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A lean Lopez puts a few lean years behind her

June 19, 1997

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (AP) _ For the first time in four years, Nancy Lopez is showing up with a recent win under her belt going into the LPGA Rochester International, one of her favorite tournaments.

``This is probably one of my favorite golf courses that I play well on,″ she said on the eve of today’s opening round. ``It seems to suit my game.″

Lopez won at the undulating, tree-lined Locust Hill Country Club in 1978, 1980 and 1981, has placed second four times, third twice and tied for seventh last year. She’s never fared worse than 18th, and no one is counting her out.

Especially considering her comeback over the past year.

Fed up feeling tired after each round, Lopez changed her eating habits, hired a personal trainer and shed 40 pounds in 1996. Her game picked up, more putts began to drop and, best of all, her confidence was rising.

After racking up seven top-10 finishes in a year, her breakthrough came at the rain-shortened Chick-fil-A Charity Championship in late April. At age 40, it was her 48th win in 21 years on the LPGA tour and her first in almost four years.

``During those few years, I probably really didn’t feel like I could win another golf tournament,″ Lopez said. ``Maybe I would have said that I felt like it, but deep down inside was telling me that I couldn’t.″

Her previous win came in July 1993 at the Youngstown-Warren Classic.

``After not winning for a few years, you get a little rusty when you get in top contention,″ she said. ``Now I’m getting comfortable with that again, which I wasn’t maybe so much even at the end of last year.″

Slimming down a few sizes ``certainly changes your attitude,″ Lopez added. ``It definitely helped my mental attitude about everything. ... I don’t feel anything’s holding me back.″

Although Lopez jokes that she considers ``quitting lots of times, when I’m taking a shower or when I’m driving down the road,″ her love of the game is likely to keep her playing for some time.

``I think God gave me some talent to use it,″ she said. ``Everybody has a purpose and, I think for me, it’s to entertain.″