40 greatest female athletes: Nancy Lopez

In her first full season on the LPGA Tour, Nancy Lopez won nine tournaments, including five in a row, on her way to capturing Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year honors. Getty Images

ESPN is marking the 40th anniversary of Title IX by unveiling the top 40 female athletes of the past 40 years.

Before golfer Nancy Lopez even graduated from high school, she already had a runner-up finish at the U.S. Women's Open.

Lopez, No. 24 in ESPN's countdown, went on to collect 48 career victories and earn a spot in the World Golf Hall of Fame.

And nobody captured the adoration of the galleries quite like Lopez.

"She loved the crowd, they loved her, and she fed off of that," former LPGA pro Hollis Stacy says. "She just had a beautiful smile on the golf course. Even for those of us within the ropes, Nancy's smile always eased the tension.

"She would smile, then stab you in the heart by making a putt."

Read the complete story from espnW here.

Earlier in this series:

No. 40: Diver Fu Mingxia

No. 39: Jockey Julie Krone

No. 38: Gymnast Mary Lou Retton

No. 37: Hockey player Cammi Granato

No. 36: Soccer player Kristine Lilly

No. 35: Basketball player Diana Taurasi

No 34: Volleyball player Flo Hyman

No. 33: Soccer player Abby Wambach

No. 32: Swimmer Mary T. Meagher

No. 31: Marathoner Joan Benoit

No. 30: Sprinter Gail Devers

No. 29: Basketball player Nancy Lieberman

No. 28: Marathoner Grete Waitz

No. 27: Soccer player Michelle Akers

No. 26: Basketball player Chamique Holdsclaw

No. 25: Swimmer Dara Torres