Lopez Receives Byron Nelson Prize


LPGA Hall of Fame member Nancy Lopez has stepped back in the national limelight this week to receive the Byron Nelson Prize. The honor is given to those who show the same philanthropic spirit as that of its namesake.

The 48-time LPGA winner, which includes three major titles, helped generate considerable interest in the women's tour as a rookie. During her audacious first season Lopez logged nine victories, including five in a row during one memorable stretch.

Now 55, Lopez became the only woman to win LPGA Rookie of the Year, Player of the Year in the same year. She later added three more Player of the Year titles and twice was voted Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year.

The Salesmanship Club of Dallas makes a $100,000 donation to the charity selected by the winner of the Byron Nelson Prize; Lopez chose AIM for the Handicapped as the recipient.

On Wednesday, Lopez, who curtailed her competitive career in the early 1990s to be with her three young daughters, met with reporters and discussed the honor named after one of golf's greats. The following Q&A took place at TPC Four Seasons Resort course in Irving, Texas, site of the PGA Tour's $6.5 million Byron Nelson Championship, which starts Thursday.

MODERATOR: Okay. We'll go ahead and get started. We are honored to welcome Hall of Fame member, Nancy Lopez with us.

NANCY LOPEZ: Thanks for having me.

MODERATOR: And you're here for a lot of reasons, but obviously the recipient of the 2012 Byron Nelson Prize, which is a distinguished award to receive. It goes to someone that mirrors the image of who Byron Nelson was and I know that means a lot to you. I'll turn it over to you for a few opening comments and we'll take a few questions.

NANCY LOPEZ: Well, of course, I'm honored to receive the Byron Nelson Award. When I found out about it, I guess maybe a few weeks ago, I was, of course, thrilled, and as I was told that the award was for philanthropy and your contribution to help other people or whatever charity you are involved in. It meant a lot to me because as I look at my golf career you can win a lot of golf tournaments but what do you want people to remember you for, and I think it's for what you give back. So many celebrities have the opportunity to do that, to give back to charities, to do everything that they can do to make the world a better place. So I think with Byron, as I read about him and what he has done, he definitely had that on his mind. It wasn't just winning golf tournaments but also to help people that weren't as fortunate as we are.

MODERATOR: We'll open it up for questions.

Q. Obviously his career was well before yours, but I wondered if you had encountered Mr. Nelson at any functions or anything like that?

NANCY LOPEZ: No, I never did. I wish I could have. As I read about him I felt like we thought a lot alike about the same things. It's interesting to meet people that knew him and said that he played golf because he wanted to own his own farm. I thought that was pretty neat. Last week I spoke to one of the ladies that I knew that he would play golf, win a little bit of money and buy a horse or buy something for his farm. I thought that was amazing. It was just really neat to read that and hear how people spoke so highly of him and just to see somebody that played golf like that and that could step away and do - he had goals, and I was always a goal setter, and I think when you see what his goals were in life, that meant a lot to him, and as my career grew and as I set goals, because of my father, he always had goals to be bigger and better at whatever he did or whatever he was associated with, you know, it was kind of neat. I wished I would have been able to know him and really got to be a friend.

Q. Nancy, is there a main focus to your philanthropy? Do you have something that you're set with?

NANCY LOPEZ: The money is going to go to my charity that is really my heart. I've been involved with AIM for the handicap, which is "Adventures in Movement" for handicap children. I've known Jo Geiger, she started the AIM method with music. We're having our 33rd tournament this year, where we raise money for them. But I've been involved with hospice, I helped build a hospice house and these are things that I am proud of because I was able to help and see what we could accomplish together. We had that golf tournament for 25 years, and I did March of Dimes for 15 years and breast cancer - you get involved in these things because you go to bed at night and feel good about what you have done. You can win golf tournaments, but if and whenever I die what will my tombstone say, and I want it to be known that I was a good person and that I cared about other people.

Q. What do you spend most of your time doing these days?

NANCY LOPEZ: Eating a lot! (Chuckles). I spend most of my time right now doing charity tournaments. I just came from Annika's tournament down in - it's a tournament to help children to be physically fit, to learn to play golf and take care of themselves. I think what she is trying to do, it's called the Annika Foundation, and, through her schools she is trying to reach out to a lot of children. So I do that, do corporate outings. We have a Legends Tour and that's fun to play on because Pat Bradley is playing on that Tour and Patty Sheehan a lot of my peers, and they're very competitive still. It's not as nerve wracking as it was when I played on the LPGA Tour, but I get those nervous feelings, and it's really fun.

There is a lot of competition and the younger girls are inching on to the Legends Tour, and they are still going to be on their "A" game once they are on the Legends Tour, and that keeps me busy. But it's nice to ride a cart once in a while and walk some of the time, because my feet and legs don't work like she used to, so it's fun. I do some things for the LPGA. I'm on the Commissioner's Advisory Committee, and I'm on the Foundation Committee, and to stay involved with the LPGA is very important to me, because it was my Tour; I feel like it still is my tour, as I hope all the players who left the LPGA Tour feel. We built that Tour to make people aware that women golfers are good players and great people, but to be involved with the young players that come out now, I feel like there are a lot that seek my advice, and I get to talk to them, or at least text them. They don't talk a lot; they text a lot.

