June 18, 2007

Player of the Decade: Nancy Lopez

1977-1986

Nancy Lopez arrived on the LPGA Tour with an ­uncanny smile, an unorthodox swing and a pure putting stroke that could make the hole seem like it was slightly more than four feet in diameter instead of four inches. As a 21-year-old rookie in 1978, Lopez captivated the country with her winning play and genuine personality, both of which seemed to come as naturally as walking.

Her talent and charisma suddenly made the LPGA a hot commodity. She won a record five consecutive starts en route to nine victories her first full season. Those were the kind of numbers put up by women whom she eventually would join in the Hall of Fame, and people couldn't get enough of her. Lopez still is the only woman to win rookie of the year, player of the year and Vare Trophy honors in the same season, but her appeal reached far beyond her statistics.

Although Lopez seeemed born to play the game, her roots were far removed from country-club chic, a circumstance that only heightened her popularity as the friendly girl-next-door who also happened to be a great golfer. A Mexican-American, Lopez was introduced to golf when she was 8 by her father, Domingo, who had an auto-body shop in Roswell, N.M.

A predecessor to today's teen wonders, Lopez demonstrated her ability early. The New Mexico Women's Amateur champion when she was 12, Lopez finished T-2 in the 1975 U.S. Women's Open as an amateur. That title would forever elude her, the missing link in a career as bright as her smile.


    • -[#image: /photos/55ad9bc0b01eefe207f7d880]|||60th Anniversary|||NO. 9 AT TPC SAWGRASS Photo: Stephen Szurlej

ARCHITECTURE

In 1980, urged by PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman to produce a course that would provide the ultimate in spectator vantage points, Pete Dye conjured up golf's answer to the Daytona Speedway, the original Stadium Course at the TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. With spectator mounds galore, it came complete with a crash-and-burn final turn, the infamous island-green par-3 17th. Dye would create basically the same course a few years later, this time at PGA West in La Quinta, Calif., a course so brutal that tour players petitioned to have it removed from the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic rotation. Elsewhere, young Tom Fazio, after enduring criticisms of hamhanded remodeling of Donald Ross designs at Oak Hill in Rochester, N.Y., and Inverness in Toledo, Ohio, quieted critics by producing the sublime Wild Dunes GL near Charleston, S.C., and the opulent Vintage Club near Palm Springs. Jack Nicklaus unveiled Desert Highlands in Scottsdale, with unique transitions between playing areas and native desert, and followed that with the most versatile design of his career, the multiple-tee, multiple-green Renegade Course at Desert Mountain in Arizona. On the Monterey Peninsula, Robert Trent Jones Jr. teamed with Tom Watson and former USGA president Sandy Tatum (the "Holy Trinity," one critic dubbed them) to produce the Links at Spanish Bay, a genuine, if manufactured, sand-based links minutes from Pebble Beach.

--Ron Whitten


      • MILESTONES

1977--Al Geiberger shoots 59 at the Danny Thomas Memphis Classic.

1978--Jack Nicklaus' three wins give him 17 straight years with at least one victory, tying Arnold Palmer's record.

1979--Sam Snead (age 67) is the youngest man to shoot his age on tour with a 66 in the Quad Cities Open.

1980--Tom Watson is the first PGA Tour player to win more than $500,000 in one year.

1981--Kathy Whitworth is the first woman to earn more than $1 million in her career.

1982--Calvin Peete hits a PGA Tour record 84.6 percent of his fairways.

1983--The top 125 players on the money list earn PGA Tour cards for 1984, essentially creating the all-exempt tour.

1984--Juli Inkster wins two majors--the Nabsico and the du Maurier-- as an LPGA rookie.

1985--Peter Thomson wins nine Champions Tour events, a mark matched only by Hale Irwin in 1997.

1986--Greg Norman wins the Panasonic Las Vegas Invitational, the first PGA Tour event with a $1 million purse ($1,150,000).