FORT WAYNE – Nancy Lopez’s score was the highest of the day for the 12 competing professionals, but she was the unquestioned favorite of the crowd.
Lopez shot an 8-over 80 at Sycamore Hills Golf Club on the first day of the Mad Anthonys Charity Classic for Children.
When she came off the 18th green Sunday afternoon, she was mobbed by fans.
They wanted autographs, photos and just to be able to say they’d met one of the greatest athletes of all time.
But Lopez’s impact wasn’t just on the fans; even the other LPGA pros got a kick out of having her there.
Nancy is definitely my idol, said the LPGA’s Amanda Blumenherst, who spent some of her childhood in Fort Wayne and helped organize the tournament, in which she shot a 78 in the first round. I grew up just loving to watch her play, and also the person she is. So having her here is really special.
So what does it feel like to be idolized by even the world’s best golfers?
It makes me feel old, Lopez, 55, said with a laugh. But that’s OK. We have such a great tour now. All of these players here are some of our best. They’re good people. They love the game and they give back, and that’s what is important.
Lopez, who has won 48 tournaments in a career that dates back to 1977 and has earned more than $5.3 million, wants to hammer that message into the younger golfers – make sure you are ambassadors, not just players.
It’s not just how you play the game, she said. What you do off the golf course is just as important.
It wasn’t surprising that Lopez made so much time for the fans – some were even from her home state of New Mexico – despite being 12 strokes back of the leader, Angela Stanford, who shot a 68.
The pros are playing for a $300,000 purse – $50,000 goes to the winner – with the final round starting at 8 a.m. today.
Lopez doesn’t mind continuing to be a mentor for players, even if she’s in a tournament playing against them.
There are a lot of players who do contact me and ask questions, Lopez said. Sometimes they’re just competition questions. I try to give them any advice I can. I feel like the LPGA Tour is still part of me and I want to help them as much as I can.