When Sandra Palmer made a commercial for a Colgate-Palmolive detergent, she recited the dialogue in her gentle Texas twang.
"Dumb shot! Lipstick on mah nahlon shirt.... Hahm I gonna get that out?"
Now Palmer can throw away that nahlon shirt and buy 100 more, because by the time the Colgate-Dinah Shore Winners Circle LPGA Championship was over she had made only one dumb shot in four rounds and it was on the 72nd hole when it no longer mattered. She blew a 1½-foot putt in front of a gallery of thousands at Palm Springs and several million more TV watchers, but all it meant was she had won $32,000 by one shot instead of two.
Kathy McMullen came closest to catching Palmer, who led all the way, finishing second at 284. McMullen is a tall, strong 25-year-old from Florida who hunts bear in the Everglades and shoots pool to relax. She took advantage of a windless Saturday to fire a competitive course-record 66—as did Sue Roberts the same day—that placed her three shots behind Palmer at the start of the last round. She narrowed the gap to two midway through the back nine on Sunday, but a double bogey on the 14th hole ruined her chances.
Jocelyne Bourassa, a mercurial French Canadian who holds lengthy bilingual conversations with her caddie, the gallery, herself and the ball, made runs at Palmer on Saturday and Sunday, but fell back each day with three consecutive bogies on the back nine. She was within three shots of Palmer at the turn on Sunday, but finished in a four-way tie for sixth at 289, after which she wept on her caddie's shoulder.
Palmer's rounds, 70-70-70-73—283, five-under-par, were a marvel of consistency that reflected two weeks of diligent practice. She arrived in Palm Springs on March 30, and while living in the town-house she owns at a nearby development called del Safari, she played the 6,347-yard Mission Hills Golf and Country Club course every day until the tournament began, accustoming herself to the eccentricities of its nerve-grinding greens and the winds that blow down from Banning Pass and roar across the valley floor nearly every afternoon.
"I don't have a secret," Palmer said, after accepting the biggest prize in women's golf. "I just work hard."
Palmer is only 5'1½", but she has powerful calves and thighs. Her drives average 220 yards, with an occasional 240, and her hard work has earned her 13 tour victories and more than a quarter of a million dollars since she turned pro in 1964.
To understand the importance of the Colgate-Dinah Shore to Sandra Palmer, you have to take into account the fact that the total prize money in the average LPGA tournament is $40,000, with $5,700 for first place, so that winning the Shore is worth approximately 5½ average tournaments. Even fifth place is worth more than first in most events. There are few players who would not rather win the Dinah Shore than the U.S. Open, and the devil take tradition.
"Once you turn pro, it's the money you make that you're judged by," says JoAnne Carner, who won the 1971 Open. "I'd like to see the Open be the most prestigious someday, but it isn't now."
Gratitude plays a large part in the golfers' loyalty to the 4-year-old tournament. "They've done so much for us," says Sandra Post, the blonde, 26-year-old Canadian who last December won one of Colgate's three new tournaments, the $72,000 Far East Ladies' Open in Melbourne.
"They" is really David R. Foster, the 54-year-old president of the $2.5 billion Colgate-Palmolive Company, the man who gave the world Irish Spring. Foster is a Cambridge-educated Anglo-American who once played to a two handicap and who looks like a balding, slightly stuffy British elf. He is a member of the Royal and Ancient and several other golf clubs here and in Great Britain, and he is an all-round sports buff who, according to an assistant, can name the winner of the shotput at the Melbourne Olympics as easily as he can come up with the sales potential of a new liquid detergent.
Foster got into women's sports in 1972 with the first Dinah Shore event. Colgate put up a $110,000 purse, the first six-figure prize money in an LPGA tournament, and Jane Blalock won $20,000. "We felt a larger purse would serve to upgrade women's golf, bring more young players into it and stimulate higher purses all down the line," says Foster. He did not add, but might have, that women's sports were a bargain then and still are.
