Traveling has been a part of Lopez’s life since 1977. Her Hall-of-Fame career includes 48 LPGA Tour wins between 1978 and 1997, three of them major championships. She competed regularly on Tour through 2002, and made a comeback bid in 2007-08, playing a total of nine events before retiring for good.
The daughter of the late Domingo and Maria Lopez grew up in Roswell, N.M. Her father, a personable, cheerful man who was a fine player in his own right, taught her to play the game. Her mother’s lessons in the art of living were just as valuable.
Nancy’s vaunted competitive streak may seem at odds with her gentle manner that lights up the faces of her fans. While Domingo Lopez urged his daughter to “smile” and “be happy” on the golf course, her mother’s tenacity also became a part of Nancy’s character.
“She always told me that if you did something, you should do it right or you’re wasting your time,” Lopez said. “When I’d make my bed in the morning, if I didn’t make it up right, she’d unmake it. If I made a grade of C in school, she’d put me on restriction. She was like a sergeant in the army. She was tough. She was strict. At that time, I probably didn’t like her a lot, but my mom was trying to be my mom and not my friend.”
Those lessons from her mother were passed along when she told her three daughters, “You’re not going to like me right now, but you will later.”
Lopez’s highly competitive nature revealed itself when she was a junior golfer. “I just want to win,” she told her father.
And win she did. Early in the summer of 1972 she won the Women’s Western Golf Association Girls’ Junior. A month later, Nancy and her mother were on a bus to Jefferson City, Mo., for the U.S. Girls’ Junior. By age 15, she was a veteran competitor who had won the New Mexico Women’s Amateur at the age of 12, the youngest champion in the state’s history.
At that 1972 U.S. Girls’ Junior, Lopez raced through her early matches. By the time she made the final, she had won four matches playing a total of only 55 holes. Then she met Cathy Morse, of Rochester, N.Y., which would be an entirely different encounter.
Morse won the first three holes of the 18-hole final but by the turn, Lopez had squared the match. The match was still square when they reached the par-4 16th hole, a 315-yard dogleg. Morse made a birdie to go 1 up. Then Lopez’s competitive spirit kicked in and she won the 17th with a birdie and the 18th with a par to win the match and the championship, 1 up.