The lady golf professionals completed their 28-tournament schedule last weekend in Pensacola, Fla. and, for winning more tournaments this year than either Jack Nicklaus or Arnold Palmer, Kathy Whitworth, the leading money winner, earned the munificent sum of $32,937.50, or exactly $17,062.50 less than Nicklaus' first-place check at the Westchester Classic a few months ago. She traveled from tournament to tournament by car, not by private jet; and there were no suites at Pebble Beach or Doral, just $8.50-a-day motel rooms in Pekin, Ill. or Caldwell, Idaho. That's the way it is with ladies' golf.
Kathy Whitworth was easily the best and most consistent player on the LPGA tour, winning eight championships from Venice, Fla. to San Antonio, Texas, beating Carol Mann in a sudden-death playoff for the $10,000 first prize in the LPGA World Series of Golf and finishing second in seven other tournaments She won the Vare Trophy for the lowest average score per round (72.74) and for the second successive season was voted Player of the Year.
However, in Pensacola last week Kathy tied for 11th, as Mickey Wright played the long and narrow Scenic Hills Country Club course in seven under par to win by nine shots. She thus forewarned Kathy and her other female contemporaries that next year she will be in business again. Mickey dominated the ladies' tour from 1960 through 1964, winning 50 tournaments, until in 1965 she decided to retire and return to college. Kathy, who had been No. 2 most of that time, replaced her as the queen, winning 25 tournaments during the last three seasons. Mickey, meanwhile, quit school and rejoined the tour as a part-time player. Still, she won seven events last year, and Pensacola was her fourth championship this year. "But I really haven't worked at it," she said the other day. "Actually there's no sense being out here and not being able to win every week. And finishing fourth every week gets to me. I'm going to work at it this winter and come back strong again next year."
If anything, this pronouncement has spurred Miss Whitworth, who now has decided that she, too, will practice all winter, something she has not done in three years. Thus there promises to be a lively battle for No. 1 in 1968. "When Mickey plays well I feel that she should win, because she's that good," Kathy says. "She's the only one I feel that way about, though. Actually, when someone else beats me it just doesn't impress me."
Kathy, who now is 28, came onto the tour in 1959 out of Jal, N. Mex., by way of Monahans, Texas. She weighed around 225 pounds then (she's a rather trim 145 now) and did not win one penny her first three months on the tour. She wanted to quit and return home, but her family persistently told her to keep at it, and she has been hitting golf balls since.
"I thought the big thing was to win everything," she said, "but with Mickey playing like she was, there was no way I could. She was playing super at the time. And the better she was the better I got, because I always seemed to be fighting her. Of course, any time you were head-to-head with her you seldom won, but the experience was great. And it didn't hurt my ego to lose to her, because I knew she was great, that's all. It had to help me someday."
When Mickey did temporarily retire, Kathy was ready. "I knew how I'd react under pressure," she says, "and I knew how to keep my bad rounds from getting worse. It takes time to learn all that, more time than you imagine. But I was ready."
Kathy still has flaws in her game, however. She addresses the ball almost from left field, standing so far away it looks as though she would miss it completely. She jerks the club up and outside on her backswing. During her swing, she somehow locks her right knee the whole time, which automatically minimizes her power and often forces her to pull her shots. "It's the result of mental confusion," she says. "I want to work it out this winter. If I don't work on it now and it gets worse, then who knows what might happen."
The other girl pros naturally like to compare Kathy with Mickey. "I don't think Kathy has that classic golf swing Mickey has," says Carol Mann, "but Kathy is a better putter, one of the best out here. She has tremendous powers of concentration. She's not vulnerable emotionally, while I think Mickey is a little high-strung. Kathy is a great trouble player, like Palmer, but Kathy is realistic about all her trouble shots. Palmer is unrealistic. He doesn't know what will happen. She does."
Off the course, the ladies' tour, for the most part, is divided into three groups, not cliques. The young girls, such as Jan Ferraris, Lesley Holbert and Susie Maxwell, are part of one set. Sandra Haynie leads the second pack, and the older players, who stay pretty much by themselves, comprise the third. Mickey rarely, if ever, will socialize with the teeny boppers, but Kathy is just as likely to see a movie with the young girls as play hearts with the older ones. "It's much easier to talk to Kathy than Mickey anyplace—at the motel or the golf course," said Jan Ferraris. "But on the course," as Carol Mann says, "Kathy is one way: strictly golf. It's her business."
Perhaps the only thing that does bother Kathy is the pressure of being No. 1. "You're never allowed to have a bad round," she says, "and you're supposed to win all the time. You try, sure, but you can't do it every week. There has got to be a value placed on pleasure, not just winning. I think Mickey puts too much emphasis on winning every time she tees it up, and when she doesn't win it discourages her to the point where she has to get away. Sure I want to win. But not at that expense."
What Kathy wants to win most, though, is the battle for No. 1 that will begin next March, when the tour resumes in Florida. "Everywhere we go," she said, "Mickey still is considered No. 1. It's never: 'Who's playing this week?' It's always: 'Is Mickey playing this week?' That's all some people ever care about." It's difficult to try harder when you're already No. 1, but Kathy will work at it this winter. It would be no fun to be No. 2 again.