in her first full season on the tour. More than that, she brought a new presence to women's golf. With her winning smile and dynamic personality, golf fans tuned in just to see her play. In an LPGA Tour career that spanned three decades, the World Golf Hall of Famer won 48 times.

Fast-forward to 2013: Lopez, 56, is a grandmother, trying to rediscover her culture and looking at golf in an entirely new way. She still plays the occasional competitive round in LPGA Legends event, but she mostly plays golf for fun. She's taken a run at designing a course and has some definite ideas about where the game should be headed.

We sat down with Lopez recently in Laredo, Texas, as she took part in the grand opening ceremonies of the city's Max A. Mandel Golf Course, which should provide opportunities for juniors of all backgrounds the chance to discover their talent, much the way Lopez did nearly a half decade ago.

GC: You grew up playing golf on a municipal course in Roswell, N.M. What are your fondest memories?

Lopez: I remember how hard my dad just worked to give me a few opportunities to play in the tournaments that we could afford. He taught me a lot of things in life, how to live my life right. He was always good with people and his shop that he owned he always tried to things right for his customers (he fixed their cars). If he didn't fix it right, he would do it again. People trusted him. He was just a good father. My father was my best friend.

He taught me on this municipal course like it was a championship course. You could hit everywhere and still make birdie, but he taught me right away to focus. He said to me, 'Nancy when you're on the tee I want you to look right down the middle of the fairway and focus on your target.' He said if you hit it out of the fairway, you're out of bounds -- two shots.

GC: Talk about your heritage and its role in golf.

Lopez: I'm very proud to be Hispanic, Mexican American or whatever you want to call me. I know that I'm Hispanic and my relatives are from Mexico. I really miss that living on the East Coast. My dad was a wonderful man -- a true Hispanic. He worked very hard and gave me everything he could.

GC: He was very proud of you, wasn't he?

Lopez: Yes he was, and so was my mom. I always remember the good times of life when I was growing up on a municipal. That was very my favorite time.

GC: Do you miss New Mexico?

Lopez: I would love to move back here, but my kids are all on the East Coast. I've got one in Florida and one in Atlanta. I think I miss the desert. I miss friends and I miss hearing the Spanish language. I miss eating good Mexican food -- really good Mexican food. I have a place in Colorado, but it's still too far from New Mexico and really too far from my kids. I'll probably end up living in Florida.

GC: You daughters didn't play golf. Now that you're a grandmother, though, are you hoping you can pass your knowledge to another generation?

Lopez: My oldest daughter, Ashley, had a little girl named Molly. She lives in Venice, Fla., and I plan to visit her at least one a month, if not more. I hope she lets Grammy – that's what she calls me – teach her how to play the game, and that she'll love it the way I did.

I really want to try to introduce her to golf as soon as I feel like it's the right time. I think I can teach her what my dad taught me because he helped me love the game, and I'm hoping though me I can help give her what my dad did for me in the game.

GC: If she's like you, it won't be long, right?

Lopez: I was on the golf course all the time. I played in my first pee-wee event when I was 8 in Alamogordo, N.M., and I won by 110 shots (over three days). I was still shooting 65 for nine holes, which is high, but nobody else was close to that.

GC: What are some of your favorite golf courses?

Lopez: The thing is we really never played all the great golf courses on the LPGA Tour. We played good golf courses but not big-name courses. In the past few years I've been able to play courses I never played. Last year, I got to play Whistling Straits, which was my first time playing there. I have to say that's my favorite course so far and I'm going to keep traveling and play just as many courses as I can.

GC: What do you think of golf course design today?

Lopez: We're always trying to build golf courses for the professionals and not the people who support the game. They need to build courses like this (Max A. Mandel) for people who support the game and can enjoy the game. I remember when I was poor I had to pay for everything. Now that I have money I don't have to pay for anything. It doesn't make sense.

Max A. Mandel

Laredo's new Max A. Mandel Golf Course opened in late 2012. 

GC: What drives you today?

Lopez: I work with handicapped children and for me to be able to swing a golf club makes it appreciate what I have. When I played golf competitively and I had a bad round, I thought about all my handicapped children. They can't swing a golf club and some of them can't walk. Some can't even hold their head up. Everybody should play the game with that kind of a happiness and not be club-throwers or anything like that.

GC: What are your thoughts on the LPGA Tour and state of the game?

Lopez: I'd like to see more Americans winning. The Koreans are great players and they're great people too. Unfortunately, they're better than us right now. It bothers me. Because when you live in the United States of America you want a U.S. player to win. That's what's going to keep interest in golf.

But please watch us, no matter who's winning. Because it's a great sport and we've got wonderful beautiful players on the LPGA Tour from all over the world. And fans really need to show their love by supporting us. If they do they're going to see great golf.

GC: You designed a course, the Nancy Lopez Legacy Country Club at The Villages in Florida. How was that experience?

Lopez: I had never done it before, so I didn't know for sure if I would like it. I know I love trees and I didn't want them to cut very many down. When I stood on dirt tees and started looking out, I could visualize holes on courses I had played, and I didn't think I could do that. I visualized where I was going to put bunkers, where I was going to leave trees. I'm very proud of it. I built it so people could play it. I didn't build it for the professionals. I built it for the people at The Villages who were older can enjoy the game. And we gave women two tees so they would have more options.

GC: Would you like to do more courses?

Lopez: If I'm asked, I would love to.

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Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.

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Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

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Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.


A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.