DULUTH, Ga. (AP) -- Standing above the 18th green at a country club north of Atlanta, Nancy Lopez matter-of-factly discussed her failure to qualify for the U.S. Women's Open when suddenly, without warning, the tears began flowing.
The fact Lopez never lacked for a smile made the moment even more poignant.
"I'm sorry," Lopez said as she stepped away from a group of reporters, buried her face in her hands and let a day's worth of emotion drip to the ground for all to see.
She desperately wanted to play in her 25th Open, even taking what some viewed as the demeaning step of trying to qualify through a sectional tournament, surrounded by anonymous competitors who grew up idolizing her.
Once on the course, it didn't matter that Lopez is a Hall of Famer with 48 career victories who probably did more to popularize women's golf than any other player. The only way to get in was to finish in the top 14 Tuesday, and she didn't come close with a 6-over-par 78.
"It does hurt," said Lopez, her eyes red, barely able to compose herself. "I really wanted to play well today."
She attempted to qualify along with amateurs, club pros and a sprinkling of LPGA regulars after the U.S. Golf Association declined to give her an exemption, something she was given the last two years.
"We're all sick about it," said Cora Jane Blanchard, who chaired the 14-member women's selection committee. "We love her to death. She definitely sells tickets. But you don't get an exemption based on that. It's not a popularity contest."
The 44-year-old Lopez hasn't won a tournament since 1997 and the women's committee decided this year to grant only one exemption: Liselotte Neumann, a former Open champion. Lopez has never won the Open, which also worked against her in the committee's eyes.
"I'm not saying we wouldn't give her another one in the future," Blanchard said. "She's done a great deal for the women's tour and she's a good friend of the USGA. But our feeling after two years was not this year."
Lopez played in her first Open as a 17-year-old amateur in 1974. After turning pro in 1978, she was in every tournament except those that conflicted with the birth of her three children.
She has been the Open runner-up four times, most recently in 1997 when she became the only woman to shoot four rounds in the 60s, but lost a playoff to Alison Nicholas.
Lopez failed to qualify by four strokes, making her just another spectator when the Open begins May 31 at Pine Needles in North Carolina.
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