Between the endless rain and the rampant commercialism last week
at the McDonald's LPGA Championship, there was some question as
to whether the tournament deserved major status. Good thing the
loused-up event was won by a player of genuine stature.
Never mind that Laura Davies's even-par total was the highest
winning score in a women's major since 1984. And never mind that
the inclement weather in Wilmington, Del., reduced the event to
54 holes, marking the first time a men's or women's major had
been curtailed. Davies's play was nothing short of redemptive
for herself and the tournament. On Sunday she secured a one shot
victory in raw conditions with a bogeyless one-under 70 in what
she called her finest final-round performance ever. "It was
quite something," she said proudly in perhaps the biggest
understatement of the week.
Bitter 40-mph gusts rendered the 6,386-yard, par-71 DuPont
Country Club a charmless place on Sunday. Water spewed sideways
out of fountains, and litter tumbled down fairways. Every swale
and trough was a morass of mud and standing water. It was a bad
day for waste management, not to mention golf. The final-round
stroke average was 76.1, and 11 of the 79 players who made the
cut failed to break 80.
What wasn't reflected in flat numbers was the Biblically long
day that Davies, the 32-year-old from West Byfleet, England, had
to endure to collect her third major and 43rd victory worldwide.
Rain suspended play late on Saturday afternoon with 69 players
still on the course; they were forced to return early Sunday to
complete their second rounds, some with as many as 11 holes to
play. With only two holes left, Davies was in better shape than
most, but she promptly double-bogeyed the first of them and was
three strokes behind defending champion Kelly Robbins after 36
That double bogey would be Davies's only hiccup on a day that saw
18 players within two shots of the lead at one juncture. Midway
through the final round she was locked in a tie with six others,
including U.S. Open champion Annika Sorenstam. Davies stayed in
contention with steady play. She racked up 15 consecutive pars
before ramming home an 18-foot birdie putt at the par-5 16th.
The lone birdie provided the margin of victory over Julie Piers,
a perennial also-ran who had missed three straight cuts coming
in. "I'll be surprised if anyone looks back on this as not a
proper major," Davies said. "How we ever got in 54 holes defies
So, too, do LPGA officials who have made this major much too
commercial. Ever since the LPGA merged its championship with the
regular McDonald's tour stop three years ago, golden arches have
become ubiquitous. They adorn the tee-box markers. They are
stamped on every concession tent and even on the flags. What
other major permits such a surpassingly vulgar display?
The most important problem tournament officials must address,
however, is the consistently inclement weather at their event.
Wilmington in May is inhospitable, and the storm front that
tormented last week's championship was no freak. This marked the
fourth time in five years that rain has suspended play. And
although there were no delays last year, Robbins won in a cold
drizzle. Perhaps LPGA officials should smell the double
cappuccino sitting under their noses and get out of town, or get
a later date.
The simple reason for staging the tournament in mid-May is to
hold the golf TV spotlight. The LPGA's hand was forced, however,
when, by 11 a.m. Thursday, officials determined that the
rain-soaked DuPont layout would not be ready for play until
Friday. Limited daylight precluded playing 36 holes on any one
day. Extending the tournament to Monday was not an option
because it would have conflicted with an already scheduled U.S.
Women's Open qualifier. Just as important, the LPGA was eager to
crown its champion on national TV on Sunday. Strangely,
assistant LPGA commissioner Jim Webb insisted that a
rain-shortened major was "just not that important."
That's easier to say when you have a Sunday leader board that
includes the likes of Davies, Sorenstam, Patty Sheehan, Betsy
King and Juli Inkster. Then there was the triumphant resurgence
of Nancy Lopez, who held a one-stroke lead when play was
suspended on Saturday and fell out of contention in the final
round only grudgingly. It has been some years since the
39-year-old Lopez figured so prominently in a big event. She has
not won since 1993, and the last of her three LPGA Championships
came in 1989. But last week she predicted that if she continues
to strike the ball so solidly, "I know I'm going to win once,
and maybe more than that."
Lopez admitted that over the past three years she had become
increasingly overweight and unhappy with her game. "I'd almost
say I felt depressed," she says. "I didn't realize that was what
was hurting me." In February she hired a personal trainer and
set out on a grueling exercise regimen and low-fat diet. She has
been working out two hours daily, putting in 60 minutes on a
step machine and another hour in weight training. In five weeks
she lost 30 pounds and felt like a new person. "I could go all
day long," she says. "I could work out, play 18 holes, chase the
kids and still go."
