Thirteen was a very unlucky number for Amy Alcott during last week's U.S. Women's Open at the Salem Country Club in Peabody, Mass. On Friday the 13th, on the 13th hole, she made a bogey by missing a putt she estimated was a foot long, but which probably measured 13 inches. All tournament she was doggedly pursued by third-year pro Rosie Jones, who was born on Friday the 13th. On the final hole Sunday, needing a par 4 to force a playoff, Alcott pulled out a metal wood with a 13-degree loft, hooked the ball into no-woman's land and made a double-bogey 6. But most damaging of all, Hollis Stacy holed a seven-iron for an eagle 2 Sunday on—you guessed it—the 13th hole and used that miracle as a springboard to her third Open title.
It all seemed a little eerie, considering that the 32nd Women's Open was played about a five-iron from where 19 women were hanged in 1692 because they allegedly were witches. But Salem's members are secure enough with history that their logo is the figure of a witch flying on a broom, and besides, real witches say there's nothing ominous about the number 13. "Numbers are not evil," said Laurie Cabot, the official witch of Massachusetts, during a visit to the Open. "It's what people do with them."
Stacy's numbers (74-72-75-69=290), were good for a one-shot win over Jones and two shots over Alcott and Lori Garbacz. Stacy, who had won the Open in 1977 and 1978, came from five shots behind in the final round, and it was her 123-yard seven-iron from deep rough on the 341-yard 13th that did the biggest number on the field. Confronted by a tree limb, Stacy had to keep the ball low, and she struck it perfectly. The ball landed 20 yards short of the green, bounced hard off the firm fairway and rattled off the pin before dropping into the cup. That put Stacy into a tie for the lead.
"It might be what we play golf for, but it's such a weird feeling to watch the ball go in the hole like that," she said afterward. "I was really excited, but I was thinking, 'Forget it. Forget you even made it.' "
And she did. Stacy birdied the par-4 16th, and then, needing a par 4 on the 18th to remain tied with Jones and Alcott, who were playing behind her, she hit a bad tee shot into the right rough but chopped a six-iron onto the green and two-putted from 25 feet. And then she stood alongside the green and watched first Jones and then Alcott fail to make their needed pars.
It may well have been the most tightly contested final round in the history of the Women's Open. Stacy's eagle was only one of a series of dramatic hole outs that led to five women sharing the lead at some point on Sunday. It started with Jones chipping in from 50 feet on the first hole for a birdie to tie third-round leaders Alcott and Donna White at two over. Then Betsy King downed a 120-yard nine-iron for eagle at the short par-4 4th to tie Alcott and Jones. After Stacy eagled the 13th, Alcott, playing two groups behind her, answered with a 30-foot chip on the 12th hole for a birdie that put her back in the lead.
For Alcott, the 1980 Open champ who paced the field for nearly the entire tournament, that shot was her last hurrah. Though she had vowed to knock down the pins in the final round—"I'll be able to buy them a new set if I win," she said—her swing already was becoming undone. She hit only two of the final 10 greens in regulation.
Playing between Stacy and Alcott was Jones, who matched the two former Open champions shot for shot. But needing only a par at the 18th to tie Stacy, she pulled a seven-iron long and left, chipped well past the pin and made a bogey. "I feel great," she told the press later with honest enthusiasm. "I think I had a real good performance. You know—darn—I just didn't win."
For her part, Alcott says she was thinking birdie when she stood on the 18th tee, tied for the lead. But her already abrupt swing became even shorter and faster, causing the pull-hook that ended at the base of a stand of evergreens. She had no shot for the green, just a safety chip into the fairway. Her third shot rolled over the green, and when her chip came up short, Stacy was the champ—again.
"I'm very disappointed, because I think I was the player to beat this week," said Alcott. "On 18, it wasn't nerves. I just didn't make a good swing."
Salem tolerated only good ones that were tempered with good judgment. The players' strategy was simple: Leave all approaches below the pin. And no slick downhill putts. Designed by Donald Ross in 1925, Salem is a gem cut out of New England forest and rocky turf with gentle slopes amid pastoral scenery. For the Open, the USGA left the fairways relatively wide and the rough punishing but playable. In the truest tribute, none of the players had anything bad to say about the course, even though the lowest scores it yielded during the week were four 69s, including Stacy's final round.
Alcott had no aversion to the metaphysical aspects of the place and even liked the witch logo. "That witch is on her broom going straight ahead," she said on Friday, "and that's where I'm going."
The same could have been said of Jones. A 24-year-old, 115-pound wisp who charmed the gallery with a tough-broad walk, an occasional cigarette dangling from her lips and a white fedora, Jones played with both the touch and guts of a safecracker. Two weeks before the Open, she had come close to her first LPGA win; she led by two strokes going into the final round at Hershey but finished tied for fourth. She went to a farm in upstate New York to reflect on the experience. "I knew if I got into a similar position, I'd react better," she said. "I just felt so good out there."
So did Stacy, for the first time in a long while. Her last win had been in the 1983 Peter Jackson Classic in Montreal. This year she was 33rd on the money list before collecting the $36,000 winner's check in the Open. People were beginning to think that at 30 years old, maybe the former prodigy, who had won three straight U.S. Girls' Junior Championships, had lost her competitive edge.
"I tried not to read all the articles that have said I'd lost interest and was over the hill," Stacy said, "but it got to me. I think it made me work harder."
At a tournament in Toledo the week before the Open, Stacy strengthened her grip and it seemed to put her swing back in the groove. Still, she was putting horribly. After the third round, in which she hit every fairway and still shot three over par, Stacy was told by her friend Helen Sobin, an amateur from nearby Newton Centre, Mass., to widen her putting stance. It worked. On Sunday she holed birdie putts of 30, 25 and 16 feet to go with her eagle. Still, she averaged 31 putts a round.
Before the final round, a confident Alcott said, "The only person who can beat me is me." But Stacy has a history of defeating Alcott, going back to the '69 and '71 national junior tournaments. The two are friends, and when they were paired on Saturday, Stacy encouraged Alcott before the latter holed a downhill 50-footer on the 9th, saying: "I'll pick it out of the hole for you." Which she did. But Stacy, who says, "When she's on, Amy is definitely the toughest competitor out here," made no such offer on the 72nd hole as Alcott stood over the chip shot she had to hole out—or else. "I was expecting her to make it," said Stacy, who didn't look up until the ball stopped short. But Alcott was destined for 292. After all, those numbers add up to 13.
Stacy's game didn't putter out on Sunday.
Hats off to Jones, who left the farm to make a strong run.
Alcott played boldly but came undone at 18.