Skip to main content
Original Issue

Donna was prima in the Dinah

Donna Caponi Young won the richest event on the women's tour, but the one having the worst prospect for enduring

From Sandra Palmer's 30 on the front nine on Thursday until Donna Caponi Young completed her 13-under-par 275 on Sunday, the Colgate-Dinah Shore Winners Circle record book and Palm Springs' Mission Hills golf course took a beating. The desert wind, which customarily springs up in the early afternoon and serves as the protector of par on the 41 golf courses that green California's Coachella Valley from Palm Springs east to Indio, hardly made itself felt for three of the four days of the tournament. And on Saturday, when the wind finally blew hard for a couple of hours, it had no noticeable effect on the players, although it whipped up a beige fog of dust and sand that obscured the San Jacinto mountains, sent a large umbrella 100 yards into a lake behind the 18th green and played havoc with wearers of contact lenses.

Young, who had started the day in a four-way tie for the lead with Jane Blalock, Pat Meyers and Amy Alcott, was on the 8th hole when the wind sprang up. It bothered her so much that she birdied the 8th, eagled the 9th and birdied the 10th to take the lead alone for the first time.

From that point on, Young, with only Alcott in close pursuit, left the rest of the field far behind. She led Alcott by one and everyone else by at least five strokes after the third round, and on Sunday she faltered only twice, the first time when she bogeyed the 10th hole and the second when she bogeyed the last hole, by which time it no longer mattered. All it meant, in fact, was that she broke the tournament record by one stroke instead of two.

"Donna was awesome today," said Alcott, who had tied her three times during the final round, only to bogey the 15th and 18th and lose by two strokes. Alcott was speaking in the press tent. A voice from the rear shouted, "I was awesome all week!" Unbeknownst to Alcott or anyone else, Young had hidden herself behind a curtain. Alcott didn't bat an eye. "No you weren't," she said. "You were consistent all week. You were awesome today."

Consistent Young was. Awesome, too. She missed only two greens on the final day in spite of the pressure imposed by a prestigious tournament that she had never won and the lure of a $37,500 first prize—more money than had ever been within her grasp. In fact, Young missed only five or six greens all week. But she was proudest of her putting. Her mentor is Dave Stockton, and the two had talked about putting on the phone for 20 minutes the night before the last round.

She also discussed every putt at length with her young caddie, Dana Derouaux. Their mouths could be seen moving furiously and usually simultaneously every time they lined one up. Young recently underwent an operation on her noble Italian nose to correct a deviated septum. At one point on Sunday when the pressure was makin it hard to breathe, Derouaux said, "Breathe through your new nose!" "I can't," she wailed.

During the final round, Alcott wore her lucky Dodger cap, one she has had since she was nine years old, but it didn't do the trick. She did, however, have the satisfaction of shooting the low round of the week on the second day, a 65 that tied the tournament record, and she also took home $24,500, which will probably cover the down payment on her new condominium in Santa Monica.

The long-awaited head-to-head confrontation between 41-year-old JoAnne Carner and Nancy Lopez-Melton again failed to materialize. Carner had played eight of the nine events on the schedule and had won four of them, and she was tired. "Age has nothing to do with it," she said after she had missed the cut for the first time in her life the week before the Dinah Shore. "I was burned out mentally." She had gotten off to a similar start last year, and then, too, there had been the delightful prospect of a rousing fight for No. 1 between Carner and Lopez-Melton. But in May, when Carner had already won three tournaments, she took a bad spill off her motorcycle near her fishing cabin on the Tellico River in Tennessee. When her husband found her, she was standing dazed in the middle of the road, blood streaming down both arms and one side of her face, holding her Honda Trail 90 and saying, "It won't start." Don Carner later determined that she had had to haul the 125-pound bike 15 feet up a steep, muddy embankment to get to where she was standing. Injuries to her wrists kept her off the tour for most of the rest of the year.

Lopez-Melton, meanwhile, after a golfless winter, started the season slowly but picked up the pace when the tour reached California in early March. She finished fourth in Los Angeles, second in Las Vegas and then won her first tournament of the year, the Women's Kemper Open in Costa Mesa, Calif. She was having uncharacteristic difficulties, however, in dealing with her slow start. "When I was playing poorly I could feel the vibrations of the people and what they were thinking," she told a Los Angeles Times reporter at Costa Mesa. "They're not against you, but they think every shot is easy, and when you miss it, they say, T don't know how you missed that shot.' That's really aggravating."

