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Nancy Lopez to cut back schedule in 2003

Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez plans to stop playing tournaments full time at the end of this season, her 25th on the LPGA Tour.

``I am not walking away from golf,'' Lopez said Wednesday before playing in the pro-am of the Ping Banner Health, the LPGA's second tournament of the season. ``I am at the beginning of a brand-new chapter in my golf career.''

She said she would compete in selected tour events and will take part in corporate tournaments, course design and work to develop new ideas for her namesake club line.

``I still have the fire,'' Lopez said.

After Phoenix, the 45-year-old Lopez expects to play in tournaments this month in Tucson, and Rancho Mirage, Calif., before taking time off. She said her next commitment was to the Chick-fil-A Charity Championship in Stockbridge, Ga., on May 3-5.

Lopez, listed as a host in the tournament's title, broke a four-year drought in 1997 by winning her last title, at the Chick-fil-A.

The announcement came three days after a women's golf summit, which called for reliance on star power as part of a five-year plan to improve the LPGA's attractiveness in the sports-entertainment market.

Lopez, who has won 48 titles since she joined the tour in July 1977, was one of the first LPGA players to capture the attention of non-golfers.

The galleries she drew called themselves ``Nancy's Navy,'' a takeoff on the ``Arnie's Army'' following of Arnold Palmer, and Lopez elevated the LPGA by smashing stereotypes about the women's game.

``What Mr. Palmer has done for men's golf, I think Nancy has done that and more for women's golf,'' Lorie Kane said. ``It's not bothersome to her to sign 100 autographs on the way to the first tee and 100 autographs on the way to the clubhouse.''

Still considered a rookie in 1978, Lopez won a record five tournaments in a row and had nine wins for the season, earning the LPGA's honors for player of the year, rookie of the year and scoring-average leader.

Annika Sorenstam, who approached Lopez's records by winning four straight and eight LPGA tournaments last year, learned of the decision during an interview.

``When I think of LPGA, you think of Nancy,'' Sorenstam said. ``When you think women's golf, she really put it on the map, for a lot of reasons. Her success, but mostly what I remember was her competition. She's such a fighter.''

In 1985, Lopez became the first woman to reach the 20-under-par mark when she made 25 birdies during the week and won the Henredon Classic with a score of 20-under 268.

A four-time player of the year and three-time Vare Trophy winner for lowest scoring average, Lopez was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1987 at age 30, the youngest ever.

Lopez and her husband, former baseball player Ray Knight, have four children and live in Albany, Ga.


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