December 25, 1978 12:00 PM

Few pro athletes have ever had as triumphant a year as Nancy Lopez. A pro golfer, never. Lopez, 21, finished first in nine out of 25 tournaments, one of them for the LPGA title. Lopez was a rookie until mid-season, and as such won five championships. Two was the previous record for a rookie, woman or man. When she was named Rookie Player and Golfer of the Year, that, too, was unprecedented.

It wasn’t all handshakes and trophies; she also earned top money of $189,813. “But you don’t think about that,” Lopez insists. “You just want to win. It’s the girls who don’t make the money that think about it.” A Mexican-American from Roswell, N.Mex., Lopez did not grow up in a privileged country club atmosphere. But she has been sharpening her game since she was 8. She was never even asked to wash the dishes. (“Those hands were made for golf,” says her widowed dad, Domingo, once an amateur player himself.)

Cherubic and charming, Lopez is as popular with the galleries as, miraculously, she is among her sister pros. (Jane Blalock says, “Maybe the girls are smart enough to realize how much she’s doing for us.”) Not all the admiration for Nancy is professional. After breaking up with her fiancé, she is engaged again, this time to Tim Melton, 29, a sportscaster in Harrisburg, Pa. They met last June when he interviewed her. “It was love at first sight,” she says, and they plan to marry January 6. However, Lopez says she’ll compete another 15 years and not produce any little caddies until her late 20s. That gives her time to bring closer to reality a joke an opponent made this summer. “We ought to rename the LPGA,” an exasperated Betsy Cullen said, “the Lopez Professional Golf Association.”

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