The Saga of Mother Nancy Comes to a Close
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.
Lincicome grouped with two rookies in Barbasol
Brittany Lincicome will tee it up with a pair of rookies when she makes her first start in a PGA Tour event Thursday at the Barbasol Championship at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville, Ky.
Lincicome, an eight-time LPGA winner, is scheduled to go off the 10th tee at 9:59 a.m. ET in the first round with Sam Ryder, 28, and Conrad Shindler, 29. They’re off the first tee Friday at 2:59 p.m. ET
Lincicome will become just the sixth woman to play in a PGA Tour event, joining Babe Zaharias, Shirley Spork, Annika Sorenstam, Suzy Whaley and Michelle Wie.
“The first three or four holes, I’ll be a nervous wreck, for sure,” Linicome said.
Lincicome thrilled by reception from male pros
Brittany Lincicome wondered how PGA Tour pros would greet her when she arrived to play the Barbasol Championship this week.
She wondered if there would be resentment.
She also wondered how fans at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville, Ky., would receive her, and if a social media mob would take up pitchforks.
“I can’t stop smiling,” Lincicome said Tuesday after her first practice round upon arriving. “Everyone has been coming up to me and wishing me luck. That means a lot.”
PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, husband of LPGA pro Gerina Piller, welcomed her immediately.
Other pros sought her out on the practice putting green.
She said she was also welcomed joining pros at a table in player dining.
Fans have been stopping her for autographs.
“It has been an awesome reception,” said Dewald Gouws, her husband, a former long-drive competitor. “I think it’s put her much more at ease, seeing the reception she is getting. There’s a lot of mutual respect.”
Lincicome, 32, wasn’t sure if she would be playing a practice round alone Tuesday morning, but when she made her way to the first tee, Domenico Geminiani was there, just about to go off.
He waved Lincicome over.
“He said, `Hey, Brittany, do you want to join me?’” Gouws said. “Come to find out, Dom’s a pretty cool guy.”
Geminiani made it into the field as a Monday qualifier.
“The two of us were both trying to figure things out together,” Lincicome said.
Keene Trace will play to 7,328 yards on the scorecard. That’s more than 800 yards longer than Highland Meadows, where Lincicome finished second at the LPGA’s Marathon Classic last weekend. Keene Trace was playing even longer than its listed yardage Tuesday, with recent rains softening it.
Nicknamed “Bam Bam,” Lincicome is one of the longest hitters in the women’s game. Her 269.5 yard average drive is 10th in the LPGA ranks. It would likely be dead last on the PGA Tour, where Brian Stuard (278.2) is the last player on the stats list at No. 201.
“I think if I keep it in the fairway, I’ll be all right,” Lincicome said.
Lincicome is an eight-time LPGA winner, with two major championships among those titles. She is just the sixth woman to compete in a PGA Tour event, the first in a decade, since Michelle Wie played the Reno-Tahoe Open, the last of her eight starts against the men.
Lincicome will join Babe Zaharias, Shirley Spork, Annika Sorenstam, Suzy Whaley and Wie in the elite ranks.
Zaharias, by the way, is the only woman to make a 36-hole cut in PGA Tour history, making it at the 1945 L.A. Open before missing a 54-hole cut on the weekend.
What are Lincicome’s expectations?
She would love to make the cut, but . . .
“Just going to roll with it and see what happens,” she said. “This is once in a lifetime, probably a one-and-done opportunity. I’m just going to enjoy it.”
Lincicome grew up playing for the boys’ golf team at Seminole High on the west coast of Florida. She won a couple city championships.
“I always thought it would be cool to compete against the guys on the PGA Tour,” Lincicome said. “I tend to play more with the guys than women at home. I never would have gone out and told my agent, `Let’s go try to play in a PGA Tour event,’ but when Tom Murray called with this opportunity, I was really blown away and excited by it. I never in a million years thought I would have this opportunity.”
