While the rest of the players were stumbling around in the fiendish heat of Nashville, Tenn., muttering imprecations at the weather and the bad bounces they were getting on the sneaky Richland Country Club course. Amy Alcott gulped potassium pills, tied a "bandido" kerchief around her neck, pulled down her painter's cap and demolished the field in the U.S. Women's Open.
Alcott seemed to be staging her own private Grand Ole Opry in Music City, U.S.A. Certainly she was calling all the tunes out at Richland. Her 72-hole total of 280 was a tournament record, shattering the mark of 284 set by Jerilyn Britz last year. And it was a whopping nine strokes ahead of runner-up Hollis Stacy. Alcott also became the ninth player to lead an Open from start to finish. Tied for first with Barbara Moxness after an opening-round 70, she pulled away with another 70 on Friday and left everyone in the dust with a 68 Saturday that gave her an eight-shot bulge over Stacy. She endorsed her $20,000 winner's check—and clinched her first Open win—on Sunday with a safe and sane 72.
The temperature during play last week hovered around 100° in the shade. A thermometer placed in a sand trap showed about 20° higher. Under these conditions, strong people did uncharacteristic things. At one point, two-time Open champion JoAnne Carner found herself absent-mindedly trying to puff on her pencil instead of a cigarette. Nancy Lopez-Melton took a nine on the par-5 13th hole the first day and knocked herself into a permanent deficit. Beth Daniel, one of the most consistent players on the circuit, got upset at a photographer during the opening round and made a triple bogey and two bogeys before she cooled down three holes later. On Saturday, with the thermometer at 101° and not a cloud in the sky, Stacy poured water down the back of her neck on every tee.
Throughout all this, Alcott remained unruffled if not cool. Moxness stayed with her for a time; then her putter began misfiring, earning itself the nickname "the Mox-Ness Monster." She even four-putted one hole. One by one the challengers fell away. On Saturday Lopez-Melton threatened—until she went four over par on a three-hole stretch. The tour's leading money-winner. Donna Caponi Young, was within two strokes early the same day before ballooning to six over par in the next 10 holes. After that, everyone was playing for second place.
Alcott, 24, thus fulfilled the promise she showed as a precocious Californian who had learned the game by hitting balls into a backyard practice net and putting into soup cans set into her parents' lawn. After her first lesson, the pro told her mother, "You're a blessed woman." Alcott took the USGA Junior Girls title in 1973, turned pro at 18 and won the third tournament in which she played. Since then she has won at least one title each season, and last year she blossomed with four victories and a third-place finish ($144,838.61) on the money list.
Other players say one reason Alcott is raking in so much loot is that she uses her head, especially when she's on the course. The rational approach worked for her in the blast furnace last week. When adversity threatened, she just stared it in the eye and went to her short game, which ranks with the best. On the 16th hole Thursday her approach flew 40 yards over the green, but she salvaged a thinking-player's bogey. And after a misplaced first shot at the 17th on Saturday, she was tempted to try to hit her second shot over some trees to the green. She thought better of it, chipped out, wedged on and sank a 10-foot par putt. Routine.
But smarts isn't Alcott's only notable quality. She seems to have had the good fortune to be born with a killer instinct. And she putts so well that she makes the game a whole lot simpler for herself. In all four rounds of the Open, Alcott had only one three-putt green, and that came from 12 feet on the first day.
Because it was the Open and seeing as it was hotter than hot, even Alcott had troubles. The heat caused her hands to become swollen and she had to keep putting ice on them. "I feel as if I'm wearing baseball mitts," she said. And the bluebird of happiness flew over her at the 15th hole Thursday. "It went poo-poo on me," she said with a laugh. "It must have been a Lopez fan."
Earlier that morning, Alcott had walked into the locker room wearing a kerchief tied around her neck, and when the other players began hooting about it, she had a ready answer. "I'm going to rob a bank today," she said. Actually, the robbery took four days, but it was easier than most.
The new Open champion doesn't play golf as it is taught by your standard pro. But her unorthodox three-quarter swing is effective, and she has a delicate touch with a wedge. She also carries a seven-wood, an unusual club she has had since she was 14. "When that baby goes and I have to put it to sleep, it'll be a sad day," she says.
The narrow Richland course and its par of 36-35—71 obviously suited Alcott. "I like bowling-alley fairways," she says. "I like tight courses where you can't sit out in a wide fairway and read a dirty book or something." Richland was all uphill, downhill and sidehill, with trees guarding not only the greens but also the fairways. But whenever Alcott was faced with an obstacle, she escaped from the "hernia grass" rough with her seven-wood, bent an iron shot, finessed a chip with one of her three wedges or lagged up a 40-foot putt. The heat had one beneficial side effect for her and the other players. To prevent the greens from turning to dust, the USGA had to keep them damp and iron shots could be sailed at the pin, and that is Alcott's style. "I'm a go-for-the-stick player," she says.
Alcott claims to have made two important decisions in her life. The first came when she was nine and was vacillating between tennis and golf. She chose golf because it was on TV. "I thought everybody was named Labron and Byron, talked with a Texas accent and said, 'Nice shot, pardnah.' " The other decision came after she had graduated from high school and won more than 150 junior tournaments. "Amy, you've found your niche," she said to herself. "You don't want to go to college, you want to go out and knock sticks down."
Alcott has a wry sense of humor and tells a story about what it is like to be young, single, Jewish and rosy-cheeked on the tour. "These Jewish parents keep calling me up and telling me they want me to meet their sons," she says. "They say, 'You'll like him. He'll walk the course with you.' I guess I should be out trying to meet a doctor or a lawyer, but I'm having too much fun."
Imagine, having fun at a U.S. Open! Not many people have done that. But last week, in all the heat and humidity, Alcott had a ball.