SPRIGHTLY BOPPERS AND A COOL GOLDEN SWINGER

The youngsters of the ladies' professional golf tour hardly ever win a tournament—rookies don't in this exacting game—but their exuberant presence is bringing sparkle to the staid LPGA
July 02, 1967

She arrived on the pro tour last March with a white convertible supplied by Lincoln-Mercury, a gold golf bag and golden good looks. And if, to be honest, her golf game still lacks the Midas touch, Sharron Moran is nevertheless the brightest of the bright young things who are making women's professional golf more and more a game worth watching.

Not so long ago the women pros looked like field-hockey players out of Philadelphia, and when sportswriters wrote about, say, Patty Berg, they told how she grew up in Minneapolis playing football with Bud Wilkinson—good old-fashioned tackle football, not the Kennedy kind.

But the outlook may be changing. At the recent Dallas Civitan Open an enthusiastic newspaperman searching for a way to describe Sharron Moran reported, "She makes you think of a Greek goddess," an assessment that is only a slight slander against the good name and good looks of Aphrodite and Pallas Athene. "The Goddess" is the exemplar, the most interviewed and most talked about of the LPGA's young players. But there are plenty of others, not so flamboyant, who are also reshaping the sport. As a group they are lively, lighthearted and appealing, and if, as the older players point out, they are not as dedicated as pro golfers might be, they are bringing some public attention to the tour that it well can use.

Among the group are a homecoming queen—Sandra Palmer from North Texas State University—some teeny boppers (signs on their automobiles read PROTECTED BY BATMAN) and a few incipient capitalists who have parlayed personality into business contracts. Pam Barnett, for example, is a 23-year-old North Carolinian whom the Del Chemical Corp. hired and put on the tour to interest club professionals in its weed killer and bug spray. And 5'2" Mary Lou Daniel convinced a group of Louisville sportsmen who were sponsoring a young boxer that, given the chance, she could be a knockout, too.

Mary Lou must have done a lot of talking, since women's golf is among the hardest of all sports for a rookie to succeed at—far harder, certainly, than the men's golf tour. The rookies usually end up with little more than the key chains, pens, face lotion, suntan oil and charms that say Midland, Texas, which tournament sponsors hand out. No first-year player has won an LPGA tour event since 1961. The top players—Mickey Wright, Kathy Whitworth, Sandra Haynie, Carol Mann, Clifford Ann Creed and Marilynn Smith—so dominate the game that last year they won 29 of the 32 tournaments. These six have been pro golfers an average of nine years.

Discouraging as such statistics are, they hardly seem to matter to the new pros. They arrive on the tour with notions of traveling, of a stimulating life, of being a somebody and perhaps, eventually, of having a powder-blue Cadillac like Mickey Wright's.

A year ago Becky Eismon was a school teacher in Aransas Pass, Texas. She turned professional, she says, because she could make more money playing golf than teaching. Becky won $56 in 1966 and has won barely $100 so far this year; but she still maintains that her theory is right. "Half the players on the tour make more than $10,000 a year," she says, "and that is twice a schoolteacher's salary."

Nor does the pleasure of travel prove to be quite what it might seem when viewed from Aransas Pass. The pros drive from golf course to motel room to another course to another motel room. While the men are playing at places like Pebble Beach and Palm Springs and Doral, the girls are collecting match-books and laundry stubs in Waco, Worcester and Shreveport.

It takes the enthusiasm of youth to exact a full measure of pleasure from this kind of touring. "Traveling around you learn things about different parts of the country," 19-year-old Candy Phillips says. "Like up North you don't get many tomatoes, and they put butter on hamburgers, not mayonnaise. And we see the sights sometimes. Last year when we were playing in Caldwell, Idaho they had a cocktail party for us downtown, so we got to go all over Caldwell. Of course, some places disappoint you. I won my first check, $50, in Spartanburg, and I wanted to buy everyone dinner. But South Carolina has blue laws, and the only place we could find that was open was Colonel Sanders Kentucky Fried Chicken."

For many rookies, tour glamour is no better than the Late Late Show, and many is the night that the peaches and cream of the LPGA has watched breathless as William Holden takes Grace Kelly into his arms and murmurs, "Five months ago I kissed a woman. Now I love her.... "So much for glamour.

Carol Mann, who turned professional at 19, says, "You spend most of the first two years on the tour adapting to a different world and trying to find a group in which you feel secure. I was like an overgrown teddy bear (she is 6'3"), and I wanted to be liked by everyone. I raced from group to group. It wasn't until much later that I felt accepted and could really concentrate on my golf."

This transitional period is difficult, and the answer to it for most of the young players has been to band together in a quasi-sorority and take comfort in each other's successes, minimal though they may be.

