At 16, just months removed from taking up golf, Nancy Taylor accepted a one-time bet from her father: beat him in a stroke-play match and she could have the family’s Volkswagen.
Bob Taylor, an Air Force general who spent 33 years in the military and moved the family 24 times, teased Taylor when she didn’t immediately take the challenge. Finally, on Christmas Day, when the family lived in Honolulu, Taylor accepted the bet after practicing hard through the summer and fall. She ended up beating him by two strokes, carding an 84. That day, her father rode her bike home; she drove the car.
For the next year, Taylor’s father pedaled to work.
For Taylor, it was the start of a golf career that would see her play at Arizona State University, and on the LPGA Tour from 1986 until 1998. But it was the 1982 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship that put her on the map.
Thirty years ago, Taylor, then 22, tasted success by winning the USGA’s national championship for female public-course golfers, defeating Kerri Clark, 2 and 1, at the Alvamar Golf Club in Lawrence, Kan. At the time, she became the oldest champion in a championship that was inaugurated five years earlier. (Amy Fruhwirth surpassed Taylor as oldest champion 10 years later at age 23).
The following year, in her attempt to repeat, Taylor lost to Kelli Antolock, 1 down, in the championship match on Ala Wai Golf Course in Honolulu. Taylor, who went on to play in four U.S. Women’s Opens, recently reflected on those two years, saying that she remembered being physically and emotionally exhausted.
“What you remember is the pressure and learning how to stay calm and knowing what’s going on,” said Taylor, who now uses the surname Taylor-Capps after marrying Stan Capps in Charlotte, N.C. , 12 years ago. “It’s the challenge of staying in the moment. It’s a definite release. It’s kind of like when you see an athlete at the Olympics. You watch them stand on the platform. There’s incredible relief… all the hard work paying off. And if you’ve [competed] in any athletics at any proficiency, you can relate to all the time and dedication and sacrifice to get to that level.
“It’s the capability of being able to focus and to be able to balance yourself emotionally. If you want anything that badly, you’ll develop the patience and perseverance to do it. It was the challenge, the mastery of wanting to do better.”
So what’s happened to Taylor since the WAPL victory? Where has she been?
In 1983, after earning all-conference honors, Taylor graduated from ASU. She immediately turned professional and tried her hand on the Futures Tour, moving to Tampa, Fla., where she lived until finishing second at Qualifying School in 1986 to earn her LPGA Tour card. In a 13-year career that ended in 1998, she never won, with her best finish a runner-up at the 1987 Jamie Farr Toledo Classic. When Taylor retired from competitive golf, she had registered seven top-20 finishes in more than 220 events.
Perhaps more important, in 1983, a year removed from winning the WAPL, God came into her life. First, fellow Futures Tour member Joan Delk invited Taylor to her church. Second, while Taylor was washing her car one day, a group of people approached her. It was then that she seriously considered accepting the Lord into her life.
“Point blank this man asks, ‘Do you know if you died tonight would you go to heaven?’ ” said Taylor. “I kept looking at the hood of my car. You’re never really prepared for that kind of question. He asked more questions. He said to think about it and that they would come back tomorrow. I wasn’t sure they would.
“So when they came back, I said I didn’t think I was ready to make that kind of commitment. But they patiently explained the gospel to me and I gave my life to the Lord that night.”
Taylor opted to become a golf instructor with the Ben Sutton Golf School in Ruskin, Fla., working at the school from 1992 through 1997 during the LPGA Tour's offseason. A year later, Taylor became the associate director for the Fellowship Of Christian Athletes Golf Ministry in Ponte Vedra, Fla., a role that lasted until 2000. After serving as an instructor for the Dana Rader Golf School in Charlotte, N.C., in 2000 and 2001, she played in 26 LPGA Pro-Am events. Three years later, she joined the golf shop operations and instructional arm of Olde Sycamore Golf Plantation, where she remained until 2011.
Soon after, the coaching bug bit her. She joined Division II Belmont Abbey’s women’s golf team as an assistant coach for a season before catching on with the Division I Winthrop University’s women’s golf team as an assistant this past year.
On a blustery February day, Taylor worked with some of the players on getting them to visualize their swings.
“We’re blessed to have her,” said Jodi Wendt, who has been Winthrop’s head coach for seven years. “She’s just been a great resource from junior golf to the pros. She has a great head on her shoulders. She’s helped me grow as a person and created a passionate and spiritual side.”
It’s Taylor’s hope that one day she will be a college head coach. She successfully passed the NCAA Recruiting Test, which should help her.
Looking back, Taylor has no regrets about her playing career. In 1996, she played in her fourth and final U.S. Women’s Open. Early into the championship, she was on the leaderboard.
“I was coming up the eighth fairway [at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club] and I saw my name was in the top 10,” said Taylor, tearing up at the memory. “It’s those moments in life you cherish.”
Ken Klavon is the USGA’s online editor. Email him at email@example.com.