2002: Lopez says farewell to full-time competition

Mobile, Ala.

Her week at the Mobile LPGA Tournament of Champions said a lot about Nancy Lopez. The 48-time winner wanted desperately to be competitive to the very end. That she wasn’t, however, let her know she’s doing the right thing by saying farewell.

Mobile marked the final tournament for Lopez as a full-time member of the LPGA, even though she still plans to play a few events each year.

Lopez, 45, came to Mobile having made one cut in 13 events (a tie for 63rd in the Jamie Farr Kroger Classic in mid-July), but before the event, she still talked as if she expected to

contend for the Tournament of Champions title.

“I’ve been practicing quite a bit and my timing feels really good,” she said before the event. “I’m hitting the ball well and I’m driving the ball better than I have all year this week.

“I’m hitting my irons very crisply and feel pretty good with my putting too, so it would be very nice to finish strong in this event.”

She even talked of – in a perfect ending to her full-time career – being paired with world No. 1 Annika Sorenstam in Sunday’s final round.

“You never know,” she said. “Something might happen where it would come down on the last day against Annika in the last group. I think that would be fun.”

After Lopez’s 4-under-par 68 in the opening round – her lowest score of the year, and only her second round in the 60s since 1999 – that still seemed possible. But Lopez finished 75-78-76 and tied for 31st in the 34-player field.

Mobile also marked the end of a seasonlong sentimental goodbye from golf galleries at each of Lopez stop.

“I know when I started the Farewell Tour, I didn’t expect to get gifts and stuff like that, so it’s been very, very nice,” Lopez said. “It was more of that I didn’t want to disappear into the sunset and never ever let anybody know where I was going or what I was doing. It seems just like yesterday that the first tournament of the year was happening. It’s gone by very quickly.”

Saturday was the last stop – Nancy Lopez Day in Mobile, where the first 1,000 fans to arrive at Magnolia Grove received hand-held fans with Lopez’s likeness.

Tournament officials also passed out large white buttons with green letters that read “Thank You Nancy!”

But Lopez’s play during the round signaled why the end was near.

“I got into trouble too many times off the tee,” she said. “I hit a few (drives) into the trees and I lost one ball. . . . I got a little tired at the end.”

Still, a crowd surrounded the 18th green when Lopez and playing

partner Juli Inkster finished their rounds. Both players hit close approach shots close and, although Inkster encouraged Lopez to walk to the green alone, both walked onto the putting surface together to warm applause.

Prior to Lopez’s birdie attempt, Charlie Mooney, the announcer at No. 18, asked the fans to hold up their fans. Most in the gallery responded by putting Lopez’s likeness in front of them.

“That was kind, to see them put the faces up to their face,” Lopez said.

In the end, however, when Lopez looked in the mirror, there just weren’t enough 68s to keep her going.

– Staff and wire reports

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