Wednesday, July 17, 2002
Lopez wins record fifth straight LPGA event
By Lisette Hilton
Special to ESPN.com
June 18, 1978 - At the Bankers Trust Classic in Rochester, N.Y., Nancy Lopez was seeking to become the first to win five straight tournaments on the LPGA Tour.
Not only did Lopez have to overcome the pressure of the streak, she also had to overcome a mishap in the third round when her drive on the 10th hole struck a spectator. The man fell bleeding to the ground. A distraught Lopez stood next to him, held his hand and cried.
Unnerved, the 21-year-old rookie double-bogeyed the hole, her first in 83 holes. She went into today's final round three shots behind Jane Blalock. The fall in her game was only temporary, as Lopez recovered her composure and shot a 69. She won the tournament when Blalock missed a birdie putt on 18.
Lopez dedicated the historic victory to the very same man whose injury she had been able to overcome. And the man, a local dentist named Jerry Mesolella, befriended the golfer and later said that it was worth being "skulled" by Lopez just to meet her.
Odds 'n' Ends
Lopez says she owed a lot of her mental game to her father because he always had a good attitude. Domingo died in April 2002.
Her family skimped to finance Lopez's golf travel, and even put off getting a new home and washing machine toward the effort.
Lopez was an all-around athlete during high school, participating in sports other than golf, such as basketball and swimming. She also was a Girl Scout.
College friends nicknamed Lopez "Skeech" because of her tendency to lay strips of rubber with her car.
Lopez socialized with Donna Young and Jo Ann Washam but otherwise tended to keep to herself off the course.
The fans loved Lopez so that her following became known as "Nancy's Navy," much like Arnold Palmer's "Arnie's Army."
In 1978, when Lopez won nine tournaments, she also lost two in playoffs -- to Michiko Okada at the Mizuno-Japan Classic and to Sally Little at the Honda Civic Classic.
In 1982, Lopez recorded the first hole-in-one of her LPGA career at the Peter Jackson Classic.
In 1989, Lopez enjoyed her most successful financial season, earning $487,153.
In 1997, Lopez crossed the $5-million milestone in LPGA career earnings.
Like many athletes, Lopez was bothered by physical ailments, the most prominent of which was her left knee. Doctors said the pain was caused by osteoarthritis.
In 2001, when Lopez was playing a limited schedule because of the continuing knee problems, she recorded her second career hole-in-one on tour.
When Anna Sorenstam won eight tournaments in 2001, she was the first woman golfer to win that many in a year since Lopez in 1979.
Lopez's record in playoffs is 8-7.
She was, and remains, a tireless signer of autographs. She is as accessible and as approachable as any pro athlete in any sport.
Lopez's husband, Ray Knight, played 13 years in the major leagues with Cincinnati, Houston, the Mets, Baltimore and Detroit. He was MVP of the 1986 World Series when the Mets defeated Boston.
The couple live in Knight's hometown of Albany, Ga., with their three daughters, Ashley, Erinn and Torri.