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Lopez hopes ISPS Handa Cup raises profile of women's golf




WEST POINT -- Nancy Lopez enjoys having a full calendar. 


Whether it is taking part in charity or corporate events, spending time with her new granddaughter, or visiting her youngest daughter at Auburn University, Lopez still manages to find time to play golf. 


And while the winner of 48 LPGA tournaments and the World Golf and LPGA Hall of Famer admits that her body sometimes hurts from such a busy schedule, she said she loves it and loves being around people in golf because the sport has been the love of her life for such a long time. 


Lopez's return Thursday to Old Waverly Golf Club gave her the opportunity to bring several of her passions together in the same location at the same time. In the process, she was announced as the captain of the United States Team for this year's ISPS Handa Cup. 


"It was a thrill for me when I heard we were coming back to Old Waverly," Lopez said. "I know the LPGA Legends will put on a great show at this year's Handa Cup." 


The Handa Cup is an international team competition that will pit U.S.-born LPGA Legends (age 45-over) against internationally born LPGA Legends in 36 holes of head-to-head stroke-play competition. The ninth-annual event will be Sept. 25-28 at Old Waverly, which last hosted many of the former LPGA Tour players in 1999 for the U.S. Women's Open Championship. Juli Inkster, who won that event, will make her LPGA Legends Tour debut at Old Waverly as a member of captain Lopez's U.S. team. 


The Handa Cup is part of a seven-event schedule this season for the LPGA Legends Tour. Lopez said she tries to play in as many Legends Tour events as she can, but she said it is difficult because she has other obligations that prevent her from playing golf all of the time. As one of the game's most popular and recognizable figures, Lopez stays busy promoting the game of golf, which is why she was a natural to be on hand Thursday at the news conference to formally announce the ISPS Handa Cup will kick off in a little more than four months in the Golden Triangle. 


The World Team defeated Team U.S.A. for the first time last year with a 27-21 victory, so Lopez and the U.S. team will try to regain the Handa Cup. Lopez will captain a team that will include Inkster, Beth Daniel, Meg Mallon, Pat Bradley, and Rosie Jones -- all former players and captains for the U.S. Solheim Cup Team. 


The World Team will be captained by South Africa's Sally Little will captain the World Team that will include former European Solheim Cup players Laura Davies, Trish Johnson, Alison Nicholas, Liselotte Neumann, and Lorie Kane. 


Lopez believes the Handa Cup can help the LPGA Legends Tour grow. In her last appearance in a golf event in Mississippi, Lopez and the field of the 54th U.S. Women's Open attracted more than 101,000 fans to Old Waverly. 


"Women in golf have always fought to try and make a place for themselves and for people to watch us," Lopez said. "The LPGA Tour is still growing. We're always having to climb mountains still, but they are strong. With the leadership of (LPGA Commissioner) Mike Whan, he has done a great job. He has opened the doors again for us when a lot of doors were being closed by past commissioners. 


"Selling the Legends Tour is still hard. I think people once they get us there -- and if we can get people to come out and watch because it is so important to see the competitive spirit that they still have and what they can teach the young kids who are out there playing the game." 


Lopez said she would love to see more LPGA Legends tournaments and two-day events. She said the tour sometimes has one-day events and three-day events. The tour kicked off its season May 1-4 at the Walgreens Charity Classic in Arizona. The tour also will include stops in Florida, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Georgia. She believes LPGA Tour veterans like Inkster, Meg Mallon, and Beth Daniel can play integral roles in helping to grow women's golf. She said those players are some of the most successful and well-known golfers and that they can attract more fans to the sport. 


"Those players people know," Lopez said. "Juli is the a generation right behind us. You have Pat Hurst who can play on this tour. There are a lot of players who are coming up that could make it even stronger, which then the older players would have to start playing better. 


"It is all about personality, too, (and) what you are going to see (that) makes it fun. The personalities on the Legends Tour, that is what I remember when I watch women's golf. As I watched them coming up and I finally got to join the tour and play against them, I saw the personalities of the players on the Legends Tour playing out there. That makes it fun. 


"People have to watch golf and say, 'They look like they're having fun, not oh my gosh. It looks like they hate what they're doing.' That is what is so important because people love golf and we want them to love it and we want to show the what it is all about by having a good time and being very competitive about it, I like that." 


In addition to all of her charity and corporate work, Lopez has been involved in golf as a coach. She captained the 2009 Junior Solheim Cup team that included Jessica Korda and Lexi Thompson. Korda was 17 at the time, while Thompson was 14. Lopez has watched those two players grow up and roots for them as much as she can. Still, she acknowledges women's golf has changed since she played and might be having a harder time attracting casual fans to watch or to get interested in it. 


"I think in the last few months there have been more American players winning, which I think has brought more interest," Lopez said. "I don't watch golf very often because I am too busy going places, but when I know Lexi might be winning or Stacy might be in there -- and I love the players from other countries -- but what I really kind of like is when we are playing against a player from another country. If Lexi beats somebody from Korea when they come head to head, I love sitting there and rooting for her because I am from the U.S. That is my player playing and I want to see her win." 


Korda was a member of the 2009 U.S. Junior Solheim Cup and the 2010 U.S. Curtis Cup teams. She was runner-up at the 2010 U.S. Women's Amateur before moving on to LPGA Tour Qualifying School in the fall of 2010 as a 17-year-old. She finished second in the final qualifying tournament, which helped her become eligible for full membership on the Tour in 2011. She has won two LPGA events. 


Thompson, who has four LPGA wins, became the youngest golfer (12 years old) to qualify to play in the U.S. Women's Open. She turned professional in June 2010 at age 15. On Sept. 18, 2011, Thompson set a new record as the youngest winner of an LPGA tournament at 16 years, seven months, and eight day old when she won the Navistar LPGA Classic. 


Lopez also said it is important for young U.S. players like Michelle Wie, who won her third LPGA Tour title last month, to win to help boost interest and awareness in women's golf. She said it is "human nature" for golf fans in the U.S. to root for American players, just like it is for foreign fans to root for their hometown players. She said years ago she traveled to Korea with Se Ri Pak, who has won 25 LPGA Tour events, and the Koreans didn't care she was there because they wanted Pak to win. 


"I would like to see more American players win, but they have to realize you want to win, but you have to be able to wave to the crowd," Lopez said. "When the crowd claps for them, they need to acknowledge that. They need to connect with the galleries." 


Lopez pointed to Annika Sorenstam's chance to play in the PGA Bank of America Colonial in 2003 as a perfect example. At the time, Sorenstam, who went on to win 72 LPGA titles and 10 major championships, was women's golf's best player. At 32 years old, she accepted a sponsor exemption to play in the event and became the first woman in six decades to play on the men's tour. 


Lopez believes Sorenstam because the greatest player after Colonial because she learned after that tournament how to relate to the fans and to look outside the tunnel vision that had kept her focused on only her game. She feels Sorenstam realized after she played in the Colonial that she could stand over a shot and focus and then enjoy what was happening around her and go back to the shot and focus. She thinks women's golf will grow if more of today's players do the same thing. 


In September, Lopez and her U.S. teammates and international competitors will show the younger generation how it is done. 


"I think a lot of players don't know how to do that, or are worried they can't get back into what they are doing if they just let loose, wave, say hello, talk to the caddy (because) they are so focused," Lopez said. "If we can teach those players that they have to enjoy the walk between the shot, if they are that good they are going to be able to focus." 


Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsporteditor. 




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