Donna Caponi, who became a pro two years ago, remembers driving to her first tournament from her home in Los Angeles and crying almost all the way. "I thought I would never see my family again," she says. "I'd never been away from home, and you know how close Italian families are. Even now I still get homesick, and I cry when I leave to join the tour every spring."

It is their lack of confidence that prevents the young players from scoring well. Only three times last year did one of the rookies manage to finish in the top 10 in a tournament. Mary Lou Daniel recalls shooting 72-72-82 in Toledo. "The day I shot the 82," she says, "I was planning to use a three-wood on the first hole, but the girl I was paired with pulled out her driver, and I immediately began wondering why I was using a three-wood. I switched to my driver but tried to hold back on it, because I knew it was the wrong club. Everything went wrong from then on."

Another problem the younger players have is more fundamental. "When they first come on the tour," Carol Mann says, "they have what I call a summertime golf swing. It is what an amateur needs to play in the summer tournaments, but it will not stand up to 30 weeks of professional competition." Their machinelike swings are the major factor in the consistently good finishes of the best players. Last year, for instance, Kathy Whitworth was in the top 10 in 30 of her 31 tournaments.

A newcomer who just might break the relatively staid and settled pattern of LPGA life is Sharron Moran, who is 24 and holder of a master's degree from San Diego State College. Starting from the viewpoint that pro golf success in this decade is not entirely a matter of how much time you spend on the practice tee, she has quickly developed other aspects of a financially sound golf career.

Of all the rookies now on the tour she is the only one who has had the cool to go it alone. "I don't need the group bit," she says. "I was thinking about getting married, but I decided to forget security for a while and play golf." In Dallas, on the same night that other young players were congregating in motel rooms and discussing, among other things, their "sex symbol," as they call Sharron, The Goddess herself was off having dinner with, as she described him, "a shy assistant pro." They shot some pool, and she played the guitar for him.

The following afternoon a Chicago lingerie manufacturer flew into Dallas to offer her a contract as a girdle consultant. "I've got to think about it," Sharron said. "I'm not so sure I want to be thought of as driving down the fairway in my swingingform bra." She has signed a contract with Lincoln-Mercury, and last April she appeared in Las Vegas, along with Arnold Palmer and Bart Starr, at a large Lincoln-Mercury outing.

While still an amateur Sharron was named the Most Beautiful Golfer by Golf Digest, and ever since she appeared in its pages doing exercises in a gold sweat suit she has been consciously cultivating, as she calls it, "the beauty bit." She has let her blonde hair grow long and wears Garbo sun hats "to prevent my face from turning to leather." She realizes better than anyone that there is as much money in her image as in her golf, which is technically sound and enhanced by unusual competitiveness, but is far from Wright yet.

To her fellow competitors and to the LPGA's tournament director, Lennie Wirtz, Sharron is a little too nonconformist for comfort. LPGA members have been known to begin an interview with the statement, "I don't know whether I should talk to you now. I've had one drink." They are conscious of their image right down to their golf socks—not long ago Sandra McClinton was told to stop wearing anklets. "We have our ways of changing a person," a senior member of the LPGA said recently. "In two years Sharron will be different."

Maybe so, but probably not. A few months ago she was playing a practice round with some club members and Lennie Wirtz. Wirtz grew increasingly concerned when he found Sharron standing rather close to him. Finally, he reached down and grabbed hold of her golf shoe. "Oh," he said in mock amazement, "I thought it was a tree stump."

"You could do with more tree stumps like me out here," Sharron replied.

Sponsors and manufacturers must agree. When Sharron packs up her gold golf bag after a tournament, it goes into the trunk of that free Mercury. And when asked what kind of contract she has with Lincoln-Mercury, she answers, "the same as Arnold Palmer's." There is a basket of lively kittens on the LPGA tour, and one of them seems to be a special breed of cat.

PHOTOJAY MAISEL PHOTOJAY MAISELTHE GODDESS, Sharron Moran, has decided key to LPGA success may be "beauty bit." PHOTOJAY MAISELPAM BARNETT GOT HER TOUR BACKING BY ANSWERING CHEMICAL COMPANY AD PHOTOJAY MAISELCANDY PHILLIPS TURNED PRO AFTER HIGH SCHOOL PHOTOJAY MAISELMARY LOU DANIEL IS SPONSORED BY A LOUISVILLE GROUP, A LA ALI PHOTOJAY MAISELBETSY CULLEN THINKS TOUR MAY HAVE TOO MUCH OF A "HOUSEWIFELY LOOK" PHOTOJAY MAISELLESLEY HOLBERT JOINED LPGA AT 20 WITH NO MAJOR TOURNAMENT EXPERIENCE PHOTOJAY MAISELYOUNGEST PRO on the tour today is Kathy Ahern, 18, who won 1966 Western Junior.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)