At a golfing event at the Desert Inn and Country Club in Las Vegas last weekend, there was big money at stake, and big-name professionals were involved. There were officials in blazers and badges, gallery ropes, crosswalks and marshalls, flags and banners, a few hundred spectators clustered around the greens and, all in all, it looked as if something important was going on. But then a perspicacious observer might have noticed that some of the contestants were wearing not proper golf shoes but sneakers and boat shoes and that all of them were carrying just one club. For these reasons, it is fairly certain that the "J&B Scotch Gold Putter Award $100,000 Putt-Off" will never rank up there with the Masters, let's say, or the British Open or even the LPGA Championship, which is not to say that the $50,000 won by Kathy Postlewait isn't spendable.
Actually, what was happening at the venerable DI was no more strange than the Grand Prix for motorcars going on just up The Strip at Caesars Palace. If cars can race in a parking lot, golf without the other 13 clubs can be played for fun and profit. What made the Gold Putter event interesting in this third year of its existence was, first, the prize money going up from $60,000 to a hundred grand—and as large a first prize as any in ladies' golf—and the fact that nearly every one of the top lady pros was entered. All the Beth Daniels and Nancy Lopez-Meltons and Jan Stephensons and JoAnne Carners. Everybody. That the final came down to a duel between a player who had never captured a tournament in eight years on the women's tour—Postlewait—and Patty Sheehan, a bouncy and positive little lady who will most likely be the LPGA's Rookie of the Year, only proved one thing: putting quite often doesn't have much to do with golf.
Carner, who is affectionately known as Big Mama to many of the LPGA competitors, put the Rare Scotch classic in proper perspective before it began. Big Mama said, "I'm at a disadvantage because I won't get to let off steam by taking a divot with my four-wood between putts."
The competitors all agreed that a different kind of pressure was involved in the Putt-Off. There was no break in concentration. The stroll from one hole to the next was seldom more than a few steps. The courses for the two-day tournament were laid out over the storied old 9th, 18th and practice greens of the Desert Inn. Six cups on each. There were short holes, little eight-footers, and there were long and brutal holes of 50 feet across humps, but they were all par-2. The players made all sorts of bad jokes about boundaries and unplayable lies and not being allowed to use carts, but they were grim when it came time to play, even though some chose not to wear golf shoes. Postlewait won in brown Top Siders, in fact.
Postlewait and Sheehan each had to win three matches on Saturday to reach Sunday's 36-hole final, and what the two of them did was knock out all the big names. They did it in different ways. Postlewait never had an easy time. She drew Daniel in the first round and survived by a stroke. She next met Lopez-Melton and again survived by a single stroke. In the semifinal she enjoyed a bit of breathing room with a three-stroke win over Donna Caponi. But all the while she went about her business in a methodical way, her Ping putter pinging, her tinted prescription glasses preventing her from seeing three golf balls and her Top Siders making her feel comfortable. As she would say later, "Putting isn't a strenuous sport."
Meanwhile, Sheehan was busily dismissing her own share of big names, and with ease. In the first match on Saturday she rolled in six aces and beat glamour-girl Stephenson by 10 strokes. An hour later she sank an incredible seven aces and dusted off Janie Blalock by five strokes. Using an old rear-shafted Wilson putter, she seemed to be pure magic on the speedy surfaces, and Blalock could only giggle in defeat.
Sheehan was asked how old her putter was. "I don't know," she said with a shrug. "I haven't counted the rings around it."
Sheehan reached the final by putting her way to four under par against Amy Alcott and winning by six. There was very little lore to compare it with, but it seemed likely that her 17-under performance in 54 putting holes Saturday was some sort of record. If a knowledgeable oddsmaker had been around on Sunday instead of watching pro football at breakfast, Sheehan would have been made the favorite against Postlewait. She was rolling the ball beautifully, and on the LPGA tour she is known as an "upper," a positive thinker.
Postlewait also is considered a very good putter despite the fact that she has never won a regulation tournament. "I think Kathy's as good as we have out here," said Marlene Floyd, a finalist in 1980. Floyd went looking for a place to get 15-1 on Postlewait, the odds quoted on her by Jimmy The Greek, but in a town where you can bet on whether your shoelaces are tied, there was no place to get it down. The sponsors had asked The Greek to make odds on the competition, and he made Postlewait one of several at the highest price in the 16-player field, possibly because he had never heard of her. The Greek had made Stephenson the favorite at 4-1, possibly because he had seen a picture of her.
A scouting report on the field would have gone like this: Pat Bradley, defending champion but still putts like Aoki; Carner, hot and cold; Floyd, best stroke among ex-flight attendants; Alcott, a scrapper and streaky; Stephenson, pure stroke, negative thinker; Sheehan, most positive; Blalock, grinder; Kathy Whitworth, cuts everything but her way into the Hall of Fame: Lopez-Melton, once the best putter who ever lived, including Ben Crenshaw, but tired; Myra Van Hoose, just switched from cross-handed; Daniel, a better player than a putter—in fact, the best lady player today; Postlewait, quiet but a fabulous stroke; Sally Little, elegant style; Mary Dwyer, not a very good putter although she won the first Gold Putter award; Caponi, serious; and Cathy Reynolds, a rival to Stephenson for looks and the leading blonde in the clubhouse.
When the lady pros are in the mood, they confess there is nothing—absolutely nothing—that they can do as well as the men on the TPA tour. They simply don't have the physical strength. They do play human golf, however, and more and more followers of the sport enjoy watching them because they can relate to their distances and problems on the course. The average spectator learns little from watching Fuzzy Zoeller hit a drive 320 yards and then a nine-iron 210 yards.
If, however, there is one area in which' the women could compete with the men, it is in putting. It's the only part of the game in which they could tee off from the same place. No man could have out-putted Sheehan in the three matches on Saturday when she blew by Stephenson, Blalock and Alcott with her 18 aces. And it's extremely doubtful if any man could have outputted Postlewait on Sunday when she stroked in seven aces and got out ahead of Sheehan and stayed there and won that 50 grand by five shots.
After the first 18 holes, Postlewait was four under par and held a four-stroke lead. That wasn't too big a lead for Sheehan to overcome if her putter had warmed up, but Postelwait saw to it that it would have to get very hot indeed. On the 1st hole of the afternoon, a 45-footer on which the player had to line up the cup equidistant between the Stardust hotel-casino sign on The Strip and a high-rise bank building, Postlewait sank the putt. And on the 2nd hole, a 36-footer which had to be lined up toward the DI clubhouse, she sank another one.
Suddenly, Postlewait was six under, six strokes ahead and marching toward her biggest prize ever in her comfy brown Top Siders. When she holed out on the 18th for her victory, she took the shortest walk in history for $50,000. It was about, oh, two yards to the scorer's tent.
Only in Vegas, folks.