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Nancy Goes But Memories Remain

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She looks a bit like your mother now, this lady who once was the most feared name in golf. Just the letters on the scoreboard ' L-O-P-E-Z ' once was worth five strokes. That was when she was 20 years younger, maybe a teeny bit more on the wild side, maybe a little more svelte, maybe a little better putter ' but as nice as any girl could be.
 
She told us a couple of weeks ago that, for all intents and purposes, she is going to retire after this year. She may still play an occasional event, but she wont feel the need to practice like a professional does. Her appearances will be - as Jack Nicklaus is fond of saying - ceremonial. She is giving in to bad knees and an aching shoulder.
 
Most of all, though, at the age of 45, she is closing this chapter of her life. She is interested now in being solely a mother to her three daughters, perhaps in a few years being a good grandmother. Forget about seeing her play golf. From now on, you will see her at home in Albany, Ga., just playing mom.
 
We know her as Nancy Lopez. That, of course, hasnt been her name for many years. She is Nancy Knight. To those her know her, though, she is womens golf. To those she played with on the LPGA Tour, she is an inspiration, the mother confessor, and the epitome of what every woman who plays golf wants to be.
 
She did it by not letting her head swell beyond the size of her shoulders. She was just a girl ' period. She went to rock concerts with the other girls when she was in her 20s, she learned to cook and clean when she was in her 30s, and now in her 40s, she drives her daughters to softball practice, basketball practice and to see their friends. She longs to be just an average woman in an average role ' that of motherhood.
 
Is she still the woman who may be the greatest female golfer who ever lived? Yes. But she is much more than that ' shes a person who has been there, done that ' all of it ' and still is just everyday Nancy.
 
As great a player as she is, said Jan Stephenson, whose career roughly paralleled Nancys in the 70s and 80s, you know that SHE knows she has been a great golfer. But she never, never lets on that shes anything but just another woman out here playing golf. Inwardly, she knows. Outwardly, shes the sweetest person out here.
 
That is symbolic of the way the women of the LPGA feel about her. After all, they are the people who really know her, see her during the private moments when she is shielded from the public in the locker room. Conceited? Never - though if anyone ever deserved to be, it would be Nancy.
 
She was just a teen-ager when she learned that all famous people werent like the person she ultimately would become.
 
When I was 15, I went to the Los Angeles Open, said Lopez in a 1998 interview. There was a PGA player that I loved. A man asked for his autograph, and the player said he didnt have time.
 
I felt embarrassed for the gentleman who asked for the autograph. I thought to myself that when I turned professional, I would never do that. I always make a point to notice fans. Im not better than they are. What are you going to do without fans?
 
That trip taught her that to brush off an autograph request is an insult. Some pros had been guilty of it before, some have been guilty of it since, but Lopez? After that incident when she was 15, she decided that she would always have time.
 
Anytime you have someone whos a superstar whos not pleasant, you admire their golf but it kind of sours the other, said Laura Baugh, another who has known Lopez since both played the tour in the 70s. Nancys so personable and nice and sweet, she has a world of respect from every woman out here.
Lopez remembers when she was a rookie. Maybe the reason she is so nice to her LPGA pals is because she was more-or-less ostracized that year (1978). She was only 20, hoping to meet new friends and see exciting new places. But she won so often ' nine times ' that most of the players had already left when she finished the trophy presentation, the media debriefing and the practice. Even when she didnt win, she was in the last group or two because she was always near the lead. There was no one left to make small talk with, to go out with her to the movies or shopping or to eat dinner.
 
Lots of players thought I was stuck up, Nancy recalls. But I really wasnt. Its just that I never saw them. Id go from the pressroom and then Id go hit balls, and by the time I finally got to the locker room, I never saw anybody, they were all gone. So for the first two or three years, I never talked to anybody, because I never saw them.
 
But then, when I wasnt winning so much, I got to sit in the locker room a lot more, really get acquainted with the players. I never had that opportunity before.
 
The players who have come along in the years since have noticed. To her generation, it was an eye-opener that she really was genuine, not a snob. She was a real buddy. To the next generation, she was someone to learn from, who always had time for a young woman with a problem. To the latest generation, she is an icon, but an icon who is real, a breathing, talking person.
 
She is, Laura Davies says flatly, the nicest lady on tour.
 
Barb Mucha seconds that. Everybody knows Nancy, she says. Shes as nice a 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 shes gotten, and I know shes very appreciative, very thankful, just to be part of the tour.

Brandie Burton speaks for the younger players. As a rookie on tour, Burton said, she saw me becoming impatient with myself. She took me aside and helped me out. Now, Ill introduce myself to new players. I think thats what Nancy did with me.
 
Lopez is thrilled with the reactions. She has spent the past 25 years trying to be that person. That she has succeeded in such a wonderful manner is extremely pleasing.
 
Throughout my life, thats what Ive always tried to do - to put myself on the same level with everybody else, she says. Ive wanted everyone else to feel the same way about me.
 
Its hard for me sometimes when people walk up to me and react the way they do. Im like ' Hey, Im just Nancy. Im honored, but I dont want to be singled out.
 
Joanne Carner knows. She is a bit like Nancy herself, the same today as she was 10 years ago, which was the same as she was 20 years ago.
 
Nancy never changes, Carner said. Shes the same today as she was the first day she came out here.
 
Nancy Lopez? Nancy Knight? Theyre the same person. One is an idol. The other ' just a mom who happens to be famous.