It was a splendid tournament. To be sure, a trillion gallons of water fell out of the sky on the weekend, and red mud sucked at everyone's shoes, and lightning sent the few brave spectators scurrying for their cars. And no, it's not ideal to hand out crystal trophies and first-place checks to someone who has only completed two rounds of golf. But they were given to the right someone: Nancy Lopez.
Let's put it this way: If we have to endure meteor impacts, earthquakes and aluminum-siding salesmen in order to see Nancy's smiling face on a Sunday, so be it. Not since the 1993 Youngstown-Warren LPGA Classic—or for 68 straight tournaments, if you prefer a more linear measure of frustration—have we been able to share a victory with the LPGA's most beloved Hall of Famer. On Sunday she won the Chick-fil-A Charity Championship in Stockbridge, Ga., by playing roughly four holes over eight hours. And although only one of the holes counted (her 18th hole of round 2, left over from Saturday, when play was suspended for darkness), Lopez said afterward that she was thrilled. "It's a little awkward," she allowed, referring to weather that left the Chick-fil-A a bit low on calories, but added, "A win is a win."
If you've been paying attention, you know that a Nancy Lopez win is something more: a milestone. Sunday's was her 48th official LPGA victory, giving her 13 more than her nearest active rival, Patty Sheehan. Lopez, at 40, is fifth on the alltime money list and would be first if she hadn't decided a decade ago to pay more attention to her children than to her chipping. A year or so back she looked at the laugh lines on her face and then at the bottom line of her play and concluded that she had to make a choice. "It was either get myself more prepared," she said, "or quit playing golf."
Since then, exercise has trimmed 40 pounds off her figure, while determination has tightened her practice regimen. Lopez didn't win in 1996, but she tied for second twice and nearly won her fourth major at last summer's du Maurier Classic. This season she had played in just five tournaments before Stockbridge, but had shot six rounds in the 60s, was seventh in scoring average at 71.21 and ranked 19th on the money list. "I think the other players saw a seriousness in me," she said on Sunday, "that I was really trying to get back my golf game."
Corny as it sounds, most everyone with a ponytail and golf shoes seemed to be rooting for her. "She's a rare person," said Deb Richard, who was one shot behind Lopez on Sunday afternoon when Zeus started throwing thunderbolts at Eagle's Landing Country Club. It was a rara avis, however, that alerted Lopez that her 48th win might be imminent. Saturday evening, in light so dim that she didn't actually see what happened, Lopez holed out an 80-yard sand wedge shot from the 13th fairway. Her eagle put her atop the leader board at seven under par, and seven under held up the next morning when Richard, Tina Barrett and Karrie Webb finished round 2 at five-under 139.
As for the third and scheduled-to-be-final round, it lasted a hiccup-and-a-half. Lopez bogeyed number 2 but reached the fringe of the par-5 3rd in two. That's when the storm horns honked, announcing the arrival of the Gulf of Mexico (via air mail) and, ultimately, the annulment of round 3. The cancellation disappointed her, Lopez said later, "because I wanted to see how I was when the pressure was really on."
She shouldn't be concerned. Our panel of psychics reports that Lopez would have shot 37-34-71, with another eagle at the 13th—good enough to beat a charging Laura Davies by two strokes. Anyway, the important thing is not the duration of a victory but its durability. And a Nancy Lopez win, history tells us, wears very well.