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.

Getty Images

DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

Getty Images

Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.

Getty Images

Hot Seat: Rory jumps into the fire early

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 2:11 pm

The world’s top tours head to desert regions this week, perfect locales for The Hot Seat, the gauge upon which we measure the level of heat the game’s top personalities are facing ...

Sahara sizzle: Rory McIlroy

McIlroy won’t have to look far to see how his form measures up to world No. 1 Dustin Johnson at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

McIlroy will make his 2018 debut with Johnson in his face, literally.

McIlroy will be grouped with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood in the first two rounds.

Players like to downplay pairings early in a tournament, but it’s hard to believe McIlroy and Johnson won’t be trying to send each other messages in this European Tour event in the United Arab Emirates. That’s the alpha-dog nature of world-class players looking to protect their turf, or in the case of McIlroy, take back his turf.

“When you are at the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Trevor Immelman said about pairings during Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge last month.

And that was an offseason event.

“They want to show this guy, ‘This is what I got,’” Immelman said.

As early season matchups go, Abu Dhabi is a heavyweight pairing that ought to be fun.

So there will be no easing into the new year for McIlroy after taking off the last three months to regroup from the stubborn rib injury that plagued him last season. He is coming off a winless year, and he will be doing so alongside a guy who just won the first PGA Tour event of 2018 in an eight-shot rout. Johnson’s victory in Hawaii two weeks ago was his fifth since McIlroy last won.

“Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place, and that was because of where I was physically,” McIlroy said of 2017. “I feel prepared now. I feel ready, and I feel ready to challenge. I feel really good about where I’m at with my health. I’ve put all that behind me, which has been great.”

Sonoran Smolder: Phil Mickelson

Mickelson will turn 48 this summer.

His world ranking is sliding, down to No. 43 now, which is the lowest he has ranked in 24 years.

It’s been more than four years since he last won, making him 0 for his last 92 starts.

There’s motivation in all of that for Mickelson. He makes his 2018 debut at the CareerBuilder Challenge in the Palm Springs area this week talking like a man on a renewed mission.

There’s a Ryder Cup team to make this season, which would be his 12th straight, and there’s a career Grand Slam to claim, with the U.S. Open returning to Shinnecock Hills, where Mickelson finished second in ’04.

While Mickelson may not feel old, there are so many young stars standing in his way that it’s hard not to be constantly reminded that time isn’t on his side in these events anymore.

There has only been one player in the history of the game to win a major championship who was older than Mickelson is right now. Julius Boros won the PGA Championship when he was 48 back in 1968.

Campaign fever: Jordan Spieth

Spieth’s respect in the game’s ranks extends outside the ropes.

He was just selected to run for the PGA Tour Player Advisory Council’s chairman position. He is facing Billy Hurley III in an election to see who will succeed Davis Love III on the Tour’s Policy Board next year.

Spieth, just 24, has already made Time Magazine’s list of the “100 Most Influential People.” He made that back in 2016, with the magazine writing that “he exemplifies everything that’s great about sports.” Sounds like a campaign slogan.

Getty Images

CareerBuilder Challenge: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 1:10 pm

The PGA Tour shifts from Hawaii to Southern California for the second full-field event of the year. Here are the key stats and information for the CareerBuilder Challenge. Click here for full-field tee times.

How to watch (all rounds on Golf Channel):

Thursday, Rd. 1: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Friday, Rd. 2: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Saturday, Rd. 3: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Sunday, Rd. 4: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Purse: $5.9 million ($1,062,000 to winner)

Courses: PGA West, Stadium Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,113); PGA West, Nicklaus Tournament Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,159); La Quinta Country Club, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,060) NOTE: All three courses will be used for the first three rounds but only the Stadium Course will be used for the final round.

Defending champion: Hudson Swafford (-20) - defeated Adam Hadwin by one stroke to earn his first PGA Tour win.

Notables in the field

Phil Mickelson

* This is his first start of 2018. It's the fourth consecutive year he has made this event the first one on his yearly calendar.

* For the second year in a row he will serve as the tournament's official ambassador.

* He has won this event twice - in 2002 and 2004.

* This will be his 97th worldwide start since his most recent win, The Open in 2013.

Jon Rahm

* Ranked No. 3 in the world, he finished runner-up in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

* In 37 worldwide starts as a pro, he has 14 top-5 finishes.

* Last year he finished T-34 in this event.

Adam Hadwin

* Last year in the third round, he shot 59 at La Quinta Country Club. It was the ninth - and still most recent - sub-60 round on Tour.

* In his only start of 2018, the Canadian finished 32nd in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

Brian Harman

* Only player on the PGA Tour with five top-10 finishes this season.

* Ranks fifth in greens in regulation this season.

* Finished third in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and T-4 in the Sony Open in Hawaii.

Brandt Snedeker

* Making only his third worldwide start since last June at the Travelers Championship. He has been recovering from a chest injury.

* This is his first start since he withdrew from the Indonesian Masters in December because of heat exhaustion.

* Hasn't played in this event since missing the cut in 2015.

Patrick Reed

* Earned his first career victory in this event in 2014, shooting three consecutive rounds of 63.

* This is his first start of 2018.

* Last season finished seventh in strokes gained: putting, the best ranking of his career.

(Stats provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit.)