Former snow bunny and reluctant star Patty Sheehan borrowed a page from pro football Coach Bum Phillips' playbook Sunday. She stopped knocking on the door marked Opportunity and kicked the darn thing down with a barrage of birdies in the final round of the LPGA in Kings Island, Ohio. Sheehan is a gambling player. What do you expect from someone raised amid the soft green felt of Nevada? And her victory in the LPGA was the first major title in a career that looks like it just might take right off and fill the record books.
"She's the greatest player in women's golf," gushed her agent and attorney, Margaret Leonard, after her daredevil-may-care client had birdied five straight holes on the back nine on Sunday to wrest the lead from Sandra Haynie, whose normally controlled, placid game had gone haywire, leaving her ankle-deep in sand, rough and other grief. "I was heading the wrong direction," Haynie, a mellow lady gone to nerves, moaned after it was all over. A 40-year-old veteran, Haynie had cruised 45 holes without a bogey on the way to a four-stroke lead after three days, but she three-putted the first two on Sunday, never got her timing back and played a collapsing round of 75, a blowup totally out of character.
Meanwhile, after starting the day seven back, Sheehan was sailing to a 66, a two-stroke win and the $30,000 first prize, which put her first on this year's LPGA money list with $119,092. Her total of 279 was nine under par. "Patty's in for a wonderful career," Haynie said graciously. "She has the kind of golf swing that will hold up for a long time."
Blessed with a deft iron game, Sheehan indeed seems sure to become one of the LPGA's bigger stars—and soon. Two weeks ago she won the Corning Classic with a final round of 63. Said Leonard on Sunday, "The first time I saw her, in 1978, I said, 'There's my champion.' She hits the ball so pure that it's frightening. The only thing that has held her back is that she's one of those golfers who has to feel bad before she can make birdies. I think we've got her convinced that she can smile and play great."
"I've got to get my gander up," said Sheehan, and then struggled to explain. "That's a goose, isn't it? They get mad. That's what I need, something to get me going."
Sheehan, 26, was born in Middlebury, Vt. and raised in Reno, where her father, Bobo, the 1956 U.S. Olympic ski coach, owned a ski shop. She came off the slopes and immersed herself in golf as a teenager, and later won four straight Nevada and two California state women's titles. She played on the 1980 U.S. Curtis Cup team winning all four of her matches, and then turned pro in July of that year. In '81 Sheehan was Rookie of the Year, with earnings of $118,463, and had her first tour victory. She followed that up with $225,022 in winnings—good for fourth on the money list—and three victories last year.
Tom Kite, the top money-winner of 1981, once asked Sheehan what she thought about technically when she played. She gave him the answer of an innocent who has never had a lesson. "I just play," she said.
On Sunday, hard by the roar of the roller coaster in the nearby amusement park and among the telephone poles and the light towers that pepper the Grizzly course at the Jack Nicklaus Sports Center, Sheehan went crazy in a game that can make you that way. Things started off innocuously: a 10-foot birdie putt on No. 3, followed by a three-putt bogey on the next hole. But then she got rolling, making a 20-footer on the 7th and two-putting from 40 feet for a bird on the par-59th.
Sheehan's second and final bogey interrupted the hot stuff when she missed the green at the 10th hole. Then came the five in a row: putts of five, three, 18, five and 12 feet for birdies. On the 16th, the toughest par-3 on the women's tour, Sheehan, in character, sailed a 5-iron shot over the water and right at the pin, 180 yards away. Her putt from 20 feet barely slid by, which stopped the river of red on the leader board. "I really thought I could make it," she said later. "I thought I could birdie 'em all. I'm a gutsy player. I like to charge."
Sheehan saved par with a fine chip at the 17th and then played cautiously on the par-5 last hole, making par. Haynie's last chance ended when her drive took an unfortunate bounce into the rough on the 18th, preventing her from going for the green and a possible eagle. She walked off the course as if she were lugging 100 pounds of disgust on her shoulders. "It was just one of those days," she said. "Patty turned it on and took off."
This was a tournament that followed the same sort of route as The Beast, the noisy coaster attraction at the park a few hundred yards away. For the first two days the unlikely name of Alexandra Reinhardt was on top of the leader board. After rounds of 67 and 68, she had the lowest 36-hole total in the 29-year history of the tournament. Reinhardt hasn't won in nine years on the tour, and as she took a lead of four shots, she sounded more hopeful than confident. She talked of having the nerve to "trust" her swing and explained that her goofy-looking hat with the oversize bill was to protect her lower lip from sunburn.
Reinhardt's hot streak was more than unexpected, seeing as she'd begun the year by missing six straight cuts. One writer, trying to slice through her anonymity, asked her: "Didn't you used to be a lot heavier?"
"No," answered Reinhardt. "Actually, I'm a little overweight now."
"Well," stammered the writer. "Didn't you used to hit the ball a lot farther?"
"No, I've always been about average."
"I know," concluded the reporter, aghast at his ignorance, "you're really Chinese."
"Right," answered Reinhardt. "I've had my eyes done. Want the name of my doctor?"
Haynie rolled into the lead like a gentle wave on Saturday, an afternoon on which Reinhardt came back to earth with a 75. Haynie has been on the tour for 23 years, and because she's shy, retiring and slow-moving, she seems almost feline as she pads softly around the course. Her swing is so smooth it could put you to sleep. She's known on the tour as The Divine Miss X, because she's so skilled and so unobtrusive that while she has played her way into the Hall of Fame and set a bunch of records, she has hardly been noticed.
Her third-round 67, fashioned on five birdies and 23 putts, set her up for a good crack at her fifth major championship, which would have given her the lead among active players.
It was somewhat surprising that she was around at all, since she quit golf in 1977 when the pressure got to her. She would have attacks of "morning sickness" when in the lead. Haynie came back to the Tour in 1981 and since then has won three tournaments and $401,585—almost as much money as in her previous 20 years on the circuit. Asked the difference between now and then, she said, "I don't throw up."
No one expected Haynie to fall apart. "She'll be tough to catch because she hits the ball so straight," JoAnne Carner had said Saturday.
"I'm glad they feel that way," Haynie responded.
Then she went to the practice tee to do a little homework. For the first three days her normally arrowlike iron shots had been drifting slightly off line. "You're going to have to do better tomorrow," she said to herself.
She didn't, and Sheehan did, playing like a woman on a crusade. She had come to the LPGA on a hot streak: six straight finishes in the Top Ten and a second in Japan this spring. And she also had a score to settle. Two years ago she was humbled at Kings Island, missing the cut for the only time in her career. And last year she blew a nice check and destroyed an eight-birdie final round when she was disqualified for taking an incorrect drop on the 16th hole. "I wanted revenge," she said. Sheehan got it—in spades.
Sheehan began the year with one goal, to win a major. "Now I'm going to have to get new goals," she said, sounding like someone who can knock 'em down as quickly as she sets 'em up.