It took years for Judy Rankin, JoAnne Carner and Cathy Whitworth to gain recognition as top players on the Ladies Professional Gold Association tour.

But, in a few short months this summer, a rookie, a relative newcomer and a veteran who had been down on her luck have vaulted into the higher echelon and earnings of proven players.

Debbie Austin, Hollis Stacy and Nancy Lopez (the rookie) have given the touring circuit the kind of adrenalin 14-year-old Tracy Austin has injected in women's tennis.

Far from staging an insurrection, the three have added more life to the party, expanded the guest list into victory celebrations.

"It's not that we want to get rid of the older (players)," said Stacey, fresh from breaking an LPGA record by shooting 68-65-69-69 - 271 to win the Muscular Dystrophy tourney last weekend, her third win of the year. "This shows some new fresh faces, like the way Lanny Wadkins and Jerry Pate have for men's golf.

"It has created a fresh new image for the LPGA. This is going to help the tour because it gives younger players confidence, knowing that, if I can do it, they can do it."

Stacy became a pro in 1974 when she dropped out of Rollins College where she majored in environmental studies. "I saw my golf game deteriorating and I was sick about it. Also, I didn't really know what I wanted to do after college," said the 23-year-old Savanah resident.

As an amateur, Stacy, who began playing at age 14, won the U.S. Juniors from 1969-71 and the North-South championship at 16.

"The (LPGA) tour was becoming more lucrative for younger players, so I decided to become a pro," she said. Up to this year, she had won a high of $35,000.

Total prize money for the tour has jumped from $1.2 million two years ago to $3 million for the 34 official LPGA tournaments this year.

So far this year, Stacy has won the Lady Tara in Atlanta, the U.S. Open in Chaska, Minn., and the tournament last weekend in Springfield, Ill.

At the M.D. Classic, Stacy broke Whitworth's record 273 for a 72-hole tournament set in 1966.

Her earnings of $67,384 this year place her ninth on the money-winning list currently heaced by Rankin at $111,352. Her stroke average of 73.41 is 16th best on the tour.

Austin ranks fifth on the money list with earnings of $76,992 as a result of winning five tournaments, the same number Rankin has won this year.

She is in second place in the point totals (Rankin, 62; Austin, 49) for the LPGA player of the year. Rankin has more points because she has finished in the top 10 in 16 tournaments.

Austin was thinking about abandoning golf earlier this year to become an accountant or tax consultant because she believed her game was "floundering."

She had gone nine years without a win and was ready to call it quits after placing 51st in the Dinah Shore tournament. She decided to take one last crack at improving her game and turned to teaching pro Sherry Wilder.

They worked on her swing and stance and, Austin said, she saw improvement and got "a different frame of mind . . . It was a combination of believing in my game and believing it would hold up under pressure."

Since then, the 29-year-old Austin from West Palm Beach, Fla., has swept the Birmingham, Hoosier, Pocono, Long Island Charity and Wheeling classics. Her stroke average this year is 72.99, 11th best on the tour.

Rookie Nancy Lopez, 20, Roswell, N.M., has the lowest average on the tour, 71, but has played only eight rounds. Her mark will not be considered official toward winning the Glenna Collett Vare trophy. To qualify for the honor, a player must pay 70 rounds and there are only six official LPGA tournaments left this year, eliminating any hopes for her.

Lopez, who qualified as an LPGA professional the last week of July, has finished second in three tournaments. She has won $25,165 in the three, but because she was not an official LPGA pro before her second-place finish in the U.S. Open, the LPGA lists her official earnings at $18,125, the 29th spot on the money list.

Two years ago, Lopez also finished second in the U.S. Open as an amateur. Her other second-place finishes this summer were at the European Open and the Long Island Charity Classic, where she tore some tendons in her right hand and has been idled until this week.

She was ranked top amateur in the country in 1976 and was top junior player for the past two years.

As she prepared for the National jewish Hospital Open this week in Denver, Lopez said, "As a pro, I'd like to make as big a name for myself as I did as an amateur. My timing is a little slow right now so I'm kind of anxious. I realise people are coming out to see the great players like Judy Rankin and JoAnne Carner, but maybe it's good that they'll get to see some new players, too." CAPTION: Picture, Hollis Stacy, 23, has won $67,384 this year with an average round of 73.41 strokes. AP