Summertime heat works in subtle measure on that sensitive and peculiar mechanism called woman. Warm weather changes her habits and hot temperatures make her hide. In the kitchen she abandons the oven; tuna fish is the only sane menu. Heat saps a woman's strength and wounds her disposition. Unless she has a beach, a bikini and coconut oil, she ranks heat and sun among the worst of enemies.
Last week, with wispy breezes giving the town all the atmosphere of a blowtorch, Pensacola, Fla. was hardly the place for a woman to be cooking, cleaning or playing golf. But there they were, about 100 of the best female golfers in the land, vying for the 17th USGA Women's Open championship in temperatures that threatened thermometers.
What these otherwise reasonable women would do in Pensacola every day was jump into a car, ride up the winding drives of Scenic Hills Country Club to the golf course, put on a funny hat, open up an umbrella, throw a wet towel around their necks, get dizzy, swallow a few gallons of Gatorade and some salt pills, feel woozy, shoot 80 and quietly pass out. Or sometimes pass out, then recover and shoot 80.
"It wouldn't be so bad," said Carol Mann on a coolish day when the temperature hit only 102°, "if you could breathe. You feel like you're in a box, and you just wish someone would please open the top."
Well, Sunday afternoon Donna Caponi, a bubbly 24-year-old in a pink gingham gown, came through 108° heat and a furious thunderstorm to open the top of the box. Chewing gum madly, kissing the ball after every good putt and mumbling an Italian version of "sock it to 'em," she shot 69 to come from five shots back and win the hottest Open ever with a two-over-par 294.
That Miss Caponi was not the favorite is no surprise, because favorites often do badly in the Women's Open. Indeed, the new champion had never won a pro tournament before, but that is a commonplace situation, too.
Since 1962, the year Mickey Wright and Betsy Rawls ceased playing pat-a-cake with the Open title every year, the biggest prize in women's golf has been won only twice by top pros, Wright in '64 and Mann in '65
For the two years before that, the Open winners (Murle Lindstrom and Mary Mills) had never won a tournament. In 1966 another cycle started. First came Sandra Spuzich (winless before and since), then Catherine Lacoste (a French amateur, of all humiliating things) and in 1968 Susan Berning (a new bride who had played in only three '68 events).
The Misses Wright, Mann, Kathy Whitworth, Sandra Haynie and a couple of other constant winners on the LPGA tour had their excuses, but mostly, aside from Wright, they seemed cowed by the very bigness of the Open.
"Our best guns get too tensed, up for this tournament," said Donna Caponi before the action even started. "Most of the rest of us don't really know how much an Open means. Kathy and the others try so hard and want to win so badly they can't play their natural game."
There was nothing natural about the way they started at Pensacola. Kathy Whitworth, the tour's leading money-winner, posted a 76. That, of course, was better than Mann at 77 or Berning at 78 or Marilynn Smith and Sandra Post at 80, and it was good enough to tie Haynie and Wright, just to spot a few of the famous names that were fading off the scoreboards.
The leader turned out to be Peggy Wilson, wearing a 65¢ Rexall Drugstore straw hat, who shot a 71, one stroke better than Shirley Englehorn, the only other player to break par. But the highlight of the day came out of what Frank Hannigan, the USGA's assistant director, called his "show biz pairing" of Gerda Whalen, an alluring German frau, and Mary Jane Fassinger, a striking 17-year-old amateur whose blonde hair flows down to her putting grip. Neither broke 78, but Gerda aced the 165-yard 7th hole with a five-wood, a shot that five weeks ago would have earned her the Janet Olson Hole in One Award—and $1,000. Now the check goes to a foundation for the blind.
"I just found out. It's sort of nice," said Gerda. "My money goes to a dog."
On Friday, the Sunstroke Open peeled along, with Jo Ann Prentice and Ruth Jessen, two veterans, first and second, and after the third day Miss Jessen had passed everyone and led the field, by two shots. But the heat was taking its toll. Two girls had been forced off the course because of dizzy spells, and Miss Englehorn, after her second round, had collapsed in the clubhouse. Later that night she had a relapse and had to be fed intravenously.
On Sunday morning the clubhouse talk—when not about the rising temperature—was of Kathy Whitworth's third-round 69, which put her in striking position. Miss Caponi, who in five years on the tour has impressed people more with her personality than her back-swing, was two strokes behind Whitworth, five strokes behind the leader and completely forgotten. Donna had managed three second-place finishes this summer, but now she had her boy friend, Roger Hall, along and her concentration on her golf seemed debatable as she shot 74-76-75 and took Roger to cocktail parties and the movies.
But a Sunday front nine of 34 changed things, and by the time she finished the 14th hole she was tied for the lead. On the 15th, a par 5, there was a swirl of gingham and a memorable drive. Her second shot was a six-iron four feet from the cup, and a moment later she was kissing the ball, muttering her Italian chant and savoring an eagle 3 that gave her a two-stroke lead. A final high-pressure birdie on 18 protected her lead as she beat Peggy Wilson by one stroke and Kathy Whitworth by two. After making the birdie, the new champion tearfully embraced her golfing sister, Janet, thus upholding the fine Women's Open tradition of a weepy finish.
"I can't believe it," the winner exclaimed a few minutes later. "Now I just have to get bombed." Which is how Donna Caponi from downtown Burbank became one girl in Pensacola who had spaghetti and wine on the year's hottest night—not tuna fish.