By JAYME RAMSON
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
VIENNA -- To watch Nancy Lopez play on the golf course at Squaw Creek Country Club is to witness everything that is good about sports together in one place.
Lopez is an athlete who loves the game she plays, appreciates her fans, gives back to the communities she plays in, and continues to set an example for aspiring golfers.
Lopez emerged as a competitor during her first years on the tour, winning nine tournaments in 1978 en route to becoming the first and only player to win Rookie of the Year, Player of the Year and Vare Trophy honors in the same season.
After more than three decades of golf and 48 career victories, Lopez understands that the best competitive days of her career are over, but she also knows that the best years of her life are still ahead of her.
This year's tour is a farewell for Lopez. She is not retiring, but she will play fewer tournaments in the future and will be more selective with her appearances.
Similar to Cal Ripken Jr.'s farewell tour last year, Lopez is giving her many fans a chance to see her play one last time while many of those fans see it as an opportunity to express their appreciation and admiration for one of the game's greats one last time.
Lopez can look forward to relaxing at her home, having a less demanding schedule, and to spending more time with her family.
Her three daughters are growing up and she wants to have enough time to watch their basketball and softball games and to be there for them in any other endeavors.
Lopez is now one of the most experienced golfers on the LPGA Tour. She is also one of the most respected and admired golfers not only by the spectators at the tournaments, but also by her peers.
"I think it is sad for everyone when we have to realize that the day does comes when Nancy is not going to be out here anymore," said Karrie Webb. "You know Nancy has done a lot for the tour."
She was an integral part of the emergence of women's golf and continues to see the popularity of the sport grow. From the time she was a rookie to now, the purses have grown, the sport has become more popular, and there has been more competition among the women.
She made her first cut of the year at the Jamie Farr Kroger Classic in Sylvania.
"Last week was a good week for me. I finally found a driver that I could hit on the fairway and now I'm hitting the greens and making some birdies. I only had one double-bogey last week," said Lopez.
Although Lopez is nearing the end of her competitive career, she knows that she is still capable of playing with the best in the game and trying every day to win more tournaments.
"I never play to make the cut; making the cut is no big deal to me," said Lopez. "So it's great that I made it, but I'm not out there trying to make the cut. I'm out there trying to win the tournament."
Lopez said she is hitting the ball now better than she has all year and that has improved her confidence. She even scored a hole-in-one last week.
For now Lopez will play golf like she has done for so many years. In the future, when people ask her fans about her performances at the end of her career, they might not remember exactly where she placed in every tournament, but they will remember what she meant to the game of golf.