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Fine till the nerves go 'Ding'

Four wins in a row were enough to show that Shirley Englehorn—gimpy ankle, wobbly putter and all—can rival the best on the ladies' tour

Shirley Englehorn had never encountered such pressure, not even the time last winter when she tried singlehanded to liberate the lady golf professionals. That happened at Los Coyotes in Buena Park, Calif., where some promoters matched Shirley against Billy Casper in what they called a golfing battle of the sexes. Casper shot a rather casual 70, while Shirley struggled to a 79. "Forget liberation if it means playing against the men," Shirley said later.

The confrontation with Casper was only a mild psychological trauma, though, compared to the tension that sent Shirley and her nerves into "Ding-Dingville" last week. The previous Monday Miss Englehorn had won her fourth straight tournament, beating Kathy Whitworth in a playoff for the Ladies PGA championship, and now she was trying for a record fifth-consecutive tour title in the George Washington Classic at Horsham, Pa., outside Philadelphia. "I see it as my chance of a lifetime," Shirley said, taking off her glasses (she is very nearsighted) and rubbing her eyes.

The pressure set in two nights before the tournament. Shirley was in her motel room, watching a Joan Crawford rerun and massaging her sore left shoulder with what she thought was Absorbine. Suddenly she leaped from the bed. Her left shoulder and left arm were black. "I realized," she said, "that I was using shoe polish to massage my arm. Ding-a-ling."

Then she began dropping things. Everything she picked up she dropped. In the morning she scattered golf balls all over the club parking lot. On the course she left a trail of pencils, tees, scorecards, gloves and ball markers. "And I'll bet that I've had to change my dinner clothes at least once a night because I've spilled something on them," she said. "At least she's wearing her success well," another player noted.

Another problem was her time-consuming autograph sessions. Shirley Englehorn is a long name to write. "Some girls can go zip-zip and that's that," Shirley said. "Not me." Her signature began to look like Early Shenglehorn. In the middle of these difficulties Sears, Roebuck remembered that Shirley is their female golf adviser and the company wanted to set up some quick promotional films. So, all things considered, it was not very likely that Shirley would break the four-straight LPGA record held by Mickey Wright and Kathy Whitworth, and though she did play sub-par golf and finish sixth in the George Washington event, her 216 was four strokes behind winner Judy Rankin. The true wonder, in fact, was that Shirley Englehorn, at 29, could have come so close to setting such a record.

Shirley grew up in Caldwell, Idaho, which is not exactly a sunshine-the-year-round golfing capital. Her family lived beside the 3rd hole of the municipal course, and Shirley started to play the hole when she was 7 years old. "I would sit on a bank and watch until the hole was empty, then run out and play it," she remembers. Before too long she was going around the whole course, and by the time she graduated from high school she was ready to join the tour, which she did soon thereafter. The older pros remember her in those days as a youngster with a strong long-iron game but an inconsistent putter—in such conversations "inconsistent" means lousy.

"I used to see the whites of my knuckles when I putted, that's how horrible I was and at times I am still that bad," Shirley says. "I've got quite a selection of putters—at least 30 of them—that I've used, none with very great efficiency." Still, she always was looked upon as a potential winner.

Accidents stalled the potential. In 1960 she fell off a horse and fractured six vertebrae. "I couldn't swing comfortably for a long time," she says. And then in 1965 she had an even more serious injury. "Sandra Palmer and I were going from San Diego to Texas," she recalls. "We were about 80 miles outside Tucson, and I was driving. Suddenly the car was like a surfboard. It was flying downhill and veering left. I couldn't do anything about it. I tore into a guardrail and knocked down eight posts. I had to pay $8 for each one. The engine smashed into my left heel, and I had compound fractures of my heel and ankle. It was a nightmare."

Half a year passed before she could rejoin the tour, and when she did her ankle still bothered her. In 1967 and again in 1968 she underwent surgery to remove screws from the damaged bones. "The tips of the screws had broken through to the sciatic nerve," she says. "I could barely walk." She continues to have problems with the ankle.

Arnold Palmer has his bad hip. Billy Casper has his allergies. Shirley Englehorn has "ankle lock." "I feel like Silky Sullivan or Mr. Ed at times," she says. "The ankle actually locks. My foot feels as though it is in a stirrup. I can't even flex it. The scar tissue gets all tight, and my foot is practically useless." When this happens, she either receives treatment from Amie Amizich, a touring pro who is also a licensed physiotherapist, or goes to a hospital for an injection of a lubricating drug.

In spite of this, Shirley managed to win an occasional tournament and always made more than enough money to live comfortably: $13,790 in 1967, $16,285 in 1968, $24,832 in 1969. "We all knew that it was the ankle that kept her from being probably the best player out here," says Jan Ferraris, a young pro on the tour. "What she has done the last month is understandable, though it is amazing she has been able to play so well for such a long period. That ankle is bad."

Miss Englehorn started her streak in St. Louis, winning there by two shots. She vacationed a week, then won at Winchester, Va. when she made a 30-foot birdie putt on the 1st hole of a playoff to beat Margee Masters. At the Lady Carling in Baltimore she outlasted a home-town favorite, Carol Mann, and then at the Ladies PGA at Sutton, Mass. she birdied the last hole to force a playoff that she won from Kathy Whitworth. During this tournament she had to be taken to the hospital for one of her almost routine emergency ankle treatments.

It was also in the PGA that Shirley flashed a little of the competitive tire that has made her a winner. Aware that Kathy Whitworth is an unusually fast golfer who tends to get bored when play drags, Shirley decided on playoff day to have "the slowest-paced round of my life." She walked to greens to determine pin placements. She lined up putts from all angles. She did everything possible to slow the tempo to the pace she wanted—and she won by four strokes.

The LPGA championship victory raised Shirley Englehorn's 1970 winnings to $15,000 and placed her among the tour's affluent competitors. If she could finish the year as leading money-winner, and pick up another victory or two, she could give the LPGA tour the kind of attraction it badly needs, and she is well aware of this possibility.

In certain ways she now pictures—or dreams of—herself as an Arnold Palmer of the ladies' tour. "Palmer came along in his late 20s and early 30s and won all those tournaments," she says, "and that made golf what it is today. Well, the ladies' tour needs an Arnold Palmer—and I'd like to be it. We need someone to step up there, charge away and win. That brings the gallery. People want to identify with a consistent winner. I'm ready."

But don't win too often. Shirley. If you do, the liberation movement might set up another match for you with Billy Casper.