Take 5: Nancy Lopez brings signature golf series to Keystone Resort, July 7-9 | SummitDaily.com

Take 5: Nancy Lopez brings signature golf series to Keystone Resort, July 7-9

Take it from Nancy Lopez: After decades and decades of travel across the world, she still has trouble with the dry, Rocky Mountain air.

"I just got in last night and it's so dry," Lopez says between coughs early on the morning of June 22, a day or two after the first round of summer rainstorms brought the county a little moisture — and plenty of pollen. "It's allergies too. There's so much blooming right now."

If you grew up playing golf in the '70s and '80s (or ever since), you know Lopez well. Before Michelle Wie, Annika Sorenstam and, she was the biggest — and one of the only — names in women's golf for a solid 15 years. She won 48 times in a career spanning nearly four decades, from 1977 when she went pro to 2002 when she cut back to just a few tournaments per year. Although she won just three majors and never took the U.S. Women's Open — a few women in the sport's early heyday of the '40s and '60s performed much better — she's still considered one of the best to play, thanks in large part to a quick smile and undeniable charm.

The longtime New Mexico resident learned to play from her dad, and, after more-or-less retiring from tournament play in the late 2000s, decided to give back in the same way with multi-day clinics made for female golfers. Dubbed the Nancy Lopez Golf Experience, these clinics pair groups of 20 or fewer with Lopez and award-winning coaches, usually in stunning locations like St. Augustine, Pebble Beach and Keystone.

The only mountain-town clinic of the series returns to Keystone from July 7-9, featuring two days of instruction and play on The Ranch and The River courses, both found not far from Lopez's second home in Keystone. The series kicks off with a private reception in her living room — not a bad way to welcome the weekend.

A few weeks before the Keystone clinic, the Summit Daily sports desk caught up with Lopez to talk about the clinics, her "Play Happy" mantra and why the dry mountain air does wonders for her hair.

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Summit Daily News: You might be retired, but you haven't disappeared. You were recently in Cleveland for a Ronald McDonald House event and then in Texas for a golf event. Are those part of the clinic series?

Nancy Lopez: No. Three years ago I opened a golf course in Loredo, Texas, and after awhile they did a scholarship program for one Hispanic boy and one Hispanic girl. I went out there to present the scholarship and played golf with them. They want to involve more Hispanic children there, and what they do is allow them to come out and play free. Even the parents can play for half price. It's a way to get them started, maybe eventually get a scholarship. The girl who won — she's about an 85 player — her mom even said, "You need to pick a single sport and stick with it because you need to get a scholarship."

SDN: Is that the only scholarship you sponsor?

NL: I might do events to help raise money for scholarships, but that's my only event with my name on it.

SDN: So what does your golf career look like these days? It sounds like a lot of travel for fundraisers and events, but is there much golf?

NL: I do a lot of corporate outings and some fundraisers, but we also have (LPGA's) The Legends tour. I play there. I can't say I play poorly, but I'm more motivated to see past friends. I still get nervous when I putt — I can make the good shots, I want to make the good shots — but I don't practice nearly as much as I should. I talk more than I practice. I just love being part of the players who I played against for years and years. That's so fun for me.

SDN: And the Golf Adventures program? How did that come to be?

NL: I started this a few years ago with (coaches) Teresa Zamboni or Sue Powers, and they're great people. They know the business side of these programs and they're just very quality people. They've been LPGA National Teachers of the Year — they're top-50 teachers.

The thing about teaching people is you want them to have a good time, but they should also leave with good tips and ideas so they can practice on their game, on their own. A lot of times, people will practice but they aren't sure where to get started — they don't know how to take home what they learned.

SDN: Do you travel outside of the country for programs?

NL: We just went to Scotland and played for three weeks. We had some men — some husbands — but it was mostly women and we had such a great time. We're going to try to do more of those tours, like one in Pebble Beach for couples. It's part of this world: When you're a golfer, you meet so many great people. You can experience all of these things together — it's not just for men or women.

SDN: You just flew into Keystone last night. Have you been here before with the Golf Adventures clinics?

NL: Last year we were in Keystone with 17 people, so it was kind of a small group. It's tough to get so many people together when it can be so expensive, so we've found ways to make different packages, something like an all-inclusive package and then a commuter package, which doesn't come with everything like the breakfast. We do so many events, so we're hoping we can pull in a couple of people from this area to bring more people into our programs, even if we don't have 70 people.

SDN: The Keystone clinic is open to all. What can participants — women, men, anyone — take home from all this?

NL: We'll start teaching for two days and play nine holes each day. It's about golf fellowship and learning your skills. We do pitching and putting, and, when we're coaching, we give tips on how to line up the ball (and) how to swing the club, and it's about how their body will allow them to swing. A lot of times, teachers who teach the game want to change your swing to be the perfect golf swing. That doesn't really exist — I don't have a perfect golf swing. Once in a while we'll change a grip for someone, but otherwise we work with what someone's body will let them do.

SDN: That's true — it seems like the golf world is so full of tips that it can be overwhelming. How does your program help cut through the noise?

NL: After they leave, we also email them with the tips. They know what to work on and that makes the difference, when you can head out and work on something. My mantra for golf was always, "Play Happy." My dad always told me, "When you play happy, you play better golf," and I stick with that. When you tell men this mantra sometimes they look at you like you're crazy, but when you break it down they understand.

We met a man who was out with his wife, and they were farmers, and he said, "I always get mad with golf." So he took the program, worked on his chipping, and, at the end of the day, you could tell he was really getting it on the course — he was hitting well. He emailed us later to say thank you and he said, "I realize when I hit a bad shot, I didn't get mad. I thought more about what I did wrong." I say, "Play Happy," but it's true: What happened was he was taking a game that made him frustrated and angry and turning it into a learning experience. It made a difference.

SDN: It's a smaller group at Keystone, but maybe a more intimate group. What first drew you and the program to this course?

NL: I have a home here at Keystone Ranch. I've had it for 20 years or so. We brought our kids up here when it was our first family vacation — no press, no luncheons, nothing. We just wanted to learn to ski. We were here for 10 days and thought, "Man, it might be cheaper to have a house." It was just so much money that week.

Now that I'm closer to slowing down a little bit I hope to spend more time out here in the summer. I'll be here about a month, and then we'll be back for Christmas. I have two young grandchildren now and they'll be coming with us.

SDN: Do you think life will ever completely slow down for you? You've done so much travel for work and play in the past 40 years.

NL: My life on the tour was fantastic. I loved meeting the people I met and loved playing where I did, so it's hard for me to say "no" when people ask me to travel for these events, for the programs and even The Legends tour. I'm not totally retired — I make money, I make a living at this — but it's nice to relax a bit and play golf for fun. And I love Keystone — I love the course.

SDN: Even if it gets a little dry up here?

NL: Well, I grew up in New Mexico, in the desert, so I'm not totally unfamiliar with it. I like to say I have great hair up here compared to back home in Florida. The humidity there just kills it.

Nancy Lopez Golf Adventures at Keystone

What: A signature women’s clinic series from LPGA Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez, featuring individual instruction on the practice facilities and both 18-hole courses at Keystone Resort

When: Thursday to Saturday, July 7-9

Where: The Ranch Course at Keystone

Cost: $2,900 per person

Registration for the three-day series is still open, with eight spots available as of July 5. Fees include two nights at the Keystone Lodge and Spa, a welcome reception at Lopez’s home in Keystone, two days of instruction with Lopez and her team, and nine holes of golf each day.

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