Sandra Post chipped away at the Nancy Lopez legend last week, beginning the Colgate-Dinah Shore Winners Circle tournament as a woman scorned, at least in her own mind, and then going on to beat a host of real and imagined opponents to win the $37,500 first-place prize.
Post was a survivor in Palm Springs. All week people waited for the wind to blow, and Post to be blown away with it. Neither happened. The veteran golfer shot a final round of 70 to finish at 276, 12 under par on the docile Mission Hills course. That figure beat the tournament record by seven strokes, and Lopez by one, and put to rest Sandra Post who under pressure held her putter like a vacuum cleaner and had a reputation for faltering and finishing second. Post now has won the richest prize in women's golf two straight years. "My major," she calls the championship. No more twitches for Sandra.
Besides the money, the win gave her a great amount of personal satisfaction, especially because of an incident that might be termed the Great Program Flap, and because she had to beat Lopez to win. All through the week, the two matched birdies around the course, and were tied coming down the stretch Sunday following Post's chip in from 35 feet at the 12th hole.
And with Mission Hills' most difficult stretch of holes still remaining, it was assumed that Post would fold. This time it was Lopez who lost her gyroscope, sailing a four-iron shot well to the right of the par-3 17th and bogeying the hole. Meanwhile, on the hole behind, Post was watching a birdie putt approach the edge of the cup, and, as she said, "make a last-minute decision to go in." When the ball toppled, so did Lopez' chances.
Nancy had to settle for the second-place check of $24,500, and Pat Bradley, who shot a 69 in the final round, and Donna White, with a 70, shared third place at 281, earning $15,000 apiece.
These figures are noteworthy because they underline the fact that the women's tour is paying its own way; record crowds turned out for the Winners Circle. On Sunday alone, 29,000 fans were on hand. And a big reason was Nancy Lopez, who shared or was only a stroke off the lead every day.
Lopez and Colgate are responsible for adding luster to women's golf, because each has propelled the tour to new heights, one by means of a checkbook, the other using a scorecard.
David Foster became the fiscal angel for women's athletics eight years ago when he instituted the Dinah Shore, the first $100,000 LPGA tournament, and he got the company involved in other women's golf events, as well as in skiing, track and tennis. But Foster resigned as president and chief executive officer of Colgate earlier this year and was replaced by Keith Crane, known as a bottom-line executive who is expected to pull the company back to the motherlode of detergent sales. Last week, some of the players thought it ominous that the balls on the practice range had a red stripe painted around them, an economy move. Early last week, Ray Volpe, the commissioner of women's golf, said that he had not yet met with Crane, although the LPGA had signed a contract with Colgate for the 1980 Dinah Shore. "After taking eight years to build this monument, it would be a shame to give it up," Volpe said. When Volpe took over as commissioner in mid-1975, only two women's events were on the tube. This year there will be at least a dozen, and the ratings are healthy, a good indication that, with a bona fide star like Lopez, the LPGA doesn't need Colgate as much as it once did.
Someday the movies will do Lopez' life story. Right now she is living a Hollywood script: a small-town girl of Mexican descent, with a widowed father, Domingo, who taught her the game when he wasn't busy running an auto body shop in Roswell, N. Mex. Lopez won nine tournaments in her rookie year and came to the Dinah Shore with a 1979 record that included two victories, two seconds and a tie for ninth in five starts. Since turning professional she has played in 38 events, winning 11 of them and finishing second eight times.
To the rest of the players she is a big pain in the neck, whether she is winning a tournament or not. The question now is not so much whether Lopez can be beaten, but whether she has intimidated the other women. NBC devoted itself to that notion recently when it interviewed the players during a telecast. And two weeks ago, when Nancy lost the Kemper Open to JoAnne Carner in a playoff, there was cheering in the locker room (as there has been on the PGA Tour when Jack Nicklaus misses a putt).
