Los Angeles — Her wholesome good looks make the work of every TV cameraman assigned to a major women's golf tournament a lark. She has a smile that probably couldn't be removed with a grinder. And her personality, if it could somehow be bottled, would be a best seller.
If you haven't already guessed, the name is Nancy Lopez-Melton, a former student at Tulsa University, and the newest and first female member of the All- American Collegiate Golf Hall of Fame. Chances are she celebrated with two Big Macs and a vanilla shake.
For a while, earlier this year, Nancy seemed to be out of the swing of things on the women's pro tour -- at least for her. The ball simply wasn't going where she wanted it to and the more she pressed the worse things seemed to get.
The key to Lopez-Melton's success has always been her unorthodox swing, which allows her to hit tee shots with plenty of authority and power. This was her meal ticket, the passport that provided her with 17 victories in her first 50 professional tournaments.
If there were such a thing as a Bureau of Missing Golf Swings, that is where Nancy would have stopped first. Instead she picked up the telephone and called her father, Domingo, who was the first and only golf teacher she has ever had and who understands the mechanics of her swing.
The problem, her father said, was the way she was positioning her hands. She wasn't lifting them up the way she used to, and the result was a flat swing that was sapping much of her power.
Getting back into a groove in golf is not unlike a big-league pitcher trying to regain his rhythm after not having thrown for a while. It doesn't come easy; often there are long stretches of frustration; and success during that hunting period is usually limited.
Although Lopez-Melton isn't all the way back yet, there have been continual signs of a permanent breakthrough. Her husband, Cincinnati TV sportscaster Tim Melton, thinks it could come at any time.
When Nancy does have her full rhythm, her hands are away from her body and the club's brought back slowly, almost in a loop. It's this deliberate take-away that generates such tremendous power in her swing.
Lopez-Melton and her golf game grew up together. As a seven-year-old she followed her father and mother around a New Mexico municipal course with her own ball and a sawed-off four-wood. She won her first PeeWee tournament at 9. What instruction she received came from her father, a three-handicapper with an unusual grasp of what it takes to win.
Once, when Nancy was about 12, her father took her to a golf clinic where the chief speaker was Lee Trevino. Afterward Domingo sought out Lee, mostly to tell him about the many people who had criticized his daughter's swing and to ask him what he should do about it.
"If that swing works for her," Trevino replied, "don't change it. The only time you change something in golf is when it doesn't work."
Lopez-Melton, of course, also has that magic touch around the greens. A putter in her hands isn't so much a club as it is a precision instrument. Plenty of stars on the men's pro tour would like to have the feel that Nancy instinctively brings to her short game.
As for the women's pro tour, it has gotten bigger and better because of new stars like Lopez-Melton, Beth Daniel, and Hollis Stacy. Talent, plus charisma, is what builds fan interest and repeat business.
Although Nancy has already banked more than $100,000 in prize money this year , she could live extravagantly on her TV commercials alone. She photographs beautifully and her untrained speaking voice gives her commercials an innocence that advertisers can't wait to exploit.