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Original Issue

'They knew I was a contender'

Amy Alcott, 19 and a rookie, has the self-confidence of a tour veteran

Delete the word "super" from their vocabularies and most women on the professional golf tour would be rendered semi-speechless. They use the word incessantly, to describe anything and everything—Amy Alcott, the 19-year-old tour rookie, for instance: "Amy? Super girl, super swing.... Super day, isn't it?"

Not that super is such a bad word for Amy. On her birthday, last Feb. 22, she was in St. Petersburg, Fla., firing a second-round 68 en route to winning the Orange Blossom Classic. It was only her third tournament as a professional, and she wound up with a record nine-under-par 207 (68-68-71) for the event and a check for $5,000. That sure beats a bowling party.

Not since Laura Baugh swiveled onto the tour has there been such a hot prospect in the LPGA. What happened to Laura? She was Rookie of the Year in 1973, earned some $36,000 last year and has a contract with Mark McCormack. But she has yet to win a tournament. Alcott has a McCormack contract, too, plus her Orange Blossom win.

She didn't waste much time. Alcott enrolled in the LPGA school in Miami on Jan. 20 with 42 other women, aiming for one of the 16 playing cards the school would issue. She shot a not-so-super 79-80-80 but finished in a tie for 12th, which was good enough. "I gave it everything I had and still didn't play well," she says. "But after I qualified, I felt everything else would be downhill."

Downhill, indeed. More like a vertical drop. In her first tournament she tied for 31st and won $230. Then 22nd and $350, and just one month after getting out of school, first place in the Orange Blossom. Alcott is not a bit reticent about her victory, confidence and determination being two of her long suits. "No, I'm not surprised I won so early. I won because I played the best," she says. "It was super—I had the confidence and desire to rip it up, and I did. People knew I was a contender the minute I teed it up." Then she adds, somewhat bewilderingly, "The most important thing out here is not to lose one's humility." Her fellow pros all mention her remarkable poise. "She is the most mature 19-year-old I have ever seen," says Sandra Post.

Alcott led from start to finish in the Orange Blossom, but the victory was not all that easy. She had to save a difficult par at 17 after her tee shot landed on a lady's purse. "Then when I came to the 18th, I didn't know I needed a birdie to win," she says. "All I was playing for was a par." Whatever she was playing for, she dropped a 20-foot birdie putt and had a one-shot victory over Post. Only Marlene Hagge, who took the Sarasota Open in 1952 at age 18, won an LPGA event at a younger age.

Before turning pro, Alcott won the Los Angeles Girls' title three times, the L.A. Women's Championship and the California Women's Amateur. In that tournament she once shot a 70 at Pebble Beach, breaking the long-standing women's course record of 72 held by Babe Zaharias. Her most important win before the Orange Blossom was the USGA Junior Championship, which she took two years ago at age 17.

Alcott was graduated from Pacific Palisades High School a year ago. "Boys were more or less in awe of me," she says. She is about 5'6" and 130 pounds, is brown-haired and freckled-faced, with strong arms and a powerful torso. Quick to smile off the course, she is all business on it. On the fairway with her regular caddie, Frank Chilton, she is completely absorbed in checking the card, calculating the distances, or selecting a club.

Alcott first became interested in golf watching it on television in the early 60s, and as a sub-teen began practicing in her Santa Monica backyard. A newspaper ad eventually led her to Walter Keller, a well-known Los Angeles golf teacher. At Keller's indoor golf studio she would hit into a net and study her swing in front of a mirror for four or five hours a day. Her father constructed a sand trap in the front yard and put up a net in the back. She practiced putting into soup cans at home and on the artificial greens in Keller's studio. By the time she got out on a municipal course at 14, she already was far beyond the beginner's stage.

From municipals Alcott moved up to the swank Riviera Country Club, which she now likes to play from the blue championship tees, a choice that takes the creases out of ordinary menfolks' trousers. Riviera has small greens and deep bunkers, which have sharpened her short game. She no longer tries to crush the ball, but averages 220 to 230 yards off the tee, seldom getting into serious trouble. Around the greens, she is an accurate chipper and a confident putter. "I've only been on the tour a short time," she says, "but I feel I'm as good as the rest of them."

To get Alcott started, Keller brought together a group of 15, most of them Riviera members, each of whom put up $1,000 to sponsor her first year. It was a sound investment: with half the year left, her official earnings stand at $18,466, 12th on the money list, $2,000 more than any rookie has ever won in a whole year. She recovered from a first-round 76 to tie for 12th and collect $3,375 in the Dinah Shore Winners Circle in April and tied for second ($4,100) in the Fort Worth Charity Classic a week later. She has a lock on Rookie of the Year honors.

Alcott finds that she is always being measured against Laura Baugh. While she won the U.S. Junior title, Baugh won the more prestigious U.S. Women's Amateur (in 1971), but, says Keller, Alcott "dominated junior golf more than Laura ever did. She is bigger, stronger, and can hit the ball farther." Alcott herself plays down any rivalry, insisting that her sole competitor is herself, and is quick to acknowledge the prominent role Baugh has played in promoting women's golf in the past two years: "Laura is attractive, and the men come out to see a good golf swing go with a good body."

Alcott likes to reel off her hobbies—tennis, gourmet cooking, dancing, mimicry. She can come up with a passable Howard Cosell or Cary Grant, but, if pressed, will bring the house down with her version of Edith Bunker singing Those Were the Days.

Playing the LPGA tour is not exactly ideal for one's social life, but Alcott shrugs it off. "I'm out here to play golf," she says. "I may have given up a lot of things that the typical teen-age girl has, but, on the other hand...." She stops and smiles. Yes, on the other hand, how many 19-year-olds have earned more than $18,000 playing their favorite game over the past six months?

When she is not out on the tour Alcott shares a five-room Santa Monica apartment with her mother, Lea. "I never tried to push her into golf," says Mrs. Alcott. "She did it all on her own. Her goal is simple—she wants to be the best there is."

Walter Keller relishes the fact that his star pupil is still so young. "Most girls don't fully mature until they are about 26," he says. "With that will come greater coordination and strength for Amy." As to Alcott's chances of someday becoming the best there is—well, you might call them super.