The year was 1978, and the Ladies Professional Golf Association was suffering an identity crisis. Growing up in Roswell, N.M., came an unidentified flying star, a Mexican-American girl whose father owned an auto-body shop. She won the state amateur when she was 12, two U.S. Girls’ Junior titles, an NCAA title, and, in 1975, she finished second in the U.S. Women’s Open. If this wasn’t the savior, then only God knows who was.
Her name was Nancy Lopez, and it wasn’t long before everybody just called her Nancy. She won five consecutive tournaments in 1978, and everybody sort of hitched a ride on her skirt tails: the press, the fans, the sponsors, even the rest of the women playing the sport. These were magical times for women’s golf, and nobody seemed to want to get in her way.
She won nine times that year, including the LPGA Championship, eight times in 1979 and she was the nicest person in the world. “After my first year I thought, ‘I could be a flash in the pan,’ and I was also determined to prove I was not,” Lopez has said. “I was determined not to fall on my face, though it is easy enough to choke yourself to death trying to win.”
Looking back on these years Jaime Diaz wrote in Sports Illustrated that Lopez had burst on the scene with as much charisma as anyone since Babe Didrikson Zaharias.