Lopez grooms the trail

IAN HUTCHINSON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:44 AM ET

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Advances in equipment technology and the emphasis on fitness are two reasons the game of golf dramatically has changed during the past 30 years, but the smile of Nancy Lopez remains as constant as ever as she greets those who recall her initial impact on the LPGA Tour in 1978.

Lopez, 50, was a combination of style and talent in her rookie year, when she won nine times, including five in a row, as she delivered on her vast potential to cement her position as the next great American star.

When all was said and done, Lopez had 48 wins, including three majors, to ensure her inclusion into the LPGA Hall of Fame and her current status as one of the game's great ambassadors.

While her desire to promote the game hasn't waned over the years, neither has the pressure she faced as a rising star from a country where a gold mine of fan support, sponsors and media exists.

That pressure is reserved now for the likes of Paula Creamer, Natalie Gulbis, Morgan Pressel and Michelle Wie, among others, and Lopez can relate, despite the generation between her and the current crop.

"The demands on your time is incredible," Lopez said. "You really don't have much time to yourself. It was fun for me. I was very tired though after a day of being on the golf course and everyone wanting to talk to me and get autographs.

"When I got back to my room, I was glad to be alone, just because I was really tired and I needed that time to recharge for the next day because the same thing would happen."

Time management became an essential part of her existence as she would show up early to focus on her fans before going about the business of winning tournaments. But it wasn't the autograph seekers or media putting the heat on Lopez, who had a difficult time saying no to the tour.

"They wanted me to play every event and the sponsors wanted me to play every event and that was a lot of pressure because I didn't like disappointing them," Lopez said. "Four in a row is the most I wanted to play and, once in a while, I would play more than that, but it was just too much."

Acknowledging that frustration often set in, she has no regrets decades later.

"I knew what I needed to do because we were still growing and I knew there were things I had to do to help my tour," Lopez said. "I did a lot of things I had to do just because it was the right thing to do.

"It was tiring sometimes, but I'm glad I that I did it because I still have relationships with people and I've acquired so many wonderful friendships because I gave of my time and people still want Nancy Lopez around sometimes and that's good."

Imagine Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson being told he needs to play four in a row for the good of the PGA Tour and ask yourself if he would respond the same way. Years after Lopez was in her prime, the expectations of top female stars are decidedly different than their counterparts on the men's tour.

TIME MANAGEMENT

"They still need to give their time," Lopez said.

"They still need to do the press stuff. They still need to play tournaments they haven't played for a little while. They still need to support our sponsors.

"All that's real important because we're still growing and our money should be close to where the men are and we're still not really that close."

Lopez played in a golden era that featured glamour and great golf, and she figures the new generation of Americans can duplicate that, even if they have fallen short in a win column dominated the past year or so by Mexican Lorena Ochoa, Swede Annika Sorenstam and the powerful wave of players from Korea.

"They're the players that have to carry us," Lopez said.

"I still consider it my tour. I want to see the purses keep growing and I want these great young players keep coming on because it's fun to watch the competitiveness and their personalities.

"What they give to the game is exciting for me to watch."


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