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.