Nancy Lopez extends her green thumb
Nancy Lopez has big plans.
It has nothing to do with her commitments to playing on the Senior Tour, or her countless other charity and corporate obligations, which have her on the road more than 30 weeks per year.
No, this one is personal.
"I would love to teach my granddaughter Molly to play golf," Lopez said.
The fact that Molly is 9 months old is irrelevant.
"It would be so much fun to watch her play the game," Lopez said. "I'd love to teach her the way my father taught me. Maybe she'll be a professional golfer. Maybe she won't even like it.
"But I want to get her some [toy] clubs and let her swing all over the house. I won't take her to the course until she's 4 or 5. If she doesn't like it, I'm not going to force her, but I hope she'll love the game the way I did."
The 56-year-old Lopez -- who was voted the most influential Hispanic female athlete of all time by a panel of blue-ribbon voters assembled by espnW and ESPN Deportes -- is working on a book examining her career. It is scheduled to be released by HarperCollins next year. It will reveal a legacy that begins with the beloved father who taught her the game.
"My dad [Domingo, who passed away in 2002] was really my best friend and my coach, the person who cared so much about my golf game and me," said Lopez, one of the true legends in the game with 48 LPGA victories, including three major championships and a place in the World Golf Hall of Fame. "I played the game to make him happy. I loved it, and I knew it made him happy and proud.
"The book is a lot about my life and my dad. I hope parents pick it up and learn something from my dad. Nowadays, it's so tough on kids. Winning is important, but learning how to win and accept defeat are more important. I hope people buy it and learn something about that and learn something about me."
One of the things readers will learn is that Lopez always has been proud of her Mexican-American heritage.
"It's such an honor to be considered influential," she said. "I always wanted to make an impact in the sport. It was always my goal to make it in golf, whatever it took, to play well, to be good to the fans, to bring women to golf. …
"Being Hispanic, it has come to my attention more, but I'm seeing more Hispanic kids playing golf. When I was growing up, it was a rich man's sport -- very expensive for me to play -- and now so many people are working toward getting Hispanic young people to play the game, which is really, really great."
Lopez has been a role model for young Hispanic pro golfers like Lorena Ochoa and, particularly, Lizette Salas, who said she often traveled to tournaments with her father, Ramon, in his pickup truck, sleeping in the cab at night.
"It's so expensive now. I look at Lizette and what her dad did for her, but I never knew she had to sleep in the truck she when traveled," Lopez said. "I wish I had. I would have helped pay for hotel rooms. But that's also when you raise the best kids, who appreciate what they have.
"My hat's off to her to be so determined do better in her life, and now she's able to help her parents."
Salas, 24, an All-American at USC currently ranked 18th in the world, had her first real conversation with Lopez after Lopez got her number from a mutual friend and called last year.
"I wasn't going to pick it up because I didn't recognize the number and my dad said, 'Just answer it,' so I did and the person said, 'Hello, it's Nancy Lopez,' and I thought it was a joke. I was star-struck and in shock that my childhood idol was actually calling my cellphone.
"She wanted to know how I was doing on the road and said, 'If you have nerves, that means you care. Just go out there and have fun, and don't worry about the results.' She said she was proud of me and all of my accomplishments and was so happy to hear that my dad was very involved with my career because it reminded her of her relationship with her father. … When I finally met her [last March in Phoenix] it was like I had known her my entire life."
Lopez watched Salas play 18 holes and then went out to dinner with her father and caddie.
"I did not expect that because she's so busy -- I thought she'd go off and do her appearances, but she stayed all day, helped me after my round with some putting drills and we had a very, very nice dinner," Salas said. "She shared tons of stories, and it was one of the highlights of my year this year and a day I will never forget."
Salas said she just joined a mentorship program and "adopted" a 12-year-old from a neighboring city near where she grew up in Azusa, Calif.
"Obviously with my mentorship from Nancy and knowing how special that has been, I think it's a part of me now to give back to the game because she has meant so much to me my entire career," Salas said. "I feel like if I can just be in touch with someone, that spark will light up and they'll share the same love for the game I have."
Salas calls Lopez "a mother figure and also a friend in this new stage of my life."
"I'm really inspired by her because I want to touch people's lives like she has done," Salas said. "For both of us, it's not about dollar signs; it's about making a change, growing the game. She has just been magnificent for this game and for sports in general. She's inspiring all around."
Lopez lives a relatively modest life now, she said. After her divorce from former baseball star Ray Knight after 27 years of marriage in 2009, she moved from her 4,600-square-foot home in Georgia to a 1,600-square-foot house in Auburn, Ala., where all three of her daughters (Molly's mom, Ashley, 29; Erinn, 27; and Torri, 21) went to college.
"I have a wonderful life, but I'm always watching what I'm spending," she said. "When I die, I want to leave something for my kids. I don't want to spend it all because I could. My dad never owed money to anybody. He believed in saving.
"I have a home in Colorado, and it's nice to be able to go skiing. I can't anymore, with my knees, but my kids can enjoy it, so it's a nice place to have. … But I try to live within my means, I don't want to be extravagant. I work very hard and I don't want people to give me things. I never expected that. I believe in earning my way."