The erstwhile short-order cook, Amy Alcott, was standing on the practice green at the Mission Hills Country Club Saturday evening, staring up the Coachella Valley at the setting sun and the swirling dust blown by a rising wind. "The weather's changing," said Alcott, trying to keep the lilt out of her voice. Tomorrow would be another day, a working girl's kind of day, when you could tug at your visor, put your nose to the grindstone and go win $55,000.
Alcott scoots the ball just above the ground, about cactus high, and on Sunday, with the wind howling through the condos of Palm Springs and the sand billowing, she played a thoughtful, patient even-par round of 72 for a 282 total that brought her the Nabisco Dinah Shore Invitational championship.
This was Alcott's third major title—she had won the 1979 Peter Jackson Classic and the 1980 U.S. Women's Open—which puts her only one behind Donna Caponi and Sandra Haynie among active players, and the victory was accomplished in a style uniquely hers. She hung in there, kept plugging away with her short, choppy swing and won by two strokes over Beth Daniel and Kathy Whitworth, about the best of the young and the old in women's golf.
The Dinah Shore has a $400,000 purse, richest on the circuit, and the winner's slice belonged to the 26-year-old Daniel for most of the week. She opened with two 69s, and by the back nine Saturday she seemed to be uncatchable—until she double-bogeyed the par-5 18th by going into the water that guards the green.
Such is Daniel's talent that she spends as much time explaining how she loses as how she wins. She has yet to win a major, although she had her chances to do so at the previous four, and she still carried a two-stroke lead into the final round. But her game is built on rhythm and timing, and in the 40-to 50-mile-per-hour winds that raked the course on Sunday, her long, upright swing was all jerks and sways, instead of slow dancing.
The tournament turned around for Daniel on the 5th, 6th and 7th holes when she visited the water twice and had two double bogeys and a bogey. "If it wasn't the end, it was close to it," Daniel said after struggling home with a 76.
Whitworth, meanwhile, 43 and a pro since 1959, was going after her 85th victory, which would have nudged her past Sam Snead for the most Tour wins by any golfer. But at every opening she closed the door on herself with a bogey. She shot 72 and tied Daniel for second, which was worth $30,845 apiece.
Alcott once described her flamboyant, enthusiastic style as "hitch up my girdle and let it rip." On Sunday she got her teeth into the lead for good on the 12th hole when she hit a five-iron out of a fairway bunker and sank an eight-foot birdie putt while the opposition was making bogeys. From then on, with her fans calling out "Hold the mayo," a reference to her off season job in a Los Angeles sandwich shop, Alcott mimicked her dog, Mactavish, a somewhat arrogant Scottish Terrier. "He knows he's as good as anybody," she says. "He struts his stuff."
The winner put on one final display of shotmaking, on the 15th hole. She drove into the rough. Between her and the green were four trees and two sand traps. Alcott aimed 90 yards to the right and hit a wild, windblown hook. The ball ended up 12 feet from the cup. Mactavish would have loved it.
There's always as much happening off the course at the Dinah Shore as on it, and this year brought an announcement of note: Nancy Lopez revealed that she is two months pregnant. Maybe you missed her divorce from Tim Melton and her marriage to Ray Knight, the Houston Astros' first baseman. There were the usual parties and pro-am high jinks. And there were Aerobics by Astrid, the early-morning workout for the spouses back at the Spa Hotel, plus Harpo, a clown with a lime-green fright wig who never talks and Mr. Peanut, a Nabisco shill who walked around the grounds and also never speaks. Rumor had it that Harpo and Mr. Peanut were one and the same because—Lois Lane, check it out—they never appeared together, but one day Harpo emerged from a phone booth to deny it, emphatically wagging his green head no.
The tournament also had a first, an Easter Sunday sunrise service conducted alongside the 18th green. It was advertised on television, and some 2,000 people, many more than were expected, showed up at 6:30 a.m. A continental breakfast was offered, but supplies ran short. Then, in the spirit of the occasion, a truck with provisions arrived in the nick of time, and the multitudes were fed.
This also was the first Dinah Shore in which amateurs played. Debbie Weldon. a California champion, and NCAA titlist Kathy Baker both made the cut, and the fresh-faced Baker, a senior at Tulsa and low amateur in the U.S. Women's Open the last two years, had the gallery as excited about her model's looks as her game.
Meanwhile, on the course an old campaigner and former Open champion named Sandra Spuzich created a stir the first day when she cruised around in 69 shots, tying Daniel for the lead. Spuzich was set to turn 46 on Sunday and everyone went to the thesaurus to look up the synonyms under sentimental, but Spuzich faded fast. "Sometimes I feel 75 and sometimes I feel 25," she had said earlier. The last three days, the wrinkles were showing as she scored 76-74-79.
And, of course, consistency is what wins major championships, an axiom put into practice by Daniel for three days. While Alcott was regaling the press with her tales of fixing sandwiches and cheesecake at the Butterfly Bakery in Westwood, Calif., an eatery financed in part by Barbra Streisand, and with cute stories of visiting diners on Long Island because she likes to watch short-order cooks with tattoos on their arms "whip it up," Daniel was rolling along, oblivious to the golfers and chefs pursuing her. The weather was calm and Daniel was hot, with those 69s and a lead that stretched to four strokes by the 12th hole Saturday.
"Sometimes you have to wait for the wheels to come off," Alcott would say later. Daniel accommodated her rivals by missing a bunch of birdie putts coming home in the third round and then made a grievous error on the 18th when she let her second shot slip into the rough. She had only 70 yards to the pin, but her ball was sitting down in the wiry grass. "I don't think Jack Nicklaus could have gotten it out of that lie," she said, after dunking the ball.
Daniel's mistake thrust Alcott back in the hunt, and when Alcott awakened Sunday morning and saw the trees swaying in downtown Palm Springs, she realized the wind would be howling at Mission Hills out in the valley.
At the 3rd hole Alcott got another indication that this was her day, when she came out of the long grass and made birdie, hitting a six-iron from the rough to within six inches of the cup. "It's meant for me to win," she told herself.
Alcott says things like that. On her golf bag is a button emblazoned with the words TO THE MAX, and on Sunday she played like someone who can back up her mouth with some golf under pressure. Later she was asked what she planned to do with her winnings. The late Champagne Tony Lema might have talked about throwing a party, but Cheesecake Amy had a sweeter notion. "I'm going to put a down payment on my own bakery," she said.
Alcott's slogan is To The Max, which is how she played as things got tough last week.
On Sunday Daniel's lead went thataway.