There was a time, four or five years ago, when the new U.S. Women's Open champion was a pudgy, lay-around kind of teen-ager. Golf was something she used to do as a kid. Partying had become her thing. Not golf. Her name was Hollis Stacy, but her friends called her "Spacy."
Last week Hollis Stacy won the 25th Women's Open at the Hazeltine National Golf Club, the same Chaska, Minn. layout that was deemed both unplayable and unprintable back in 1970 when Tony Jacklin topped a blundering field to win the men's Open by seven shots. The 23-year-old Stacy won simply by doing what most of her older associates have never done in the Open: she showed respect for the golf course.
It wasn't until Sunday's final hole—the 72nd of the Open—that Stacy abandoned her conservative game plan, and by that time she could afford to be frivolous. She held a three-stroke lead over her closest challenger, Nancy Lopez, that other girl wonder, who was already in the clubhouse.
And so it was that Stacy, the girl from Savannah, finally did something she hadn't done all week. Hoping for a glorious finish for the folks back home—all nine sisters and brothers, her mother Tillie and her father Jack—to see on television, Stacy tried to make a birdie on the par-4 18th hole. Sure enough, the beastly Hazeltine beat her back, the same way it had routed her rivals in all four rounds, and she closed with a three-putt bogey, only her second of a round that otherwise consisted of pars.
July 31, 1977
Stacy led from the opening day, finishing with a four-over-par 292, two shots ahead of Lopez and three ahead of defending-champion JoAnne Carner, who alone carried the banner for the women pros you probably have heard of.
It may be true that Stacy came out of nowhere to win her first Open—and only the second tournament in her three-year pro career—but she was no stranger to winning golf. "I was a hotshot as a junior," she says, considerably understating the case. In fact, the USGA still cannot get over her feat of winning three straight U.S. Girls' Junior Championships, at 15, 16 and 17. Hollis, however, forgot all that real fast. "When I was 18, I really got into fiddling around," she says. "I completely lost interest in golf, and I guess all I could think about was going to college, getting married and having babies."
This was the same girl whose mother patiently taught her to "swing to the rhythm of The Blue Danube waltz"; the girl who made a pest of herself at the practice tees at the Masters every year while studying classic swingers like Julius Boros and Sam Snead; the girl who ran into the bushes and cried when Snead finally told her to "get lost." This was the diligent little golfer who used to get a big head after winning junior tournaments, until her mother would tell her, "Very nice, Shirley Temple of the Links. Now go clean your room."
By her second year at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., Stacy suddenly found herself 30 pounds overweight after trying to subsist mainly on a Budweiser diet. Then she traveled to the Soviet Union and "saw a lot of kids my age not doing what they wanted. They were just numbers. And here I was messin' around." When she returned to the states, she promptly quit school, drove home to Savannah and announced to Tillie and Jack that she was getting back into golf. "They couldn't believe it," she says. "They said, 'What happened to you over there?' "
Stacy joined the pro tour in 1974 and earned exactly $5,071.25, barely enough to make expenses. She made a total of $49,252 the last two seasons, but this year, helped by a victory in the Lady Tara Classic in Atlanta in May, she was 10th on the money list with $34,449 in pre-Open earnings.
Stacy was a model of steadiness at Hazeltine, working carefully for rounds of 70, 73, 75 and 74. She had vacationed the week before—"just laying back" around the pool at Sandra Palmer's condominium in Boca Raton, drinking Lite beer now and trying to calm her sometimes manic mental game with the help of Peter Kostis, her teacher. Stacy's only trouble came on Saturday, when she blew a two-stroke lead over Lopez with bogeys on two of the first four holes. Then the skies opened, stopping play for 3½ hours. Hollis found a spot to lie down in the locker room and cooled her head, telling herself, "Just play the course, Hollis, just play the course." After the rain she cruised around the rest of the course in one over to take a one-stroke lead over Jan Stephenson—and two over Lopez—into Sunday's final round.
"Everybody is waiting for Hollis to collapse, right?" she said. "Well, I'm loose. I'm swinging the club well. It's not me who's all quiet out there on the practice tee. Usually everyone's joking around. Now it's so quiet. These people must think it's the Open."
The last time Hazeltine had hosted an Open, Dave Hill and friends from the men's tour turned the championship into a laugh-in with their jokes about cow pastures and doglegs. Many of the women pros spent the early rounds of the Open cracking one-liners about Hazeltine, too.
The course's 6,313 yards of twisting, rolling fairways were not only longer and narrower than the setups the women negotiate each week on their LPGA tour, the doglegs were sharper and the greens more heavily bunkered. In sum, the course was a challenge, not one of their pitch-and-putt layouts from short tees.
