REUNION, Fla. (AP) — Nancy Lopez has long been a legend. She wants to play like one again.
The Hall of Famer with 48 career wins — none, though, since a rain-shortened triumph in 1997 at the Chick-fil-A Charity Championship — is starting a comeback this week at the Ginn Open, the first of a few tournaments she plans on playing this season.
She’s 50 now, more than twice the age of many young standouts on the LPGA Tour. Yet Lopez insists this is a serious comeback bid; she’s lost nearly 40 pounds over the past year, says she’s striking the ball well and truly believes she’s ready to compete.
“I would love to finish in the top 10 quickly,” Lopez said. “Hopefully that will happen.”
That’s no modest goal, even for someone with Lopez’s resume. Out of the last 72 official events she’s played, Lopez — who broke a toe last week when she walked into a piece of iron furniture — has finished in the top 10 exactly once.
“It’s exciting watching the LPGA and the young players and seeing if I can do it just one more time, at least for a little bit and see what my body tells me, because that’s really the toughest part, bad feet and bad knees,” Lopez said. “That’s why I’m trying to get back into physical condition. I still have a ways to go.”
The Ginn isn’t exactly the easiest spot Lopez could have picked to begin her comeback.
Only 23 of the 83 players who made the cut here in 2006 broke par for the week, and if anything, the sense is that the 6,505-yard course at the Reunion Resort may be playing longer and tougher this year.
“It feels like a little bit of a major tournament,” said defending champion Mi Hyun Kim of South Korea.
There’s plenty of story lines here this week. All but two of this year’s top 50 LPGA Tour money winners are in the field, and the biggest news may come at week’s end if Lorena Ochoa can overtake Annika Sorenstam as the world’s No. 1. LPGA officials aren’t sure yet if that can happen, even if Ochoa wins, but the race is increasingly tight.
“I’m not in a hurry,” Ochoa said Wednesday. “I’ve been waiting for five years and I’ve been waiting for many, many years. … If it happens this week or if it happens in three weeks or five weeks, that’s OK, too.”
But even with the Lorena vs. Annika buzz, Lopez’s return is garnering much attention, too.
On a tour where many of the best players are twentysomethings — or, in Kraft Nabisco champion Morgan Pressel’s case, still in their teen years — Lopez still has status, even though her most dominant years were when some of the LPGA’s current standouts were learning to walk.
“I certainly look up to her,” said the 18-year-old Pressel. “She’s a wonderful competitor and a great player and a great person, and I think that’s characteristic of Nancy Lopez. And the way she interacted with the fans and the media and everything, along with her golf game, are things that I try to emulate every day.”
Lopez was to play Thursday with two other veterans, Pat Hurst and Meg Mallon. Both played for Lopez when she captained the United States’ Solheim Cup team two years ago, the event where Lopez began thinking how much she missed the game.
So she jumped in a pool, began working to lose the weight, and here she is.
“I think it’s fun I’m playing with some of my peers and the older players on tour, even though Pat’s not old and Meg’s not old,” Lopez said. “Everybody’s young to me right now.”