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Nancy Lopez: A Combination of Champion Golfer and Proud Mother

November 08, 1990|FERNANDO DOMINGUEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ask Nancy Lopez about her two young daughters and her face lights up.

The woman generally credited with increasing the popularity of the Ladies Professional Golf Assn. to unprecedented levels is a proud mom.

So proud and devoted, in fact, that she will curtail her tour schedule next year to only 15 tournaments to spend more time with the girls.

Lopez talked about her role as a mother during the recent MBS Classic at Los Coyotes Country Club in Buena Park, in which she scored a sensational come-from-behind victory.

Lopez made up an eight-stroke deficit in the final round to force a sudden-death playoff with Cathy Gerring and take home $48,750. Lopez won by sinking a five-foot putt for a birdie on the first hole, after Gerring missed her 30-foot attempt.

It was Lopez's first tour victory in a year (she won the same tournament in 1989), a year in which she suffered a miscarriage and missed making the cut at the Nabisco Dinah Shore tournament in March.

So it was with a moist eye here and there that her fans in the gallery cheered and applauded Lopez during an emotional celebration in which she clung, sobbing, to husband Ray Knight and her father, Domingo.

For Lopez, the full circle had been completed. She was on top again. She also was perhaps a bit closer to realizing another wish she had mentioned after one of the rounds in which she had putted well.

"I told Ray that if I win this tournament and have a little boy, we have to name him Malvern," Lopez said jokingly in reference to Malvern Avenue, a street that runs south of Los Coyotes Country Club and toward which all the putts supposedly break.

That was Lopez the mom taking over for Lopez the champion golfer, even on the doorsteps of another triumphant moment on the course.

Those are the sentiments that help illustrate why Lopez plans to limit her playing time in 1991 and reserve the remaining time for her family, including perhaps the baby boy she wants to have.

"I hate to leave them," Lopez said about her daughters, Ashley, 7, and Erinn, 4, before the MBS Classic began. "Right now is the time of their lives when you don't want to miss what they are doing. This is a special time to enjoy with them . . . I just don't like to be away from them that much. I feel they need me and I like to be home."

Home to Lopez, Knight (a former major league ballplayer and now a TV baseball commentator) and the girls is a 603-acre farm in Albany, Ga., where Knight's 10-year-old son from a previous marriage also spends time. A live-in housekeeper/nanny occupies a two-bedroom guest house on the property and takes care of the children when Lopez and Knight are away or when the entire gang travels to a tournament.

The farm was acquired partly with Lopez's earnings of more than $2.8 million, which include 43 career victories that already have claimed a spot for her in the LPGA's Hall of Fame.

It is also the place where Lopez wants to spend more time and do the things mothers do, especially now that Ashley has started first grade and Erinn is in pre-kindergarten.

"I like to get up in the morning, take the kids to school and maybe go out to lunch with friends," said the 33-year-old Mexican-American. "I'm an old-fashioned type of person. I enjoy cooking and all that kind of stuff."

So was her mother, Marina, who died in 1977, but who left Lopez with that legacy. Lopez credits her father with her competitiveness and confidence.

Nancy was born in Torrance but when she was a year old, the family moved to New Mexico, where her father opened an auto repair shop in Roswell, southeast of Albuquerque. Domingo first put a golf club in his daughter's hands when she was 8 years old. By the time she was 12, Lopez was the women's amateur champion in New Mexico At 18, as a student at Tulsa University, she finished second in the 1975 U.S. Women's Open as an amateur.

In 1978, her first full year on the pro circuit, Lopez had a sensational season with nine victories--including a record-setting five consecutive--and was named Rookie of the Year.

The awards--not to mention the money--had started to flow in by then and were capped during the Centennial of Golf in America hoopla in 1988 when Golf Magazine named her the female golfer of the decade for 1978-1987.

They also could have voted her the most affable--and relentless. As she recalled at Los Coyotes, those are qualities she picked up from her parents.

"My dad gave me the tough attitude. He always said to be honest and to be good," Lopez said. "My mom wanted me to be feminine. I wasn't even allowed to wear Levi's until I went to college.

"With my girls I'm not as strict, though. I want to teach them the right morals. If I'm good, I feel my children will see the good example."

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