SI Vault
 
Lining up a big future
Sarah Pileggi
August 13, 1973
Since the oil companies began to move away and the government shut down Walker Air Force Base a few years ago, there has been relatively little to get excited about in Roswell, N. Mex. The town sits in the high dry plains, a pleasant place that because of its climate is now beginning to attract retired people from other parts of the country. Anglo-Americans and Mexican-Americans form the basic population, their lives intertwined, as they have been ever since the Anglos moved into the Southwest. Sixteen-year-old Nancy Lopez of East First Street is Mexican-American, and although she may be the best young girl golfer in the country, in Roswell East First Street is a long way in spirit from the country club.
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August 13, 1973

Lining Up A Big Future

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"I want her to be happy if she wins and happy if she loses. I want her to be able to do whatever she decides to do. Maybe she will go to college if she can get a scholarship. But I am saving money now so if she goes on tour she can have three years to win. Some of them, you know, take a long time to get started. Right now I have maybe enough for the first year. I used to be a baseball player, a pitcher, and I believe I was good enough to get to the major leagues. But I never had a chance. That is why I want to give Nancy a chance."

Although he had only three years of school, Domingo Lopez is an instinctive teacher and the only golf instructor Nancy has ever had. "He knows my game better than anybody," says Nancy. "He can tell me what to do even though he can't do it himself." But more and more now Nancy makes her own adjustments. Just this summer she has worked a loop out of her swing, slowed her backswing and shortened her putting stroke. When a friend sent her a snapshot he had taken at a tournament she was surprised to see that she was up on her right toe at the top of her backswing. Now her heel is firmly planted. And, most important, she has slightly altered the unorthodox grip that was causing her to slice low and costing her distance off the tee. Frank Hannigan of the USGA, who watched her play for the first time last summer at the Juniors, said, "Purists would say she needs a radical change, and it's not too late for that. But I think possibly her strength allows her to overpower her bad grip. It will be interesting to see how she develops. She has a superb touch on and around the greens and, wow, what a great instinct to win! She made all the important putts in match play."

When she was 10 and had just competed in her first Roswell Ladies' Golf Tournament, Nancy told her father she wanted to be as good a golfer as Mrs. Jo Boswell, who was Roswell's leading female player at that time and had won the tournament. Her father told her, "Yes, you be as good as Mrs. Boswell—and maybe a little bit better." The next year, at 11, Nancy was runner-up to Jo Boswell by three strokes and at 12 she won. That was also the summer she won her first state women's championship. In those days her fingernails were chewed down to the quick and she threw up so often before her matches that she made it a habit to get dressed in a bathroom. Experience and accumulated success have given her poise and a pleasantly confident manner that is betrayed only in the nervous jiggling of her legs. The idea that she might have limits hasn't occurred to her.

"Development is unpredictable in junior girls," says Hannigan, who has seen a lot of them come and go. "They mature quicker than boys. I think a lot of girls at 15 are playing the best golf they'll ever play. They find out, thank God, that there are other things in life than golf."

But for a Mexican-American girl in southern New Mexico, even one who can sink putts under pressure, the alternatives—the "other things in life"—are limited, and the chances are that before long Nancy Lopez will be taking her best shot and trying to make her living on the LPGA tour. And Domingo Lopez back home in Roswell will be hammering and hoping.

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