I've got a contract for 200 hats," Michelle McGann says, and for a moment you think you're Elsa Klensch interviewing a Paris fashion designer for CNN. McGann is young enough and tall enough to be a model, but she is nowhere near a runway. She is slogging across a wet fairway after playing in the pro-am at the Innisbrook Resort in Tarpon Springs Fla.
But let's look at this hat contract, a one-year deal with Sonni for McGann's own line of hats, to be worn while she plays on the 1993 LPGA tour. Sonni hats, festooned with jewelry, ribbons and other knickknacks, cost from $50 to $150. Taking $100 as an average, McGann's 200 hats are worth about $20 000. And if it rains a lot during the golf season and some hats end up resembling a Santa Cruz mountain mud slide the Sonni people will send more.
"I'm fortunate that I'm tall enough that hats don't look strange on me," says the 5'11" McGann. "At least, I think they don't. Someone would tell me if they did, wouldn't they?" She cracks that dazzling, lipstick-and-teeth smile of hers, and the hat on her head appreciates some $30 on the spot.
No doubt about it, Michelle McGann, 23, is going to sell hats. She caught the golf world's eye at last summer's U.S. Women's Open, at Oakmont, Pa., where she socked her drives—the longest on the LPGA tour in 1992—past all the established stars on the way to a sixth-place finish. This season she is expected to improve upon last year's $239,062 in official prize money 11 top-10 finishes, and first-place rankings in driving distance, birdies and eagles She's off to a good start. On Sunday she finished eighth in the LPGA's tour opener the Palm Beach Classic in Lake Worth Fla. Her five-under-par 211 three strokes behind the winner earned her $7,993 for the week "She's going to be a great champion," says Hall of Famer Pat Bradley visor wearer.
They say you can tell a lot about a woman by the clothes she wears, but McGann's chapeaus and jeweled belts disguise more than they reveal. For one thing, from a distance they give her the profile of a twice-divorced Miami condo dweller. Actually, McGann is the LPGA's junior miss, a guileless young woman who lives with her parents in Singer Island, Fla., and has her clubs toted by her proud daddy, former Notre Dame basketball captain Bucky McGann. "The other players still ask me if I'm 'legal' yet," she says, looking embarrassed. "I tell them this will be my fifth year on tour, and they say, 'No way!' "
Believe it. McGann was only 18 when she won her tour card in 1988 as a fresh-faced graduate of tiny Rosarian Academy in West Palm Beach. Not surprisingly, she stumbled through her early years as a pro, winning only $11,679 in 1989 and $34,846 in '90. "I think she doubted herself, wondered if she should have gone to college," her father says. "Personally, I never thought that she made a mistake. Even when she struggled that first year, I said, 'What you're learning here you could never learn in college.' "
At Golf U, Michelle was the only girl in her class, a teenager among businesswomen. Fortunately, veterans like Bradley, Patty Sheehan and JoAnne Carner made her feel welcome. "I'd get down," she says, "and they'd say, 'Hey, kid, hang in there. It's gonna workout.' "
The attention of the veterans was part kindness and part cold assessment, because it took only one glance at McGann's game for her peers to conclude that it would work out. Her long, upright swing generates enough power off the tee to outdistance a dozen or so players on the men's tour, but not at the expense of accuracy. "I want to drive it like that," former PGA champion Bob Tway said, after watching McGann belt a 265-yard draw around a dogleg at the JC Penney Classic in December.
McGann's potential was also apparent at soggy Oakmont, where she reached the long par 4s with a driver and an iron; most of the field couldn't reach the same holes with two wood shots. Apart from the courses that host the LPGA majors, though, most courses on the women's tour are relatively short, and McGann has to learn when to leave her driver in the bag. "It gets frustrating," she admits, "but we just don't play any courses where you can hit your driver on every hole." She also has to cope with a more formidable problem, diabetes, diagnosed when she was 13. She manages the disease with twice-daily injections of insulin and quick snacks during rounds.
What, you ask, does all this have to do with the price of hats? McGann herself doesn't know. She was hatless when she earned her first big check—$35,000 for finishing fourth in the 1991 McDonald's Championship, in Wilmington, Del. She was still hatless, a week later, when she teed it up at the U.S. Women's Open in Fort Worth. But the scaring sun at the Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth had players popping their umbrellas and, following a practice round, chased McGann into an air-conditioned mall. "It was so hot," she recalls. "So I went into this Laura Ashley store, and I saw this cute hat—a plain straw hat with a little green ribbon."
The rest, as they say, is hatstory. The typical McGann outfit these days is a ground-to-lid statement punctuated by big jewelry and a wide belt. She favors hats with upturned brims, but anything goes for embellishment: beads, coins, feathers or rhinestones, with cascades of ribbon trailing behind her. By comparison, Payne Stewart, the gaudiest dresser on the PGA Tour, looks positively quaint in his color-coordinated caps and plus fours. But Stewart has won two major titles and eight tournaments overall—a distinction that isn't lost on McGann. "I'd feel bad," she says, "if I didn't play well and the hats were the only thing I was recognized for."
There seems little danger of that happening. The only reason McGann hasn't won yet, her peers say, is because she still makes rookie mistakes: playing too aggressively, attacking pins too often. And sometimes she loses faith in her putting. "I still need help with decisions," she says, conceding. Her eyes get big. "Hey, I'm only 23!"
It's McGann's way of reminding you that she's not rushing things. Somewhere among those 200 hats, there's bound to be a crown.