"Until we got into golf," says Tina Santi, Foster's director of corporate communication, "nobody would touch women's sports with a 10-foot pole. Late last year we bought the women's freestyle ski tour for $90,000 in prize money. Nobody else wanted to sponsor it. We bought half an hour on ABC on Easter Sunday, and the show drew an eight rating, which was 50% better than we or ABC had forecast and which equaled the rating of an NBA game on at the same time." The Dinah Shore ranked sixth last year out of 31 televised golf events, ahead of both the Masters and the men's U.S. Open.
Though Colgate expanded into women's tennis, skiing and track last year and is looking into other sports, it still indulges the LPGA like a favored first child and probably will continue to do so, at least as long as David Foster is in charge. The purse for the Dinah Shore has doubled since 1972; Colgate has purchased the Mission Hills Golf and Country Club where the tournament is played to guarantee the conditioning of the course and to ensure its continued availability; and 36 pros, not just Laura Baugh, have been paid to do TV commercials for Colgate products and promotion for the tournament. Kathy Whitworth, who for eight years was the most successful female golfer in the world, is only lately learning what it is like to be recognized. She is shyly pleased when people recall only that she is "the Ajax lady."
There is concern, however, that the preeminence of Colgate is scaring other sponsors away. "Procter & Gamble, for instance, is a company that has a lot of money to spend on advertising," Palmer said after Saturday's round. "Now maybe they want to get into women's sports, but are scared of golf. Other companies think they're going to have to take a backseat to Colgate. It's unfortunate, but I think Sears might have backed out for that reason."
Sears was the sponsor of one of five $100,000 LPGA tournaments in 1974. Of the five, only the Colgate tournament and the Japan Classic offer $100,000 this year, and total prize money is down slightly from $1.8 million.
"We have to learn how a corporate executive thinks about things," says Carol Mann, the LPGA's unpaid president for the last two years. "We can't just go in and throw a player guide on an executive's desk. We have to get sophisticated." As part of her unending search for additional revenue, Mann is talking to TV people, licensing agents, book publishers and film makers. "We're a $2 million business, and I want to see us do our business in a more businesslike way. We have 120 players depending on us to make their livings." If some of her business ventures produce, particularly TV, Carol Mann may be able to quit selling golf and concentrate on playing it again.
For all its problems, however, the LPGA has made great headway in a relatively short time. Though prize money is down from last year, it is still 53% ahead of what it was only four years ago.
"We are riding the crest of a wave," says Mann, "and our job is to stay on it, because waves like the feminist movement don't come along every day."
For the week of the Dinah Shore, though, the pros are invited to forget their problems and let themselves be pampered like movie stars. Colgate puts them up, if they wish, in a slick Palm Springs hotel called The Spa, pays all their expenses and plans a lavish week of entertainment around them. There are parties every night until the tournament begins, but the style of each is informal and they end early. The pro-am, in which the women are paired with Colgate's other guests—mainly business people important in the Colgate scheme of things—lasts two days, but the prize money is substantial. And best of all, the requisite list of celebrities, without which a respectable pro-am cannot survive these days, excludes comedians. That was David Foster's idea. May he be rewarded in heaven.
"I don't want a lot of gagging-it-up around the course, the way they do at the Crosby and Hope," says Foster. "There's nothing funny about golf." (McLean Stevenson, who is perhaps better known as the late Colonel Blake than as a comedian, was invited. He played it relatively straight, making five birdies while helping Hollis Stacy win the $1,000 first prize on the second day.)
Presumably, as long as people continue to brush their teeth and Colgate's earnings continue to rise and its Nielsens go on outstripping the Masters and the Open and the sun keeps shining in the Southern California desert, there will be a Colgate-Dinah Shore Winners Circle s LPGA Golf Championship for Sandra Palmer and her friends to come home to. And perhaps someday, by way of saying thank you, one of them will think of an even catchier name.