Boardman native Kristyn Craven met Nancy Lopez at the 1992 tourney, and the two have become close friends.
By PETE MOLLICA
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
VIENNA -- LPGA Hall of Fame golfer Nancy Lopez has been an inspiration to so many youngsters over the years, especially to Boardman native Kristyn Craven.
Craven, 23, met Lopez in 1992 at the tournament here and their friendship has lasted more than 10 years.
"I never really knew much about golf back then," Craven said. "I wasn't even sure that I liked it at all. Then one day my father asked me if I wanted to go to the LPGA tournament here."
Back then, the Mahoning Valley tournament was called the Phar-Mor in Youngstown. Also back then, the event was held at Squaw Creek Country Club, the same site of this year's Giant Eagle LPGA Classic.
"When we got to the tournament, my dad asked me who I wanted to follow and I really wasn't sure," Craven said. "I knew the name Nancy Lopez and I told him I wanted to follow her.
"We walked all 18 holes with her that day and I loved it," Craven said. "I had so much fun and was just so impressed with the way Nancy handled herself and all the fans who were following her."
Craven had such a great time that she came back the last two days of that tournament and again followed Lopez around the course.
"I had made Nancy a little bracelet out of beads and wire, and when the tournament was over I gave it to her," Craven said. "She was so gracious that she thanked me and gave me a big hug."
After that, the two stayed in touch. Every year that Nancy played in the area tournament, Craven was there to watch and follow her.
They became such close friends that Lopez invited her for a visit to their home in Albany, Ga.
Tuesday, Craven was up at Squaw Creek early to follow Lopez as she took a practice round over the layout. Lopez hasn't played Squaw Creek since 1992.
In 1993 at Howland's Avalon Lakes, Lopez won the Youngstown-Warren LPGA Classic, something that Craven remembers and won't ever forget.
"She is just a wonderful person to be around," said Craven, who also has become friends with Lopez's oldest daughter Ashley, 18.
"I'm a little older than Ashley, but we are still good friends," Craven said.
But the inspiration to the game of golf that Lopez gave to Craven was possibly the biggest thing that has happened in her young life.
She never picked up a golf club before going to see Lopez play. Then she found that she loved the game so much that she wanted to play and play well.
Craven learned so well that she played two years for Cardinal Mooney High School and four years at John Carroll University where she received her degree in education.
"They didn't even have a golf team in her first year at Cardinal Mooney," said her father, Rick Craven. "Even [for] her next two years, it was more of a pick up team here and there."
Now a teacher
She is now a fifth grade teacher in Solon.
"I love teaching, but I still love golf," Kristyn Craven said. "But I don't get to play as much as I used to. But I'll never pass up a chance to watch Nancy play."
Her father said that, "Kristyn was hit in the head by a golf ball during high school. She was getting ready to make a shot when somebody hit an errant shot and she just had her head down enough that it grazed her.
"She was knocked unconscious, but the doctor said that another inch and she might have been killed," Craven said.
Lopez said that Craven was just somebody special who really stood out for her.
"She would write to me all the time and we became friends," Lopez said Tuesday. "I met her family. In fact, I had dinner with them just last night, and we all just hit it off so well."
Lopez said, "I remember Kristyn was very shy at first, but she's really changed as she gotten older. I played golf with her once and I even played golf in one of the pro-am events with her father."