Golf star's husband stands in

Right or wrong, the male ego is often a fragile thing, especially if the wife is pretty, world famous, and makes more money than her husband.

But if anything like this even remotely disturbs Houston TV sportscaster Tim Melton, who is married to pro golf champion Nancy Lopez, it doesn't show.

Both were in Los Angeles recently to announce that Nancy would be playing in the Dinah Shore Invitational in April, the richest tournament in the history of women's golf, with total prize money of $310,000. The site is the plush Mission Hills Country Club, near Palm Springs, Calif.

Unable to question the vivacious Lopez-Melton for more than a few seconds because of the demands of tournament sponsors, cameramen, and TV interviewers, I found it only natural to go with Melton, who is as personable as his wife.

''I believe the reason Nancy has been so successful [she won $165,679 in 1981 despite injuries] is because she knows how to think on a golf course,'' Melton told me. ''She sees a lot of things that other players don't, and she knows how to react to them. People talk about her aggressiveness, and she is aggressive, but she also knows when to pull back and go for the percentage shot.''

''I think a lot of this has to do with the way she was taught to play golf by her father - the way he emphasized the value of course management,'' Tim added. ''Game plans aren't really part of Nancy's approach, but at the same time there isn't much about a course that she doesn't commit to memory during practice rounds.''

Asked how she handles off-days and trouble shots, Melton replied:

''I know Nancy and her father used to talk about this a lot when she was little, and the thing he stressed most was being sensible. It's times like this when you put some of that aggressiveness aside, forget about gambling against odds that are always terrible, and go with the kind of percentage shots that will get you back on the course.''

''Most of the greats in all sports handle pressure well, and I think this is one of Nancy's biggest assets,'' he continued. ''It doesn't seem to bother her at all if she's on the last hole of a tournament and needs to sink a 15-foot putt to win. She won't make it every time, of course. But the point is, she likes being in that position and a lot of players don't.''

Asked for some kind of general report on their marriage and their careers, Melton said:

''The first year we were married Nancy was still so much into women's golf that it continued to take up most of her time. But the second year she thought more about being a wife. I know she didn't practice nearly as much and that we had a lot more time together. Basically I have my career and she has hers and it's as simple as that. And when I was offered a better job recently and we moved from Cincinnati to Houston, it was great for her because she grew up in the Southwest [in Roswell, N.M.].''

How can Melton help his wife when her game is off, she's in a slump, and maybe down a little mentally?

''Since I'm not a very good golfer myself, I never try to point out her mistakes, even if I think I know what they are,'' Tim said. ''I leave that part of it to her father or somebody else. Mostly I just remind her how talented she really is; that she has been in slumps before and come out of them; and that she will this time.''

For those golf experts who feel that Nancy's swing is like something out of an old Rube Goldberg cartoon, Lopez-Melton has an answer for them.

''People can talk all they want about what makes a golf swing orthodox or unorthodox, but that doesn't necessarily make it so,'' Nancy said. ''The important thing is what happens when you hit the ball.

''If you make good contact, if you get distance and put the ball where you want it - well, to me that's all that counts. Once when I was nine years old, or maybe it was 12, my father took me to a golf clinic where the chief speaker was Lee Trevino.

''Afterwards my dad told Mr. Trevino that a lot of people had criticized my swing. But all he said was: 'If it works for her, don't change it. The only time you change anything in golf is when it doesn't work.' ''

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