Lopez's historic stroke of brilliance no easy feat

IAN HUTCHINSON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 12:03 PM ET

For those of us who think of woods as a place to land our tee shots as opposed to being clubs in our bags, the idea of golf being simple is beyond comprehension.

It's safe to say that there are few golfers of any skill level who truly understand the euphoria experienced 30 years ago by Nancy Lopez when she began her ascent toward LPGA Tour icon status after being named player of the year, rookie of the year and winning the Vare Trophy for lowest scoring average.

"We had a celebration of the 30th anniversary of my first win this year at The Villages (a Florida golf community) and when they called me and said: 'On February 26, your first win on the LPGA Tour happened 30 years ago.' I said: 'Oh my gosh, you've got to be bored,'' Lopez said. "How did you figure that out?'

"I hadn't even thought about it. I've just never been a person who watched all that kind of stuff.

"I was just shocked to realize it was 30 years ago in February that I won my first tournament."

TOOK HER BACK

"It just kind of took me back to the memories of that first one and what I felt like and how it just kind of snowballed after that and how it became something that I never thought would happen in my career," said Lopez, who was 21 when she first won at the Bent Tree Classic.

"I went into the tournament in Sarasota, Fla., just hoping that I would win one tournament that year," she said. "I went there, loved the golf course and coming to the last few holes, I was tied for awhile with Jo Ann Washam. I made a really long putt on the 17th hole to give me a one-shot lead over her.

"I remember getting on the green in regulation -- how I got there, I don't remember -- and then left my first putt short. Usually, when you're nervous, you leave a putt short. You don't knock it by the hole very often. I had about a foot-and-a-half left and I felt like it was a 10-footer. I couldn't take the putter back."

She managed to do so on that 18th green and had her first-career victory.

"After I won, it seemed more simple to win. Everything was in the middle of the fairway. Everything was on the green. It was so much fun, a lot of excitement," said Lopez, who won again at the Sunstar Classic two weeks later.

Of course, she was a rookie and nobody expected Lopez to keep winning with any regularity, but a couple of months later, she shot holes in that theory, starting with a victory at the Greater Baltimore Classic in mid-May.

The following week, Lopez earned her first playoff win against veteran JoAnne Carner at the Coca-Cola Classic and carried on at the Golden Lights Championship to send her into the LPGA Championship with three consecutive wins after sitting out the Peter Jackson Classic at St. George's in Toronto.

The Jack Nicklaus Golf Club in Ohio became the site of Lopez's first of three career major wins after she finished six shots ahead of Amy Alcott.

"There was good momentum,'' Lopez said. "I was very positive, playing really well. It seemed pretty easy."

There's that word again. Liberal use of words such as "easy" and "simple" makes it seem like Lopez is rubbing it in to someone who finds putting the ball into the water the only simple task on the course, but the LPGA hall of famer is too classy for that.

Besides, there must be something to that theory since Lopez won again the following week at the Bankers Trust Classic at Locust Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y., to cap off her streak.

By year's end, Lopez had nine wins and followed up with eight more in 1979 to reach 48 for her career.

Lopez's record for consecutive wins stood until Annika Sorenstam tied her run of five in a row in 2004.

MEXICAN HERITAGE

Thirty years later, it's the Age of Ochoa and Lopez, being of Mexican heritage, says the tour is in good hands with the likes of the world's No. 1 female player, who hails from Guadalajara. Lopez says Lorena Ochoa is good for the tour with both talent and personality and is an inspiration to all ethnicities.

"The Mexican heritage, the pride that we've always had, you see it in her parents and in her,'' Lopez said. "She's just a fabulous golfer, but just a great person too. I think she'll always remember where she's coming from and she will always have that down to earth, humble personality."

Considering those who went before her, Ochoa is carrying on a 30-year tradition with that pride and personality.


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