On Wednesday, the day before the start of the tournament, Fred Robledo wrote a story in the Los Angeles Herald Examiner about jealousy on the women's circuit over Lopez' success. The headline was: FOR LOPEZ, IT'S GETTING LONELY AT TOP. That evening Post skipped the pretournament party, even though she was to be feted as defending champion, leaving Crane clutching a microphone and asking, "Is Sandra Post here yet?" while lamely holding aloft an oil portrait of her. Post, her friends said, was miffed because her picture wasn't on the cover of the tournament program—Lopez' was—and because she wasn't invited to play in the pro-am group of Gerald Ford and Dinah Shore—Lopez was. In the past, the defending champion has usually had both honors.
Another source of friction is that Lopez' caddie, Roscoe Jones, gets more publicity than most of the women golfers—and occasionally better treatment. Last year, Kathy McMullen, an LPGA player council member, complained to a tournament sponsor that Jones was in the clubhouse drinking beer in violation of LPGA rules. The sponsor told McMullen that if she didn't like it, she could leave. She did.
At times the other women would seem to have reason for feeling neglected. Judy Rankin, who has 25 tour victories, was the top Colgate-Dinah Shore money-winner, having taken home more than $68,000 in the previous seven events. She also is the host pro at Mission Hills and was an obvious threat to win. On Thursday she shot 67 for the opening-round lead. But that afternoon the media appeared to be just as interested in finding out why Lopez, after a 68, left without a visit to the press tent. ("No one asked me," she explained on Friday.)
Incidents like this, coupled with all Lopez' victories, build ill will in veteran players, who complain that the phenom is too young to remember when the tour was a backwoods attraction. "I can feel the resentment," said the 22-year-old Lopez after her second-round 70 moved her into a tie for the lead with a grim-faced Post and Chako Higuchi of Japan at 138, six under par. "I've never done anything to those girls, except beat them," she said. "It doesn't bother me. I don't hang around with them anyway."
And, tired of being approached by a stream of disgruntled players complaining that the LPGA was hyping Lopez while ignoring the rest, Volpe posted a note in the locker room suggesting they quit complaining and acting like a bunch of women. "I can't help it that when Mickey Wright played, no one knew how great she was," Volpe says. "I tell the girls, if you want the press to stop writing about Lopez, go out and beat her."
Lopez is hitting the ball even farther now than she did in her rookie season, when she won five tournaments in a row. And she is among the tour's best putters. "God putts for her," an onlooker said, "and Godzilla hits her driver." On par-5 holes Lopez often is 150 yards ahead of her playing partners after two shots, and she was the only player in the field able to reach all of Mission Hills' par-5s in two, including the lake-guarded 502-yard 18th. The combination of strength and finesse helped her run off strings of three and four birdies in the first and second rounds.
On Saturday, Higuchi fell out of the lead with a back-nine 42 while the tour's top three money-winners, Carner, Lopez and Post, who were playing together, were making 15 birdies among them. Post and Lopez shot 68s to remain tied for the lead at 206, 10-under, while Carner had a 70 and moved into third place at 209, a stroke ahead of Rankin.
Carner does a little dance when she makes a birdie putt; the players call it "the Carner Disco." They also have named her "Big Momma," as much for her age as her girth; she turned 40 last week, and Dinah Shore celebrated the occasion by giving her a gold necklace that spelled "Perfect," except that the last letter was askew. That could describe Carner's golf game, because occasionally her brilliance dims, as happened on Friday when she followed a front-nine 31 with a 39. "Sometimes the wheels come off," she admitted.
Carner has another necklace, which has a charm that is the symbol of the Las Vegas hotel in whose casino she and her husband Don last month lost $11,000. Carner is not accustomed to losing. Coming into the Colgate-Dinah Shore she had won three tournaments this year, giving her 21 victories since 1974. No one has won more in that span.
In another era and another place, those statistics would be very impressive. But now on Sunday there was smiling Nancy Lopez out front. "Go out and beat her," the commissioner had advised. And so Sandra Post, who has finished second so often, did just that. She might even make the program cover next year.