PORTLAND, Ore., Sept. 12 (UPI) -- Nancy Lopez will play in her final event as a full-time member of the LPGA Tour this week at the Safeway Classic, which was canceled last year because of the tragic events of Sept. 11.
Lopez, the most recognizable female golfer in history, announced earlier this season that she would retire at the end of the year. Her full-time status will end after this week's event, which begins Friday.
"Well, it's obviously very sad when the greats of any sport decide that it's time to retire," said Australian star Karrie Webb. "And obviously the same goes for Nancy."
Lopez is sixth all time with 48 LPGA Tour titles, including three at the Safeway, but at 45, she is well past her prime, last winning in 1997. She also has expressed interest in spending more time with her family in Georgia.
"I see where she's coming from," said fellow Hall of Famer Juli Inkster, a mother of two. "She wants to be home a little more. But she's been great for this tour. She's given her heart and soul to this tour."
When she burst onto the scene in the late eighties, Lopez was one of the first players to capture the attention of non-golfers.
She developed legions of fans, named "Nancy's Navy," a takeoff from Arnold Palmer's "Arnie's Army."
"I think the impact that she's had on this tour has probably been one of the biggest impacts by any one player," Webb said. "I don't think that one person will ever be able to have the same playing career and also be able to do as much off-course commitments as she did."
Lopez didn't have a chance to play the Safeway last year. It was the first LPGA Tour event after the terrorist attacks on the United States and subsequently was canceled.
Webb was at her home in Florida last year when two planes hit the World Trade Center in New York, another crashed into the Pentagon, and a
fourth barreled into a Pennsylvania field.
"I didn't lose anyone in the tragedy," Webb said. "But it was probably one of two or three of the worst days of my life, realizing what hatred some people had for human beings and
innocent lives. It was a very upsetting time. I'm sure it was for everybody, as it was for me."
The Safeway Classic was held every year from 1972-2000, boasting champions like Lopez, Kathy Whitworth, Amy Alcott, Betsy King, Patty Sheehan, Dottie Pepper and Inkster. It has been staged at Columbia Edgewater Country Club each season since 1990. The event also is the last before the Solheim Cup, an international team event in Minnesota from Sept. 20-22. Among those
competing this week and next is Inkster, the veteran leader of the U.S. team.
"I think just everybody's trying to iron out some kinks here and there and try to get their games going, need to keep clear," said Inkster, who won the Safeway three years ago. "I'm looking
forward to it."