It's fun to be involved with them and let them realize that the sponsors are so important to any Tour, and on the LPGA Tour, they have to go out there with an unselfishness of giving back as much as they can, because we all struggle. With the economy and everything that goes on, we need to be as players a family that helps our sponsors and of course, bring more people to golf. Women, children, the guys, because it's such a great sport. To be able to get your family involved in golf is so important, to keep this sport that's a gentleman's game and keep it on track with kids and people that come out to watch. I always try to be part of the LPGA Tour any way that I can.

Q. Nancy, there are terrific players on the Tour. Is there anyone that you follow who could break through and be the next Nancy Lopez on the next Tour?

NANCY LOPEZ: Lexi Thompson is the next "real deal." She is very young and has a great head on her shoulders. Sometimes when you get someone out there that's that young there is too much going on for them. And I think she had two brothers that played, one on the PGA Tour, and I'm not sure if the other one ever got on the PGA Tour. She has great parents, I captained her in the Junior Solheim Cup when she was 14. She is definitely 16 now. Maybe she is 17 now, I'm really not sure. She reminds me of myself, she is a little hard on herself, and she loves the game and she wants to hit everything perfect, and you're just not going to do that.

Players like her, we need to be able to come out and take control of the LPGA Tour. We need an American player to be winning a little bit more, I think it keeps it a little more interesting. Like Yani Tseng, great player, great person. The Korean players, great people, great players, but if we accept it as a universal tour, then, I think people start to settle in better that it's okay when other players win, not just U.S. players, but it does make it fun to root for U.S. players. When I watch the players coming in on 18, I'm going to root for an American player, maybe, Laura Davies, I might root for her, 'cuz I like her a lot, but I love all the players. That's what I want you to know.

When I went to Korea, to play with Se Ri, they didn't care who I was; they rooted for Se Ri. It has made it interesting, because we have some great, great players, and I always invite people come out and watch the women because they can play the game of golf. Unfortunately, Annika left, Lorena Ochoa left, and I told Annika when I saw her, I wanted to hit her up side the head when she left, because she could keep the young players trying to beat her, and Lorena also. I hated to see them leave as soon as they did.

Q. Since you're here at a PGA Tour event, are there any PGA Tour players that you particularly follow or enjoy watching or is your sole focus on the LPGA?

NANCY LOPEZ: No, I mean, I think with Keegan Bradley we have a connection through Pat Bradley, and I have followed him a lot. It's fun to watch him play and just knowing his aunt, all the years that we have known her, all the LPGA players are rooting for him because they knew Pat. I like to watch Ernie Els. He's a great player and a peaceful guy, fun to watch him play. I love when Freddie Couples gets out there to play, so I'm watching the older players, except Keegan Bradley. When we had the J.C. Penney and Curtis Strange was my partner, that was fun. We're two Tours, but we never see each other. We're always at separate ends of the world, I think, which is unfortunate. To be able to be around them, it's fun to be around the guys. Going in the Masters, I've been at the Masters for the last few years and it's fun for me to be there, because as an LPGA player, I was always playing somewhere else when the Masters was on. And the LPGA got smart and decided no one is going to watch LPGA when the Masters is on. So I'm at that part of my life now where it's really fun to promote golf and I think I think that's what it's all about because it's such a great sport.

Q. If I recall you played one of the last couple of Skins games here in this area. Are you disappointed that LPGA seems to have left here a long time ago and hasn't come back?

NANCY LOPEZ: The Skins game was fun, the competition was fun, and maybe someday it will come back. There's a lot of great players out there, and it would be fun. J.C. Penney was the sponsor and they were a great sponsor, but things chance, and the Skins game was fun. The J.C. Penneys Classic, we played with the guys. I would like to play in that if I could. It would be fun.

Q. Nancy, knowing the connection with Pat and talking about watching Keegan, do you have any stories about him growing up? Stories about him as little kid?

NANCY LOPEZ: When I met Keegan, he was a little bitty guy, and I didn't know that he played golf at the time. I don't think Pat ever said that she had a nephew playing or was going to go on the PGA Tour. And when I saw him I said "That's Pat Bradley's nephew. It has to be. He looks just like her," or her brothers. She has a couple of brothers and they were always on the Tour with us. He's fun to watch. Pat was more in the zone as we were talking about last night. He enjoys the whole thing, she said she was definitely in a zone, she didn't talk to a lot of people, and she was. She was focused on what she was doing on the golf course. So you see a difference, but you notice that competitiveness is there, and I'm sure she has given him a lot of tips for sure.

MODERATOR: Nancy, we know you keep a busy schedule. We appreciate you taking a few minutes to come visit with us.

NANCY LOPEZ: Thanks for having me.

MODERATOR: Thank you.

The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.


CBS Sports Official Partner