Survivalists, even those among that hearty breed who have never
replaced a divot, would have relished last week's U.S. Women's Open
in the once placid suburb of Kettering, Ohio. Never mind the precise
doglegs and yawning bunkers on a storm-lashed NCR Country Club course
that didn't yield a score lower than 69. We're talking looming
clouds of poison smoke, tree-shattering lightning, an earthquake,
golf carts crashing in the forest and -- close that box, Pandora --
But while the industrious folk residing in and around Kettering
were wondering if they were suffering some sort of divine
retribution, Sally Little and Jane Geddes calmed the turbulence with
some solid golf, proving that chaos need not infiltrate the bucolic
fairways of the mind. On Sunday, after 72 holes, they tied at 287,
one under par, a stroke ahead of Betsy King and Ayako Okamoto.
The final thunder came from Geddes in Monday's 18-hole playoff.
She shot a 71, one under, beating the tiring Little by two strokes.
Thus Geddes became the 11th woman in history to make the Open her
first tournament victory.
Geddes's performance put a different face on a tournament that, at
times, seemed a horror. The diabolical NCR course is tough under any
circumstances, but last week's events forced the players to become
suburban guerillas. The disturbances began Tuesday afternoon as most
of the field played practice rounds. A railroad tanker loaded with
phosphorus derailed in Miamisburg, a city about 10 miles southwest of
the course. When the tank ruptured, its contents ignited and a white
plume of noxious smoke rose into the air, leading to the evacuation
of 30,000 people, the largest evacuation as a result of a train
derailment in U.S. history. Several golfers had to change hotels
because * of the irritating fumes, which lingered for days.
That calamity somewhat overshadowed the buildup to Pat Bradley's
bid for an unprecedented Grand Slam. Bradley won the Nabisco Dinah
Shore in April and the LPGA Championship in June, and needed the Open
and the du Maurier Classic to complete the slam. But she opened at
NCR with a 76 on Thursday, followed it with a 71 and 74, and a
gallant finishing 69 on Sunday could only get her to 290, two over
par, and a tie for fifth.
Beth Daniel had taken a short-lived lead with a first-round 70.
Then on Friday Betsy King and Judy Dickinson went to the front at
143. King, a wiry 115 pounds, is a nine-year veteran and was the
leading money winner in 1984. She swings with as much effort and
hits the ball as high as anyone. The wetter NCR got, the better King
liked her chances.
Two behind at 145 was Japan's Okamoto, who said she lost a shot on
the 12th hole Friday when a fly bit her on the leg as she made a chip
shot. ''Ayako says the flies here eat you,'' said her interpreter and
business manager, Margie Kato.
Saturday for many of the players began with an earthquake at 4:20
a.m. The quake was felt in four states and measured 4.2 on the
Richter scale. ''I laughed when I heard about it,'' said Little, who
slept through the tremor. ''What else could happen?''
Plenty. About three hours later, an NCR security guard skidded and
crashed his motorcycle into the scoreboard in the press tent. And
when a ferocious thunderstorm stopped play later in the day, the
cart bringing Okamoto to shelter skidded and smashed into a tree. She
suffered a bumped head, a bruised thigh and a severe fright. ''She
was more scared than when she saw Poltergeist II,'' Kato said. When
play resumed, Okamoto recovered to shoot a second straight 69, which
featured 23 putts.
That put her at 214, one shot behind the leader, King, who had hit
18 greens in shooting a 70.
Dickinson, now four back, caught the tenor of the week when she
said: ''I'm just going to try to hang close. Maybe the leader will
have a train wreck.''
Even though the sun shone on Sunday, King, playing in the final
group with Okamoto, was derailed by bogeys on the first three holes.
But she responded with birdies on the 7th and 8th to take a
two-stroke lead over Little and Okamoto, who was spraying her irons.
''When I hit iron,'' Okamoto said, ''I say goodbye to ball.''
Sadly, King's short game did her in on the short 14th, where she
exploded 40 + feet short from a greenside bunker and three-putted for
a double bogey.
Now the tournament belonged to Little and Geddes, two very
different types of competitors. Little is a 34-year-old native of
South Africa who won the LPGA in 1980 and the Dinah Shore in '82.
She has fought physical problems -- knee and abdominal surgery -- for
the past three years. Geddes, 26, who hails from East Northport,
N.Y., is but nine years removed from the day she first tried golf.
After a junior tennis career, she needed only one year to go from
being a 90-shooter to a low handicapper at Florida State University.
Now Geddes lives in Dallas, where she works on her shotmaking with
At the start of this season Little had rededicated herself. She
said, ''When I first got sick it made me think, What does golf
matter? But then I realized I had a gift and that I should take
advantage of it.''
When her father and instructor, Percy, died in Capetown at age 77
in March, it gave her even more determination to excel. ''I lost a
very big part of me when he died,'' she said. ''During this
tournament, I could feel him above me, saying, 'All right!' ''
On the final nine Sunday, Little had all of her composure after
being warned for slow play by U.S. Golf Association executive
director P.J. Boatwright on the 12th hole. On the par-3, 185-yard
15th, she moved into the lead with a marvelously played five-wood and
a 10-foot birdie putt. Shortly after, Geddes birdied the 17th to tie
Moments before, Geddes had glanced at the scoreboard for the first
time all day. ''I normally always look at the scoreboard,'' said
Geddes, ''but something was telling me not to, and I'm glad I
Twenty-four hours later, Geddes took a final stroll past the
clubhouse scoreboard. There she gazed upon a result that, for her,
put a wonderful end to one of golf's strangest weeks. END
PHOTOGRAPHS BY JACQUELINE DUVOISIN On Saturday a violent thunderstorm hit the NCR course and turned fairways into rivers.
PHOTOGRAPHS BY JACQUELINE DUVOISIN Geddes survived to win her first event.