From the Golf Journal Archives - Nancy Lopez – An Instinct to Win

Jul 13, 2012

By Frank Hannigan

(Note: This article originally appeared in the October 1972 issue of Golf Journal.)

The most appropriate way to introduce Nancy Lopez, the new U.S. Girls’ Junior champion, is to quote one of her peers. Myra Van Hoose, of Lexington, Ky., a fine junior player in her own right, saw Nancy hole a critical putt and turned to a friend to say, “She’s got the greatest instinct to win of anybody I know.”

Among the other salient facts in the biography of Miss Lopez are these: she is only 15 and thus eligible to duplicate the feat of Hollis Stacy, who won the championship three years running ending in 1971; she learned to play on a nine-hole municipal course in Roswell, N.M, and has since graduated to the 18-hole course operated by the New Mexico Military Institute; her father, who operates a body-and-fender shop in Roswell, has been her only teacher; both her parents are of Mexican descent and Spanish is spoken in their home; she has won the New Mexico’s Women’s (not Girls’) Championship every year since she was 12; and in her first out-of-state adult competition earlier this year, she was runner-up in the Women’s Western Amateur Championship.

One is reminded of the words of the late A. J. Liebling, the great New Yorker writer, who once described another athlete by saying “Honest effort and sterling character, backed by solid instruction, will carry a man a good way, but unearned natural ability has a lot to be said for it.”

Miss Lopez, a tall and handsome girl with a dazzling smile, employs a technique that causes the purists to frown in that she hits what might be described as a low slice. At her best, the flight of her ball might be more generously called, as Hogan’s was, a controlled fade, but there is no gainsaying the fact that Miss Lopez is now sacrificing a good deal of distance in her method. It will be fascinating to see how her game develops.

No matter what the development, she will not improve as a putter. She is right now one of the best, and she is at her very best when it counts most. For example, she won the final match by making a putt of about 25 feet on the 17th to go even. Then, on the home green, she holed one of six feet downhill for a par to win 1 up. Historians have correctly noted that precious few national titles have been won by the holing of putts of any degree of difficulty on the final green.

The 1972 Girls’ Junior Championship site was the Jefferson City Country Club, Jefferson City, Mo., where the hospitality and friendliness toward the players and their families was unsurpassed in the event’s 24-year history. The weather was benign for Missouri in August and there were those Democrats in Jefferson City, the state capital, who gave credit to Governor Warren Hearnes, who attended the players’ dinner on the eve of the championship.

The runner-up to Miss Lopez was Catherine Morse, of Rochester, N.Y., who although she had been runner-up in her State’s Women’s Championship recently, did not come to Jefferson City as one of the favorites. Miss Morse, however, had two qualities that enabled her to reach the final round: she is unflappable and she hits the ball out of sight. All even coming to the 16th hole of her match with Nancy Lopez, she astonished the gallery and the USGA officials who had “set up” the course by driving over a tree at the bend of a sharply dog-legged par-4 hole of 315 yards. To execute the shot Miss Morse has to assure that the ball was about 30 feet up after it had carried 190 yards. She did, and it left her a pitch of less than 30 yards to the green. The result was a birdie to go 1 up. But then she was victimized by Nancy’s putting heroics on the last two holes.

The most conspicuous trend in girls’ golf has been toward excellence at a very early age. When the championship was founded in the late 40’s it was thought of as a worthy vehicle for youngsters who had not yet matured sufficiently to be competitive in the U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship. There were occasional exceptions, as when the 15-year-old Marlene Bauer advanced to the semifinal stage of the 1949 Women’s Amateur, but such exceptions were considered extraordinary.

Today, no one would think it unusual for a teenager to beat anyone. As a matter of fact, the 1971 national women’s champion was in the field at Jefferson City in the person of Laura Baugh, of Long Beach, Calif. Laura found herself under an odd sort of pressure, and she was beaten handily in the second round by Janet Aulisi, of West Caldwell, N.J., by 4 and 3. Miss Aulisi, runner-up to Hollis Stacy in 1970 and medalist in 1971, then felt some of the pressure that goes with being a favorite herself, and she was bested by Janis Jones, of Phoenix, by 1 up in the round of 16.

The other apparent star of the future who was thought most likely to challenge Miss Baugh at Jefferson City was Amy Alcott, of Los Angeles. When last seen in a USGA competition, Amy lost to Miss Stacy on the 19th hole of the 1971 championship to conclude perhaps the most thrilling and brilliant match ever played by girls. Miss Alcott is a great striker of the ball. She was the medalist this year with ease, scoring 151 to Miss Baugh’s 155, but then she too seemed to carry the burden of favorite with great difficulty. In her case, Amy seemed to become overly methodical and to lose much of the spontaneity and freedom that marked her great play of a year ago. She got by her first two matches but was then dispatched by Barbara Barrow, of Chulta Vista, yet another of the many talented California players.

Miss Lopez and Miss Alcott will be back in the Girls’ Junior next year and they will surely enchant the members of the Somerset Hills Country Club in Bernardsville, N.J., the 1973 site.

One final note of congratulations, and this to Mrs. Paul Leslie, a member of the USGA Girls’ Junior Committee who is a member of the Jefferson City Country Club, and was thus responsible for the situation of the event. Mrs. Leslie has done great things for junior golf in Missouri. She is leaving to return to her native state of Louisiana, and so the 1972 Girls’ Championship was a fitting climax to her efforts in Missouri.

No matter what the development, Lopez will not improve as a putter. She is right now one of the best, and she is at her very best when it counts most. (USGA Museum)


The most appropriate way to introduce Nancy Lopez, the new U.S. Girls’ Junior champion, is to quote one of her peers. Myra Van Hoose, of Lexington, Ky., a fine junior player in her own right, saw Nancy hole a critical putt and turned to a friend to say, “She’s got the greatest instinct to win of anybody I know.” (USGA Museum)