Meeting Your Idol
Everyone has a childhood idol. Not everyone, however, gets the opportunity to meet them.
For Nikki Gatch, she grew up idolizing LPGA star Nancy Lopez.
“I was 5 years old when Nancy came on Tour, and by the time I was 9 or 10, I was pretty into playing golf myself,” said Gatch, who now works for the PGA of America and resides here in SoCal. “At that point, she was a superstar. I became a huge fan. That’s who I wanted to be.”
Gatch did all the typical things a 10-year-old fan does. She followed Lopez’ career, read everything she could about her, and even made a scrapbook dedicated to her idol. On the course, she tried to model her swing after Lopez’.
“I still have the scrapbook to this day,” said Gatch, now a board member for the SCGA. “Anything on Nancy I found in newspaper articles or in my dad’s golf magazines I put in that scrapbook.”
In high school, Gatch and her family moved to the Coachella Valley, giving the high schooler easy access to the annual Nabisco Dinah Shore tournament.
“At that point, I was really immersed in golf,” said Gatch. “When the Dinah Shore was in town, I would skip school and go to the tournament. I’d just watch her play. I loved it.”
Gatch, for the most part, had the typical spectator experience. She’d follow Lopez for 18 holes, get an autograph or photo even, and then be on her way. Until one day, when Gatch had the very unique opportunity to talk to her idol in the most unique of ways.
“I’m in the gallery watching Nancy play and I overhear her family talking about where they were staying and what they were going to do that afternoon,” recalled Gatch. “Her sister exchanged phone numbers with someone, including where she and Nancy were staying. Being the obsessed fan that I was, I wrote it down.”
Not only was Gatch obsessed, but she was also ballsy. That afternoon after returning home, a teenage Gatch actually called the number she had scribbled down; Lopez’ sister answered.
“I somehow spit out the fact that I was a big fan,” said Gatch. “She told me Nancy was out shopping, but would be back in a bit, and took down my number. I thought there was no way she’d call back.”
A couple of hours later, Gatch’s phone rang. It was Nancy Lopez on the other end, calling her back.
“I can’t even remember the conversation,” admitted Gatch. “But we spent 5-10 minutes talking. My brain was on a different planet. At the time, I thought it was really cool that she called. As I got older, it got even better. What superstar does that! I still can’t believe she actually called me back. But it speaks to who she is as a person.”
Since their telephone encounter years ago, Gatch has had the unique pleasure of getting to know Lopez through her work in the golf industry. Gatch, who not only serves on the SCGA board but also on various committees for the SCGA Junior Golf and WSCGA Foundations, has volunteered the last few years at a junior event attached to the ANA Inspiration (formerly the very same Nabisco Dinah Shore she attended as a kid) that Lopez is involved with. Through that event, Gatch has served as a walking scorer as Lopez has played alongside junior golfers, getting a front-row, or in this case, inside-the-ropes, view of Lopez’ mentoring ability.
“How she interacts with the kids, it takes me back to when I was a kid, making that scrapbook,” said Gatch. “She continues to be a role model for me. How she treats people. She just really grasps the responsibility she has being a legend in the game.”
More recently, Gatch had the opportunity to spend the day with Lopez at an SCGA Junior fundraiser. During the event, the world learned of the passing of Arnold Palmer, news that Gatch herself had to regrettably share with Lopez, who was very close with The King.
“It was a surreal experience, telling her the news,” said Gatch. “But everything that people say about Arnold, and the type of person he was, it applies to Nancy as well. Who she is as a mother, business woman, leader and golf professional, it’s who we should strive to be.”