"The second hole is a broken leg," complained one pro. "The 16th is the world's only dogleg par-3," mumbled another. "Nicklaus can make birdie on 17, and so could I if I could hit a 160-yard nine-iron," groused a third. Even Judy Rankin, the LPGA's second-leading money winner with $90,248 this year, criticized the conditions. "There are a couple of places where if this course were a highway, you might have a wreck," she said. And, when only two players broke par during the first three rounds, there was that annual Open lament, "When the men shoot high scores, everybody thinks the course is tough. When we do it, we're inferior."
Having expected such sentiments, the USGA stood mute—at which it is well practiced. However, if any official had decided to take the radical step of removing his striped tie and loosening his starched white collar, he might have said to the next protester, "Shut up and play." As it was, the USGA's Frank Hannigan said of the women pros, "They think low scores in the agate type on Monday morning is most important. I happen to think that the best thing that can happen to them is for Laura Baugh to win in a halter, even if she shoots 300."
Laura Baugh, of course, did not win, but even Hannigan probably would admit that what developed at Hazeltine was the next best thing. While the starchier veterans such as Kathy Whitworth, Sandra Palmer, Donna Caponi Young and Rankin (who was 12 strokes behind Stacy after three rounds and said, "I'm so frustrated I could eat a tree") got the early tee times on Sunday, the fresh faces of Stacy, Lopez and Stephenson lit up the dreary day and poured color into female golfdom's pallid complexion.
Particularly Lopez, the 20-year-old, dark-eyed beauty who began captivating the Hazeltine crowds on Thursday when she made the turn in her very first professional round at two-under-par 34 and then finished with a one-over 73. For those who were not sure if she was for real—a lady golfer who stops to talk with the gallery between holes, kisses her putter, her ball and her daddy before each round, goes hell bent for every pin, and smiles, no, glows all the time—Nancy followed with a 72 on Friday and a 75 on Saturday.
Born of Mexican-American parents, Lopez grew up in Roswell, N. Mex. She twice won the U.S. Girls' Junior Championship, and as an 18-year-old amateur was co-runner-up to Sandra Palmer in the 1975 Open. Nancy dropped out of college last month, turned professional and joined Mark McCormack's stable of players. Her deal with McCormack for endorsements and exhibitions is reportedly worth at least $50,000 this year, provided she earns her LPGA player card in this week's qualifying school in Perrysburgh, Ohio.
The one doing the least talking and the most practicing at Hazeltine was the 25-year-old Stephenson, the tour's resident sex goddess. She was practicing because "I want everyone to know that I want to be the best, not just the prettiest. A famous writer wrote last year that Jan Stephenson is probably not going to rewrite any LPGA records, and I want him to eat those words. I really don't mind being a sex symbol at all, but I spend much more time on the practice tee than in front of the mirror."
She did not spend much time talking because she was followed by her personal man Friday, a 34-year-old ad guy from Columbus, Ohio named Jim Sims, who was never more than a long, slender, bronzed arm's length away. He came on like a cross between Charles Colson and your favorite used-car salesman possessed of a surefire, red-hot item. "I tell everybody the only difference between Jan and Farrah Fawcett-Majors is that Jan is built better," he said. "She's going to be the biggest star there is."
Fortunately, Jan played some splendid golf. When rain and lightning interrupted play on Saturday, she was three over par for the tournament and two shots behind Stacy and Lopez. While the others waited in the crowded and steamy clubhouse, Stephenson—and Sims, of course—stole over to the house where Jan was staying, right next to the course, and she practiced putting for an hour on the carpet. When play ultimately resumed, Stephenson matched par for the round and closed to within one shot of Stacy.
Perhaps the player Stacy feared most on Sunday was Carner, the long hitter who had already won two Opens. "I just turned an 82 into a 76," Carner said after Saturday's round. Then, looking at the leader board, she noticed she was only four shots back of Stacy. "Hey, I'm not far off. You know, nobody's put any pressure on Hollis yet."
On Sunday Carner and Stephenson both faded early, but Lopez, remarkably cool in the humid 90° heat, tied Stacy for the lead with birdies on the 2nd and 6th holes. Now the pressure was on Stacy. "I felt like a mailman trying to shake a bulldog from my pant leg," Hollis said. Playing smartly and avoiding Hazeltine's disaster spots, Stacy made only one bogey over the first 12 holes. Then, walking up the 13th fairway, she noticed that Lopez had double-bogeyed, going from three over to five over on the leader board. "That was it," said Hollis, who was still at three over par. "I knew I had it won."
When Stacy finished her ordeal she called home and was told that her mother, too nervous to watch the final holes on television, had gone out to pace the Savannah Golf Club course—alone. Then Hollis accepted the USGA's gold medal and the winner's check for $11,000. "I don't know what golf course Dave Hill was playing when he was here in 1970," she said, "but I just played a nice course."