Tom Murray, the president of Perio, the parent company of Barbasol and Pure Silk, invited Lincicome to accept one of the tournament’s sponsor exemptions. Lincicome represents Pure Silk.
Lincicome said her desire to play a PGA Tour event is all about satisfying her curiosity, wanting to know how she would stack up at this level. She also wants to see if the experience can help take her to the next level in the women’s game.
As a girl growing up, she played Little League with the boys, instead of softball with the girls. She said playing the boys in golf at Seminole High helped her get where she is today.
“The guys were better, and it pushed me to want to be better,” Lincicome said. “I think playing with the guys [on the PGA Tour], I will learn something to take to LPGA events, and it will help my game, for sure.”
Lincicome has been pleased that her fellow LPGA pros are so supportive. LPGA winner Kris Tamulis is flying into Kentucky as moral support. Other LPGA pros may also be coming in to support her.
The warm fan reception Lincicome is already getting at Keene Trace matters, too.
“She’s already picked up some new fans this week, and hopefully she will pick up some more,” Gouws said. “I don’t think she’s putting too much expectation on herself. I think she really does just want to have fun.”
Stunner: Inbee Park steps aside for Int. Crown
There was a big surprise this week when the LPGA announced the finalized lineups for the UL International Crown.
Rolex world No. 1 Inbee Park won’t be teeing it up for the host South Koreans Oct. 4-7 in Incheon.
She has withdrawn, saying she wanted another Korean to be able to experience the thrill of representing her country.
It’s a stunner given the importance the LPGA has placed on taking the UL International Crown to South Korea and its golf-crazy allegiance to the women’s game in the Crown’s first staging outside the United States.
Two-time major champion In Gee Chun will replace Park.
"It was my pleasure and honor to participate in the first UL International Crown in 2014 and at the 2016 Olympics, and I cannot describe in one word how amazing the atmosphere was to compete as a representative of my country,” Park said. “There are so many gifted and talented players in Korea, and I thought it would be great if one of the other players was given the chance to experience the 2018 UL International Crown.”
Chun, another immensely popular player in South Korea, was the third alternate, so to speak, with the world rankings used to field teams. Hye Jin Choi and Jin Young Ko were higher ranked than Chun but passed because of commitments made to competing in a Korean LPGA major that week. The other South Koreans who previously qualified are So Yeon Ryu, Sung Hyun Park and I.K. Kim.
Na: I can admit, 'I went through the yips'
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following his victory two weeks ago at A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier, Kevin Na said his second triumph on the PGA Tour was the most rewarding of his career.
Although he declined to go into details as to why the victory was so gratifying at The Greenbrier, as he completed his practice round on Tuesday at the Open Championship, Na shed some light on how difficult the last few years have been.
“I went through the yips. The whole world saw that. I told people, 'I can’t take the club back,'” Na said on Tuesday at Carnoustie. “People talked about it, 'He’s a slow player. Look at his routine.' I was admitting to the yips. I didn’t use the word ‘yip’ at the time. Nobody wants to use that word, but I’m over it now so I can use it. The whole world saw it.”
Na, who made headlines for his struggles to begin his backswing when he found himself in the lead at the 2012 Players Championship, said he asked other players who had gone through similar bouts with the game’s most dreaded ailment how they were able to get through it.
“It took time,” he said. “I forced myself a lot. I tried breathing. I tried a trigger. Some guys will have a forward press or the kick of the right knee. That was hard and the crap I got for it was not easy.”
The payoff, however, has steadily arrived this season. Na said he’d been confident with his game this season following a runner-up showing at the Genesis Open and a fourth-place finish at the Fort Worth Invitational, and he felt he was close to a breakthrough. But being able to finish a tournament like he did at The Greenbrier, where he won by five strokes, was particularly rewarding.
“All good now,” he smiled. “I knew I was good enough to win again, but until you do it sometimes you question yourself. It’s just the honest truth.”