Lopez Plays In Old College Town - and Shes Still the Same


She looks a lot like Everymom nowadays - 44 years old, three daughters and a husband, the house in the woods and the carpools to school. Nancy Lopez - make that Nancy Lopez Knight - went back to her old college stomping grounds last week. But it's a little different when you go as a matronly Hall of Famer, as opposed to an 18-year-old who's leaving Roswell, N.M., for the first time.
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.'