The only cloud hanging over the tournament, which was played under an otherwise blue sky, was whether or not it might be the last. Colgate-Palmolive, the founder of the event in 1972 and owner of the course on which it is played, was rumored to be about to abandon its baby.

To many players, Young among them, the association of the LPGA with Colgate is as important emotionally as it is financially, and the prospect of the two parting ways is almost unimaginable. The Palm Springs tournament is not only the richest on the U.S. LPGA schedule, but also the one true glamour event the women play all year, a sort of cross between the Masters and the Crosby, a week-long fling in a California resort at the height of the season with trimmings unrivaled anywhere on any tour—a good, well-groomed golf course, plush accommodations, lavish parties under the desert stars and the kind of hospitality that has traditionally made the golfers feel at least as important as the aging TV figures, over-the-hill athletes and ex-Presidents who are known generically as "celebrities" at California golf tournaments.

For the veteran players the tournament symbolizes the LPGA's breakthrough into the big time. In 1972, under the guidance of President and Chief Executive Officer David R. Foster, Colgate became the first major corporate patron of women's professional golf. Foster and Colgate gave the LPGA its first $100,000 purse and its first nationwide promotional push with a series of TV ads for Colgate products that made household faces out of women golfers who previously had been only names in agate type in the sports section. Colgate and Foster didn't create the LPGA tour, but their corporate weight did establish its credibility as a business proposition.

From women's golf, Colgate moved on, in the late '70s, into men's and women's tennis with the Colgate Grand Prix and the Colgate Series, respectively, and into men's golf with the Colgate Hall of Fame Classic at Pinehurst. But the fondest commitment, at least in Foster's eyes, was always to the LPGA.

Then, in January 1979, all that changed. Foster was removed from his job and replaced by Keith Crane, a man who, like Foster, had risen through the corporate ranks but who had emerged at the top with a different set of priorities. Quickly Colgate began to divest itself of its involvements in professional sports. Last year saw the end of three of Colgate's women's golf tournaments, worth a total of $400,000 in prize money.

But the new management couldn't seem to make up its mind about what to do with its flagship event, the Dinah Shore, which, among other things, had the fourth-highest rating among all televised golf events last year, men's and women's. Colgate vacillated until last August before announcing it would sponsor the tournament at least once more and then review the matter of its continuing involvement.

It is a serious matter indeed. Only during the first four months of the year do people watch golf on television in numbers sufficient to cause a stir along Madison Avenue, where decisions about how to spend advertising money are made. In order, the four highest-rated televised golf shows of 1979 were the Bob Hope Desert Classic in January, the Bing Crosby Pro-Am in February, the Masters in April and the Colgate-Dinah Shore the week before the Masters. Once spring arrives, those who care about golf tend to play it rather than watch it, with the result that even an event as prestigious as the U.S. Open in June doesn't draw flies on television.

The dates of the Colgate-Dinah Shore are particularly desirable to the LPGA because they are opposite the Greater Greensboro Open on the men's tour, which isn't covered by network television. The women have the airways to themselves and, because of that, get their best national exposure of the year.

Last week, as the tournament got under way, so did negotiations between LPGA Commissioner Ray Volpe and Jack Grimm, Crane's vice-president for sports and recreation. Rumors flew through the condominiums, one of them being that Crane wants to move the tournament to a summer date on the East Coast, closer to Colgate's corporate headquarters in New York City and farther away from Foster, who now lives on the edge of the Mission Hills course. Another story was that four acceptable sponsors, including Honda and McDonald's, are ready to move in the minute Colgate relinquishes the tournament and that all four are prepared to invite Foster to run the show. Foster himself, puttering around his antique shop on Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs' main drag, had this to say: "If Colgate isn't going to do it right, they should let it go and let someone else come in and do it the way it should be done."

By Saturday there was at least an indication of movement, if not progress. Colgate agreed to reach a decision within 10 days. One company official said the situation was looking good, that Crane now had a better idea of what the tournament was worth to the company and that three of his vice-presidents had submitted memos favorable to retaining it.

Which should make Young, and all the rest, breathe a bit easier.


Young and her caddie had a nose for the greens, but Alcott blew key putts on the final round.