Hollis Stacy, the leader in the U.S. Women's Open, came to the 72nd tee in Indianapolis on Sunday afternoon with a one-shot lead over JoAnne Carner. Intent on parring the 310-yard, par-4 hole, she took out a one-iron and then hit a shot so fat that it went no farther than the bottom of the hill at the foot of the tee, approximately 150 yards away. Carner, with whom Stacy was paired, chuckled. "Naw, the Open doesn't bother us," she said to no one in particular. Then Carner took out a three-iron—and her ball landed 20 yards right of the fairway and not much past Stacy's. Between Carner's ball and the pin were the low-hanging branches of half a dozen healthy maples, a steep hillside covered with an acre of heavy rough and the gaping maw of an enormous bunker.
Against rather strong odds, Stacy and Carner both parred the hole. So Hollis Stacy, 24, became the 1978 U.S. Women's Open champion and the fourth player in the tournament's history to win two years in a row. When she had made her four-foot putt for the par, the 5'5" Stacy grabbed her 6'2" caddie, Bill Kurre, and swung herself around his neck, as from a maypole, her Orphan Annie curls bouncing. It was an explosion of exuberance that she had kept stifled throughout the grueling day.
Stacy's winning score, 289, was five strokes over par, and the golf that went into her one-over-par 72 on the last day was shaky. But the tenacity or pigheadedness—whatever it is that makes winners—that enabled her to survive two rain delays, five lead changes and recurring adversity against an opponent of Carner's caliber is what made this Open special in its own way.
Carner, who has won two Opens and five U.S. Amateurs, also shot a 72 on Sunday. She had birdied the 3rd, 4th and 5th holes with iron shots that were dead to the pin and was leading Stacy by a shot when the storm that had delayed their start by an hour and three quarters began to act up again. As thunder rolled across the Indiana cornfields, the sirens that signal suspension of play howled over the course, and Stacy headed for the clubhouse. Carner remained on the sixth tee, chatting with the fans who stood in the rain, bumming cigarettes, making people laugh, trying to stay loose. Twenty-seven minutes later the sirens sounded again, but Carner's hot hand had cooled and she bogeyed two of the next three holes. From that point on it seemed both players were trying to give the tournament to the other. But scoreboards can be misleading. In fact the next 10 holes developed into one of the fiercest head-to-head battles ever waged in women's golf. For example, although Carner went from one shot up to one shot down at the difficult par-4, 14th hole, she came right back on the next tee with an astounding 265-yard drive straight down the middle and tied it up again.
Carner said she had looked forward to her final-round matchup with Stacy. Over the years the two have developed a game within a game when they are paired, awarding points to each other for good shots. When Stacy made a 20-foot putt to save par on the 1st green, Carner said, "That's one point."
"You bet it is," Stacy replied. It was only the first of many key shots for her throughout the long afternoon.
"I think the course is therapeutic because it is difficult," Stacy had said earlier. "When I get on a course that's not very good, that's not tough, I fall asleep. Mentally I must be lazy, like a little kid, but I always seem to do well when there's a tough situation."
By the time the day was over it was clear that even without Nancy Lopez, women's golf might just survive. The Rookie, who had tied for the lead after the second round but then soared to a painful 79 on Saturday, redeemed herself with a 72 on the last day that gave her a tie for ninth with Sandra Post and Peggy Conley. Sally Little scored a 65 on Sunday, the lowest round in the 33-year history of the tournament, then sat in the clubhouse dining room, watching TV and drinking beer while her 290 became good enough for a second-place tie with Carner.
Earlier in the week it had been the heat, not the rain, that had bedeviled the field. Sixty-six players made the cut, all of them within 10 strokes of the leaders.
On Saturday morning the air hung hot. heavy and still over the beauty of the Country Club of Indianapolis, among whose members have been such worthy Hoosiers as Booth Tarkington, James Whitcomb Riley and President Benjamin Harrison. Hallowed though these acres might be, ABC-TV irreverently sawed several branches off a large maple growing at the edge of the 18th green so a camera could pick up the scoreboard near the green. A few people, who were watching the amputation from the shade of what was left of the tree, shook their heads, and the foreman of the grounds crew muttered under his breath, "Just as well cut the whole thing down." But the work continued, July in Indiana being a poor season for outrage.
As the third round began, Lopez shared the lead with 29-year-old amateur Carol Semple, a municipal bonds analyst for a Pittsburgh bank and the 1973 U.S. Women's Amateur champion (she wound up low amateur this year with 297), and Donna Horton White, another former Amateur champion now in her first full year as a pro. One stroke back, at three over, Carner and Stacy were tied with amateur Cynthia Hill from Colorado Springs, the Amateur champion in 1974. And at four over was Donna Caponi Young, the Open winner in 1969 and 1970. Altogether, the names on the 10-line leader boards represented 20 USGA national championships—Lopez with two Junior titles, Semple, White and Hill with one Amateur apiece. Carner with a Junior, five Amateurs and two Opens, Stacy with three Juniors and an Open, Young with two Opens and Laura Baugh with an Amateur. The cream, most of it, was at the top and the churning was about to begin.
Lopez, paired with Carner, left the 1st tee, on the way to her 79, with most of the day's gallery of more than 5,000 struggling along behind. Like a beloved child going off to camp, she was kissed good-by by Tim Melton, a sportscaster from Pennsylvania who seems to have replaced Ron Benedetti in her affections, by Domingo, her father, by Delma, her sister, by Dana, her niece, by Bernie Jr., her nephew, and by half a dozen other people. But it turned into a terrible day for The Rookie. She could not keep her ball on the hard, fast and extremely small greens, and her 79 was her worst score of the year and second worst as a professional. She still managed a smile afterward, but it was a small, wistful smile instead of the blaze that had brightened the skies during her triumphal march through the late spring and early summer when she won five straight.
Carner shot a two-over-par 73, the type of round for which she is famous. There were three bogies and one birdie, but the fun was in the pars she saved when her tee shots went astray—up an adjacent fairway and over some trees onto the 10th green, for instance. Then there was the time she punched a four-iron from a 45-degree angle around a towering sycamore and nearly onto the 5th green. Like everyone else in the tournament, Carner used all the clubs in her bag, Several times.
Donna Young's 68 the first day, which led the tournament by two strokes, seemed at first to serve notice that she was ready to win her third Open. But she wiped out her advantage on Friday with a 78 that left her so angry she couldn't speak for half an hour. "I did not hit a single solid shot or a single solid putt the entire day," she finally said slowly, through clenched teeth. She finished with a 73 and a 75 for 294, giving her a tie for sixth.
The U.S. Women's Open is not the richest tournament of the year, but it matters the most and it always has. Even in the days, not very long ago, when the women were struggling for a living and the USGA was offering a prize of only $55,000 for its championship, compared to $200,000 for the men, and the women players, even the good ones, were saying that the Dinah Shore Winners Circle was the real championship because it was worth $180,000, nobody really believed it. For one thing, national championships are not decided in Palm Springs, site of the Dinah Shore. Lately the USGA has upgraded the Women's Open in large and small ways. The purse this year was $100,000 and next year it will go still higher. TV is paying the Open more mind, too, thanks mostly to Nancy Lopez. But mainly the Open is the Open because it has been won by Patty Berg, Babe Zaharias. Louise Suggs, Betsy Rawls, Mickey Wright and JoAnne Carner. And Hollis Stacy.
Stacy was the survivor in one of the most thrilling head-to-head battles in the history of women's golf.
A third-round 79 put an end to Lopez' title hopes.