Lopez's new commitment to golf is a rebellion against turning
40, which she will do next Jan. 6. "Ugh, that number," she says.
Still, she hardly qualifies as a senior citizen, and she is
tired of the talk that starts every time a rookie gets even
remotely hot. The latest phenom is 21-year-old Karrie Webb of
Australia, who, with two victories in '96, has drawn comparisons
with Lopez in her rookie year. Never mind that Lopez won nine
times in 1978, including five tournaments in a row. No wonder
such comparisons are faintly offensive to her. "My record stands
where it stands," Lopez says curtly. "Whoever wants to beat
that, good for them."
Lopez clearly has more golf in her. For the better part of two
rounds she walloped the ball off the tee and hit her irons as of
old. She opened with a 70 and was gathering real steam midway
through the second round when play was suspended by cataclysmic
black clouds and thunder. On the par-4 7th she struck an
eight-iron within inches of the cup to move to four under and
into a one-stroke lead. "It felt like I was in the zone, like I
used to be," she said.
Lopez was impervious to the weather, and to her age. "Nothing
bothered me," she said, "except that stinking hole." Indeed,
only the cup finally broke her reverie. Starting at the 9th,
Lopez burned the edge on three consecutive birdie putts. Shortly
after she missed the last one, the siren sounded and play was
halted for the day.
Lopez's mood broke like the weather. She came to the clubhouse
concerned about the missed putts and suddenly all too aware of
her age again. "I'm old compared to the Karrie Webbs," she said.
"They must think I'm ancient. I think about Nicklaus and Palmer.
I know people will say, 'Can she do it? Can she win again?' I'm
not ready for that role."
On the windswept, soaked course on Sunday morning, Lopez gave
back five strokes over her remaining seven holes and finished
with a 73. Her undoing came at the 16th, where she four-putted
from 40 feet for a double bogey. She struggled to a final-round
76. It left her in 18th, but that was something to build on.
Lopez has scheduled 15 tournaments this season, and one of her
goals is to make the Solheim Cup team. If she continues to play
this well, it is a reasonable expectation.
Davies's early-morning double bogey was an equally rude
awakening. With only two holes to play in her second round, she
figured she would make a couple of easy pars, have breakfast and
rest before teeing off again. She trudged to the par-3 8th hole,
her 17th of the round, and dumped a four-iron short of the
green. She chipped to eight feet, then proceeded to three-putt.
"I'm thinking two holes and a bit of brekkie," she said. "It
absolutely gutted me."
But the wake-up call served Davies well. She would not wield her
putter casually again. Four times in the final round she saved
par with putts in the five-foot range. And like last year, the
16th was the pivotal hole. In '95 Robbins beat Davies by a
stroke when she birdied the par-5 while her counterpart was
making bogey. Robbins had already fallen out of contention on
Sunday when Davies lined up the 18-footer on 16 for the lead. "I
figured that hole owed me," she said.
The 399-yard 18th owed Davies nothing, however, and she had to
work hard to avoid a playoff with Piers. Her three-iron from 190
yards drifted left into a greenside bunker. From there she
blasted to eight feet. With Piers looking on from the CBS tower,
Davies curled the ball into the hole, then pistoned her fist in
the air. "It just fell in the front door," she said later.
Piers, a competent player with the usual tumble of hair falling
over her visor, has finished third and second in consecutive
LPGAs. She gazed down at Davies and courteously declared her a
champion. Indeed, Davies had displayed an ability to go one
better than everyone else, even if it meant simply getting to
even par. "First time I got my nose out front all week," she said.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JIM GUND Davies moved up the leader board on Sunday by stringing together one par after another. [Laura Davies]
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JIM GUND Lopez pronounced herself fit and predicted she would win at least once before the year is out. [Nancy Lopez]
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERTO BOREA/AP Players like Val Skinner have learned to take Wilmington's inclement weather in stride.
COLOR PHOTO:It seemed only fitting that it was Ronald who handed over the hardware to Davies. [Man in Ronald McDonald costume kissing and awarding trophy to Laura Davies]