Minus 30 Pounds and a Husband, Golfer Nancy Lopez Carries a Lighter Bag

A chubby charmer with a formidable swing, Nancy Lopez joined the Ladies’ Professional Golf Association tour in 1977 and the next year won nine tournaments, $189,000 and a mass of fans who came to be known as “Nancy’s Navy”—her answer to Arnie’s Army. Then one day while Lopez was playing in Hershey, Pa., a handsome Harrisburg sportscaster named Tim Melton broke through the crowd to interview her.

The attraction was immediate, and they married six months later on Nancy’s 22nd birthday. “Everyone thinks my life is perfect,” says Nancy, now 25, but it clearly hasn’t been. Last January Nancy moved out of the couple’s Houston home, and recently she filed for divorce. “Tim is a good, Christian man,” she notes. “We’re just opposites, and I didn’t realize it until this past year. When I met him I was concerned about finding someone who respected me and wasn’t interested in my money. Now I see there are other things in a marriage.”

Although Lopez has won only one tournament so far this year, she doesn’t blame her failed marriage. “When I’m on the golf course I’m in another world,” she insists. “I really concentrate.” Rather, she says, golf handicapped her marriage. “I always said I’d quit the game and have children when I made the Hall of Fame [she hasn’t yet]. But I knew Tim didn’t want me to wait too long. Also, I wanted to play exhibitions for charities, but he thought I should spend that time with him.” When she marries again, she says, “I’ll find someone who understands that for now, my career has to come first.”

That may not be difficult. Since the breakup her gallery has swelled with male fans. But she credits this to a 30-pound weight loss, not her divorce. “When I was fat I had a lot of people watching me because of the way I played. Now I’m getting a lot more gentlemen. It’s a real ego builder.” One particularly visible candidate for Lopez’s affection has been Houston Astros third baseman Ray Knight, a neighbor in Texas who has been spotted in Nancy’s gallery. She’s noncommittal: “Ray and I are good friends. I don’t know what will happen after my divorce.”

That could be next month. To mark the occasion Nancy plans to buy a white Cadillac. “I’ve always wanted one, but I’m afraid if I buy it now I might have to split it with Tim,” she says, aware that Texas is a community property state.

A sports reporter for Channel 13, the ABC affiliate in Houston, Melton still lives in the couple’s home and remains insistently loyal to Nancy. “I don’t want the divorce,” he confesses. “I love Nancy very much. She was a wonderful wife.”

Nancy’s Catholic upbringing in Roswell, N.Mex. prepared her to be a traditional bride. “My parents believed that men were supposed to support women and that women were supposed to take care of men,” she remembers. While she was married, she tried to fulfill that role. “I’d come home at the end of the tour and cook for Tim and iron his clothes,” she says. “I didn’t do it because I had to. I enjoyed it.” Now, when Nancy returns to Houston to pick up clothes or talk to her lawyer, she stays in a motel. “People look at me in a curious way,” she notes. “I know when I got married it was very special for a lot of my fans. I hope that the divorce won’t anger them.”

The end of her marriage dovetailed with her new devotion to physical health. A longtime junk-food addict (Big Macs and french fries were favorites), Nancy had ballooned to 161 pounds last November. That’s when she entered the Palm-Aire health spa in Pompano Beach, Fla. for a total overhaul. “The spa changed my attitude about eating and exercising,” says Nancy, who at 5’4½” now weighs 130 pounds and follows a daily regimen of stretch exercises. The weight loss, she thinks, has even helped her game. “Last year I had a lot of wrist and shoulder injuries,” she says. “I think when you’re overweight, your body just goes berserk.”

Despite her newly svelte shape and single status, Nancy still doesn’t like to go out much. As she puts it: “I don’t mind staying in my hotel and ordering room service.” Last month, though, Nancy took three weeks off from the tour to visit a girlfriend in La Grange, III. There she played golf at the local country club and watched her favorite television shows—Dallas, Magnum, P.I. and Quincy. One night she went to a disco, but none of the men recognized her. “They often don’t,” she says with a smile as wide as the fairway, “without my visor.”

Nancy isn’t alone: Jan Stephenson is also losing in match play

At a pro-am tournament on April 28 in Birmingham, Ala., Jan Stephenson was rounding the course when she hit an unexpected hazard: A deputy sheriff arrived at the clubhouse bearing a petition from her husband seeking to have her declared incompetent and committed to an institution. But after she voluntarily submitted to a psychiatric examination, the suit was dismissed and Stephenson returned to the tournament. (She didn’t win.)

Jan’s romantic life has long been turbulent. Last March 5 the flamboyant blonde married her traveling secretary, Larry Kolb, 28. Two nights later she left him and returned to the tour. Then on April 19 she filed for an annulment. Stephenson claimed she hadn’t realized she was still married to someone else—Fort Worth businessman Eddie Vossler.

Australian-born Stephenson, 30, had been living with Vossler, a 31-year-old oilman. This was a common-law marriage, Jan argued, which nullified her union with Kolb. Late last month, after the events in Birmingham, Kolb responded to her suit for annulment by obtaining a temporary freeze on Stephenson’s assets (nearly $1 million) and asked that a Fort Worth court appoint a guardian of their property. (An agreement has been reached barring her only from selling her assets.)

Last week Jan was venting her frustration with Kolb. “I’ve tried to sit down and talk with him about this like two grown people,” she fumed. “But he just likes to get his name in print.”

Kolb’s lawyer, Douglas Hudman, insists his client is concerned only with Jan’s well-being. In an affidavit filed in Fort Worth, Kolb states that Vossler has put Jan into a “trancelike” state through systematic torture, including beating, choking, sleep and food deprivation, sexual abuse, humiliation and frequent death threats. Hudman has likened the treatment to techniques used on Patty Hearst by the Symbionese Liberation Army.

Meanwhile Vossler and Jan are once again sharing a home—and a lawyer. “Eddie has never mistreated Jan physically or mentally,” says their attorney, Robert Watson. “They are happily married and stand as one.”

The bizarre triangle began last Christmas when Stephenson and Vossler broke up after one of their frequent fights. Disconsolate, Jan spent the holidays in Paradise Valley, Ariz, with golfer Tom Weiskopf, his wife, Jeanne, and Larry Kolb. Jan has recalled that during their visit she sat looking at Kolb and saying to herself, “I love that man.”

Two months later she was just as sure she had made a mistake. Kolb had alienated her from Vossler, Jan now claims, by making up stories that Eddie was dating other women. Stephenson and Vossler had met in the early ’70s in Fort Worth, when his father, golf pro Ernie Vossler, started coaching her. Since then their relationship has been stormy. Once Vossler came home to find Jan in a white dress. “We’re getting married,” she announced. Snapped Vossler, “We’re never getting married.” But he changed his mind last year, and the couple took out a marriage license. Then Jan backed out.

A reported multimillionaire in his own right, Vossler handled all of Jan’s business affairs until last year when he hired Kolb. The three formed a company called International Sports Concepts Inc., but Vossler fired Kolb in January. Admits Jan, who was married briefly in the early 1970s to an Australian businessman: “It sounds like a soap opera, doesn’t it?”

The drama has taken its toll. Jan, who was the LPGA’s fifth-ranked money earner last year, has made only $27,000 so far this year and has yet to win a tournament. Jan is also worried about keeping some endorsement contracts (e.g., Kentucky Fried Chicken). Still, there are certain advantages to notoriety. When a provocative picture of her languishing on a bed appeared in Fairway magazine last year, her galleries tripled. Says Jan, “There’s no telling what they’ll be like now.”

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