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Hall of Famer Lopez blames economy for LPGA struggles

By Larry Fine

PITTSFORD, New York (Reuters) - Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez said on Thursday the economy was to blame for the recent struggles of the LPGA Tour, where total purse offerings have fallen 30 percent in three years.

Lopez had no problem navigating through the small but appreciative crowds as she drove up in her golf cart to the ninth green to watch Paula Creamer try for birdie in the first round of the LPGA Championship, the year's second major.

"If we just get through this economy now, the sponsors will start wanting to spend more money," Lopez, winner of 48 career LPGA events, told Reuters. "There's a lot of interest. We've just got to get the opportunity to get back into more cities again. We've lost a few tournaments."

The LPGA is staging 27 events in 2011 with total purses of $44.2 million, compared with 37 events in 2008 that offered a total $63.2 million in purses.

Lopez, 54, who won the LPGA Championship three times, said she thought the tide would turn under LPGA commissioner Michael Whan, who took over the reins to start the 2010 season.

"We have a great new commissioner, which I think is a definite plus for us and I think he's going to open a lot more doors," said Lopez, who serves on the commissioner advisory board and on the founders' board.

"The economy has a lot to do with what's going on right now. We just have to be patient and of course help and encourage our sponsors that we have right now to hang in there."

(Editing by Frank Pingue)