Lopez encouraged by growth of Girls Golf

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PHOENIX – Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez likes to give American women little pep talks when she can.

With Americans winning just two LPGA events last year, Lopez turned to Lexi Thompson at a dinner and challenged the American star.

“I kind of looked at her and said, `You guys got to start playing better. We want to see you guys win,’” Lopez said. “She looked at me and said, `You know, [these international players] never mess up. They’re really great players, aren’t they?’”

Yes, Lopez nodded, but ...

“That means we need to get better,” Lopez said.

Lopez is thankful there may be help on the way with the booming growth of LPGA-USGA Girls Golf. Lopez helped to announce Wednesday’s launch of the LPGA’s “Changing the Face of the Game” campaign, a celebration of the success of Girls Golf, a partnership between the LPGA Foundation and the USGA.

Bank of Hope Founders Cup proceeds have benefitted the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program since the tournament’s inception in 2011. Girls Golf has grown from 5,000 participants to 60,000 in that time.

“And we’re not stopping there,” LPGA Foundation president Nancy Henderson said.

LPGA commissioner Mike Whan said the program is helping change the face of the game.

“If you look back in 1995, 17 percent of all junior golfers were girls, exactly what adult golfers looked like,” Whan said. “You jump forward and you look at today, 32 percent of youth golfers under the age of 18 are women. We've never seen that kind of jump.”

Whether that translates into future American success on the LPGA or not, Lopez is excited that so many more girls are taking up the game.

“Since the Founders Cup, which celebrates the past, the present, and the future of the LPGA, we've really seen an incredible rise in the number of girls who are playing,” Henderson said.