The conversation at the J.C. Penney Mixed Team Championship at the Bardmoor Country Club in Largo, Fla. last week was of sensitivity, short-term relationships and commitment. This is the tournament in which players from the PGA and LPGA tours get hitched and spend four days trying not to point fingers at each other. "We're talking about treading on eggshells," said Hollis Stacy, the three-time Women's Open champion, alluding to the subtle character of the $550,000 tournament.
What chivalry came down to at Bardmoor wasn't whether a man should open a car door for a woman, but whether he should entrust her with hitting a 100-yard wedge shot. Above all, a woman had to be certain not to snicker when her muscle-headed partner whomped a tee shot into a distant condominium, while, conversely, a male had to strive for compassion after his hare-brained partner left a bunker shot in the sand. Talk about pressure.
"It's nerve-racking," said JoAnne Carner, who played with John Mahaffey. "By the end of the day, you're worn out from being nice." Tim Norris's partner, Sandra Palmer, said the women resented the men's browbeating. "If they want to be hard on women, let them yell at their wives," she sniffed.
How seriously the players take this tournament can be illustrated by the fact that the normally less than diligent Lori Garbacz—who drives her Porsche at subsonic speeds, bets on anything that moves and generally displays a total disregard for prudence—practiced for six hours a day during the two weeks before the tournament. Her partner was Craig Stadler, the gruff-looking Walrus. Said Garbacz, "There are 10 commandments. The first is: 'Thou shalt not have the wrath of Stadler upon you.' "
In the Mixed Team, the teammates each tee off and then hit each other's second shots. At that point they pick the ball they like more—or dislike less—and alternate strokes on it to the hole's conclusion. Compatability counts, and thus two Unknown Soldiers, Mike Donald and Vicki Alvarez, were able to smile, bite their tongues and encourage each other to the title and the $100,000 first prize. It was the first tour victory for both.
The diminutive, 106-pound Alvarez, who swings as if she's listening to soft and slow music, saved the day during Sunday's final round. She hit a deft bunker shot that led to a birdie on the par-5 16th, fired a six-iron onto the 17th green and sank a three-foot putt on the 18th. Donald rewarded her by lifting her up for a high-five kiss.
The pair of 29-year-old Floridians—he's from Hollywood, she's from Jacksonville—finished at 270, 18 under, after a final-round 68. Overall, it was a solid performance. They played every nine in par or better and finished a stroke up on the 54-hole leaders, Stadler and Garbacz, who had only a 70 on Sunday when the Walrus's putter turned to scrap iron, and Curtis Strange and Nancy Lopez, who birdied the last three holes for a final-round 67.
This tournament is unique in that it's the only professional golf competition in the U.S. in which men and women are on the same side. But just because they're playing together doesn't mean that they all like it. "The women play at a level of a good 14-year-old boy," said one male pro, who was trying to be nice. "Some of these guys are huge intellects," cracked a female player. "I like the ones who have four Jeeps. Think about it."
Not surprisingly, given the respective attitudes, partnerships come and go at the Mixed Team. Aside from Jim Colbert and Silvia Bertolaccini, Gil Morgan and Marlene Hagge and Strange and Lopez, almost every pairing has had a divorce since the tournament was started in 1976. "Ask her," answered Lon Hinkle cryptically when asked why he wasn't teamed with Jane Geddes, his partner last year in a second-place finish to Fred Couples and Jan Stephenson. This was the year for the women to invite the men. Hinkle waited, but Geddes never called. He finally paired with Sharon Barrett. The corner malt shop was atwitter.
The big upset, of course, was that anyone asked J.C. Snead to golf's prom. "I'm supposed to be the sorriest s.o.b. out here," said Snead, referring to his pit bull reputation. "He told me that he'd never been invited back by the same partner," said his 1984 cohort, Muffin Spencer-Devlin. "My heart went out to him. He kind of goes along grouchin' and grumblin', but he's really a good guy."
The tournament began under storm clouds on Thursday when a morning rain halted play for 50 minutes as temperatures plummeted. Allen Miller, who looks like the tour's 2,000-year-old man, and Pat Meyers shot a five-under-par 67 to tie Couples and Stephenson for the first-round lead. Someone asked if Miller-Meyers might be intimidated by the big names with whom they were even, since Miller and Meyers had only two victories between them in their combined 23 years as pro golfers. Miller, who's only 36, screwed up his Yoda face and said, "If Jack Nicklaus is on my tail, it doesn't bother me."
In the next round, it was like day and night for the A.M.-P.M. team. They shot a 72, which was matched by Couples-Stephenson, who seemed ready to consider a trial separation after they had four-putted the 12th and then three-putted the 13th to fall off the leader board. Glare-counterglare.
The 36-hole leaders were Bill Kratzert and Cathy Morse with 70-64-134, three shots better than Stadler-Garbacz, Norris-Palmer and Larry Mize and Martha Nause. Kratzert recently rediscovered his game after three years of frustration. "He's hitting these unbelievable shots," Morse gushed. "He's like Mr. Cool out there." Six times in the second round, Morse rolled in birdie putts after Kratzert had rifled iron shots close to the pin.
Saturday was warm and sunny, perfect for scoring, and the leader board dripped red numbers. Stadler and Garbacz took the lead at 15 under with a 64 that was surprising because they spent most of their time in trouble. Three times Garbacz went in the water, and once the Walrus dunked a shot, but when one made a mistake, the other came through, which is the idea in team competition. "We made something out of not much today," said Stadler.
But by Sunday, Stadler and Garbacz had run out of luck, and Donald and Alvarez had run into it. They'd met only last week—a mutual friend, former golf pro Gardner Dickinson, introduced them—and it proved a propitious union, especially since Alvarez holed five birdie attempts in the last round.
Asked what kind of a week it had been, Donald summed up: "Best blind date I ever had."