Jan. 6, 1958 - present
Birthplace: Torrence, California
Written by Mercedes Marrero, Latinosportslegends.com
© 2003, All Rights Reserved.
At eight years old, Nancy López received her first set of golf clubs and quickly fell in love with the game of golf. At nine, she won the Pee-Wee tournament and the next year she won the state championship. Nancy's father, Domingo became so impressed with Nancy's talent that he dug a big hole in the back yard and filled it with sand, so that she could practice hitting balls out of the sand trap.
Soon thereafter, she quickly became one of the country's best junior player.
At the young age of 12, she won the New Mexico Women’s Amateur. The following years, she won the USGA Junior Girls Championship twice (1972 and 1974), the Western Junior three times and the Mexican Amateur in 1975.
During her high school days at Goddard High, they didn't have a golf team for girls, so Nancy played on the boys' team and helped them win two state championships.
In 1975, Nancy entered the U.S. Women’s Open as an amateur and finished in a tie for second. The next year, she claimed the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) National Championship and was a member of the U.S. Curtis Cup and World Amateur teams. In her first year at the University of Tulsa, Nancy was named "1976 All-American" and the university’s "Female Athlete of the Year."
After her sophomore year of college, Nancy decided to leave school to pursue a professional golf career and had instant success. But before entering the pros, there was an unfortunate family tragedy -- her mother died of a heart attack before ever seeing her win a professional tournament.
In 1977, her rookie season as a pro golfer, Nancy quickly made a name for herself by finishing second in her first three tournaments. This accomplishment led her to win "LPGA Rookie of the Year" honors. No LPGA player has had a debut like López. As a rookie she won nine tournaments, including five consecutive starts -- something which definitely help her throughout her career, "I felt pressure all the time," López says of her rookie year. "It seemed to help me throughout my career. It gave me confidence."
In 1978, she set a record by winning five straight tournaments including the LPGA Championship -- her first major tournament victory. She was the leading money-winner in 1978, 1979 and 1985 and won the LPGA Championship again in 1985 and 1989.
If it sounds as if Nancy had it very easy -- she didn't.
Just like many athletes of Hispanic descent, she faced racism and injustices because of her culture and roots.
Because of her race (Mexican-American) she was subjected to discrimination and her parents were not allowed to join the Roswell country club where she was playing and practicing her game, so Nancy had to play in Albuquerque, which was 200 miles away. "When you're young, you don't notice those things. I thought we weren't members of the country club because we couldn't afford it. Now I think it was discrimination."
People of other cultures criticized the way Nancy played. She was an intense competitor with extreme concentration before games. That attitude and the fact that she was a Mexican-American winning so many tournaments did not sit well with others, but that didn't discourage her.
She won "Player of the Year" honors three times, Vare Trophy winner three times, and her stroke average in 1985 was 70.73 -- an LPGA record. López had won enough tournaments at the time (35) to qualify for the LPGA Hall of Fame - the youngest qualifier ever.
With 35 tour victories by the age of 30, López was inducted into the LPGA Hall of Fame in 1989.
"I feel honored to be with the other women in the Hall of Fame," López said. "I have always respected them and what they have done for women's golf. I look at each player, and some are already legends while others will become legends as time goes by. I feel great now, being in the Hall of Fame, having accomplished what I've done and being with the greatest golfers. I feel great that I can say I'm one of them."
With her sights set on 50 victories, it would be fitting for López to someday reach the milestone of winning the U.S. Women's Open. At the age of 40, she finished second for the fourth time in the Open. She shot four rounds in the 60's--the first woman to do so--but lost by a stroke to Alison Nicholas. Winning a U.S. open still eludes her.
In her long pro career, Nancy López has been one of the most successful and popular athletes in America.
She has come a long way from the dusty streets of Roswell, New Mexico but she never has forgotten her father's important advice. "You can't win all the time. As long as you are doing the best you can, that's all that's important.
Another one of his sayings, this one a bit humorous was, "Don't cry, because if I cried, I couldn't see the golf ball."
In 2000, during the LPGA’s 50th Anniversary, López was recognized as one of the LPGA’s top 50 players and teachers.
Before there was Tiger Woods, Nancy López was the first super star of the sport and was known as one of the best athletes in Golf. For many women and Hispanics she is also seen as a role model.
- Mother of three daughters, Ashley Marie, Erinn and Torri.
- Married Ray Knight on October 29, 1982. Ray played 13 years in the Major Leagues with Cincinnati, Houston, NY Mets, Baltimore and Detroit.
- Has her own golf clothing line and signature golf ball.
- Nancy's father, Domingo came to America from Mexico when he was a small boy.
- Is a LPGA representative for Bayer Strokes Against Strokes.
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