Long before it is dark or even cool enough for the oompah band to come onto the stand and play the requests, the action in Snyder Park is full and sweet. Cars are pulled into the shade to be Simonized, picnic baskets are undone, teeter-totters are given full play and over on the course the Ajax Auto Wrecker guys, dragging their wheel carts behind them, come home to the accompaniment of the 6:00 bells from the Ohio Masonic Home. Though the Wreckers stand last in Snyder Park's Independent League, they are moving up on Falstaff and Blatz and may yet catch powerful, league-leading Dean's Movers.
Last weekend, however, Snyder Park was closed to public play, and the pursuit of Dean's Movers had to wait upon another game in Springfield, Ohio, the Ladies' World Series of Golf.
Springfield is an International Harvester town. It is proud to be the birthplace (1902) of the 4-H Clubs, and it is a place that evokes memories of Robert Preston marching down Main Street with Marian, the librarian, and 76 trombones. In it there is also a restaurant that just recently removed filet mignon from the menu because it would not sell. "Well," said the owner, "we aren't Dayton."
After three years of bizarre happenings, anyone concerned with the Ladies' Professional Golf Association image has to be wishing Springfield was Dayton or Cincinnati, or Prague, or anywhere. "We're here out of loyalty, or something like that," said Lennie Wirtz, the LPGA tournament director. "But I don't know how long we'll be able to stay."
The tournament, which matches the winners of the top three women's tournaments, plus the defending champion and two other leaders from the money list in a two-day 36-hole set for $35,000 in prize money, started three years ago in the red and has gone straight down from there into hard crimson. Originally, it was sponsored by 13 local businessmen who, in ample consideration of their zesty handling of the event, were called "The Trembling Thirteen." They published a statement, ipso post fiasco, to the effect that they had "lost" $19,000. Last year, after the tournament had been moved from the Springfield Country Club to Snyder Park—the club's membership did not appreciate sacrificing weekend Scotch-foursome time—the Junior Chamber of Commerce took over sponsorship and, with Shell Oil and Lincoln-Mercury helping to share the deficits, managed to lose only $2,200. Shell and the Fraternal Order of Eagles ("Champion Aerie No. 397") were aiming for minus $9,000 this year.
The problems are that an anticipated televison contract has never materialized, other large-business interests have shunned the tournament and so have people. The community has not exactly knocked itself out helping, either. Last Thursday afternoon found Wirtz hammering out-of-bounds stakes, lining drop areas and searching for boundary ropes and scorecards all by himself. "We didn't even have ticket takers the first year," he said, "but this is ridiculous."
The course, itself, was doing nothing to save the day. Highway construction that had piled towering mounds of dirt along two fairways and had backed up the water levels in the area left Snyder Park's 18 holes in dreadful shape. Much rain during the last month and 700 pounds of lime poured out to mark all the poor spots helped further to turn the course into a Toonerville Trap.
To the contestants, even the money in this richest of all women's tournaments—first place is worth $10,000—was becoming something of a bore. The field included four girls who had played in the World Series each year—Mickey Wright and Sandra Haynie from the money list, defending champion Kathy Whitworth and Canadian Open winner Carol Mann—and the two surprise winners of the tour's big events, Susie Berning, the Women's Open champion, and Sandra Post, the rookie who won the LPGA Championship.
"It's still a whole new experience playing for all that money," said Miss Mann, who has won seven tournaments and leads the LPGA this year in earnings. "But those of us who've been here each time are conditioned now. It takes a mental adjustment and, when we get adjusted, it's not so fascinating anymore."
"I think we've put so much prestige into the World Series," said Sandra Haynie, "that we think more about playing and winning than about the money. It doesn't awe us the way it used to."
For Mickey Wright, even the winning no longer seemed especially important. Deliberately forfeiting her preeminent position in women's golf as her interests have expanded into other areas, she has been competing infrequently for the past couple of years. She has found domestic tranquillity around her new house in Dallas, where she raises periwinkles in the courtyard. "I know it's wrong to be doing something you're not all gung-ho and excited about, but that's the way it is," she said at Springfield. "My feeling here is just that the $3,000 for sixth place isn't bad pay for a week's work. That's a horribly unproductive attitude, but I have so little drive left to push myself at all. Even my swing has become strange and unfamiliar. My feelings here are just a culmination of my attitude on the tour."
Of all the participants, probably the most surprising was 20-year-old Sandra Post. A sprightly redhead from Canada who learned the game from her father at home in Oakville, Ont. and on their yearly vacations in Florida, Miss Post joined the tour just last March. Four months later she was LPGA champion when she beat Miss Whitworth in an 18-hole playoff by seven strokes.
"I was lucky," she says. "You have to be lucky to shoot a 68 and chip in twice. I knocked in one blind shot from the other side of a hill, 50 yards away."
"Post-O never gets tense about anything," said her roommate on tour, Renee Powell, who drove down from her home in East Canton, Ohio to watch the tournament. "She won't choke up here."
Indeed, Miss Post won most of the Springfield hearts available when she took an early lead in the first round with a birdie on the 2nd hole. Playing with Whitworth and Haynie, she remained one under par until she bogeyed the 9th and then fell back of Miss Whitworth, who was three under.
At that point it appeared as if the threesomes were playing two separate tournaments. Up ahead of the leaders, Miss Mann had run into three straight bogeys and Miss Wright had an eight on No. 4, after hitting out of bounds. She never did recover, ending the day with a 78. "She looks like she just doesn't care," said one onlooker. Others agreed. Miss Mann made a furious charge at the end of the day by finishing birdie, birdie, eagle for a two-under par 70. Kathy Whitworth led with 69, and Sandra Haynie came in at even par 72. The two newcomers, Post-O and Susie Berning, both finished with 73s.
"I like my position," Miss Mann said, while practicing her chipping and putting for an hour after everybody else had gone home. "I get to play offense now, and Kathy's on the defensive. I play better that way."
The next day Miss Mann passed Miss Whitworth early, but she bogeyed 10 when her tee shot went under a tree and 13 when she hit into the sand. Miss Whitworth, meanwhile, birdied 10, 11 and 13, and that was the tournament as she finished four strokes in the lead with a 138 total. The winner's victory check was presented by Mayor Betty Brunk. In Springfield, you see, winners and mayors are ladies.