It may well have come too late for Nancy Lopez to take advantage, but the LPGA Tour icon could not be happier that many of her former competitors and long-time friends now have a greater number of opportunities to compete again - as seniors on some of golf's grandest stages.
Last year, the inaugural Senior LPGA Championship was hosted at French Lick Resort in Indiana and the same event for players aged 45 and older will be back at the same venue this season - from October 15-17.
The very first U.S. Senior Women's Open (for players aged above 50) was held last month at Chicago Golf Club and Lopez, unable to compete herself after undergoing knee surgery last November, was truly elated after being asked to perform the role of honorary starter for all four days of competition.
Compelled to be an on-looker that entire week as she continues with her rehabilitation, Lopez certainly experienced bitter-sweet emotions. Not being able to tee it up herself was a very strange and disappointing feeling but when it comes to the 'big picture', the growing number of major championships for the game's best senior players, she could not be more excited.
"It's certainly giving a new lease of life for the senior players, and for the players that are getting older now on the LPGA Tour to have some place to play," a smiling Lopez told LPGA.com. "I think it is still important that we keep doing that, to give those women an opportunity after their career is over with on the LPGA Tour, that they all have senior events to play in.
"We tried to do that with the Legends Tour where we had more events for us and more sponsorship because, to me, the players of the past were the celebrities of golf who brought people out to watch LPGA golf. I guess we've just always been fighting for that position, for someone to notice that we're just as good as anybody else. I look at players like JoAnne Carner and Kathy Whitworth and Carol Mann, when she was in her heyday, and how much I looked up to them and what great players they were. It's just a shame that they didn't have somewhere else to go after their careers were kind of over. If they did, I think they would still all be playing."
California native Lopez, a three-time major champion who is a member of both the LPGA and World Golf Halls of Fame, believes that the biggest challenge for senior golfers getting back into competition mode after a lengthy absence is to maintain focus.
"I don't think you ever lose that sense of competitive fire," she said. "It is harder to get back to it. If you've been playing social golf with your friends and amateur friends, to get back into the focus mode is very difficult. I used to focus so well. For 18 holes, I could focus. Now when I'm playing in a tournament, I focus for about 10 or 11 holes and then I'm like, 'Where am I going to go to dinner tonight?' I can't focus like that anymore because I've gotten away from it. I don't know if you can ever get that back.
"I still love golf and I have a husband that loves to play and it's just fun. It's such a great game and if we can keep promoting golf for women and get people interested in golf ... get women not feeling like they don't belong on a golf course, not feeling intimidation, get guys saying, 'Oh, we like to watch women swing a golf club because we relate with them better.' That's all fun, that's what golf is all about ... if we can help people love the game the way we do."
Lopez, a 48-time winner on the LPGA Tour, finally decided to have knee surgery last November after months and months of putting things off.
"I've had two bad knees for so long and I kept waiting just to see if they were going to come up with a better procedure," she said. "I did worry about getting one knee done too early and then having to have another surgery before I died, if I lived to be old. That bothered me a little bit.
"When I had two bad knees, it was just misery. Now, with my one good knee, I can do a lot more than I could before. I just can't walk 18 holes. I can barely walk three holes. I can swing a golf club but I can't walk. It just hurts too much because your gait is off a little bit and one leg's a tad longer until you get the other one done. And the left one just takes a beating and then your whole body starts to hurt because you're not walking properly. It hurts pretty quickly. It takes two or three holes for me to go, 'Wow, I can't do this.' After you get a new knee, you've got to learn how to use it again. My right knee was so bad I couldn't push off, it hurt, so now I'm having to learn how to push off after years of not doing that."
Asked if her long-term goals included the possibility of competing in senior championships once she had recovered from having surgery done on her left knee, Lopez replied: "It would be fun to compete in these senior events, but I know it would take a lot of work. I don't know if I want to do that anymore because there's a certain standard when you are an athlete and you want to play a certain way. Your fans, they don't care if you shoot a million but it's humiliating to be out there when you played the game so easily at one time and then you have to go out there and struggle. I just don't know if I want to do that.
"I love to play but do I want to work hard enough to get physically fit to be able to play? Your body hurts a lot more and it takes a lot more to get physically fit. You feel better, but things still hurt. Who knows? I may wake up one morning and go, 'You know, I'm going to get ready for the next Women's Senior Open.' I think that's the only way it's going to happen."