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MAKING A SPLASH LITTLE-KNOWN NANCI BOWEN STUNNED EVERYONE, EVEN HERSELF, BY WINNING THE DINAH SHORE

April 03, 1995
April 03, 1995

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April 3, 1995

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MAKING A SPLASH LITTLE-KNOWN NANCI BOWEN STUNNED EVERYONE, EVEN HERSELF, BY WINNING THE DINAH SHORE

By John Garrity PHOTOGRAPHS BY Robert Beck

You have to be careful what you say about last week's Nabisco
Dinah Shore. If you point out that the winner, Nanci Bowen, played
the 72nd hole like a gardener with a tree-trimming contract, you
run the risk of sounding churlish. If you dwell on the
final-round collapse of LPGA Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez, you come
off as cruel. If you make light of the last-hole interment of
Tammie Green in a fairway bunker, you seem ghoulish.

This is an article from the April 3, 1995 issue

But let's face it, by the time the unheralded Bowen took her
celebratory plunge into the moat by the 18th green on Sunday, the
LPGA's biggest names had already muddied the waters. The most
telling comment may have come from a fan who watched Bowen,
shrouded in a white bathrobe, sign autographs as shadows
lengthened on the Dinah Shore Tournament Course at Mission Hills
Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif. ``Boy,'' said the
well-wisher, ``are your socks dirty!''

Maybe the thing to do is point out how exciting it all was. And
make no mistake, Sunday's was the best Dinah Shore finish in
memory, sort of like the final scene in one of those old Hercules
movies in which everything comes crashing down around the hero and
only he is left standing.

Let's review what happened. Lopez, winner of 47 LPGA events in
her storied career, deftly segued from confident leader to stunned
also-ran in the time it took to play three holes. Laura Davies,
the biggest money machine in women's golf this year and last,
bogeyed a par-5 she would normally birdie blindfolded and spent
the rest of her round chasing errant iron shots. And then there
was Green, the second- and third-round leader, on the threshold
of winning the second major title of a nine-year career, blowing
her dream with a bogey, double-bogey finish.

In short, the sun rose, the golf gods stood on their heads, the
sun fell.

So blatant was the shake-up at the Shore that runner-up Susie
Redman, who was playing just three months after giving birth to
her third child, didn't know that she was the runner-up until
after the champion took the now- traditional dive into the water
on the 18th hole. And as the leaders threw away strokes coming
in, some onlookers worried that the ultimate winner might have
long since left the property.

``This could be the year,'' observed Los Angeles Times columnist
Jim Murray, that ``the sportswriters jump in the lake.''

The collapses should not obscure a stunning performance by Bowen,
who shared the first-round lead and hung in tenaciously the rest
of the week. Before Sunday the two-time University of Georgia
All-America, whose 28th birthday is March 31, had caught her
tour's attention only once, by finishing in a tie for third at
last year's JAL Big Apple Classic in New Rochelle, N.Y. In 1993,
however, while on a forced sabbatical from the LPGA after losing
her playing card, Bowen won two tournaments and Player of the Year
honors on the satellite Futures Tour. One victory came in
Victoria, Texas, the other someplace in Louisiana -- ``I can't
remember the name of the town,'' Bowen admits.

It was the Big Apple finish that qualified Bowen for her first
Shore appearance, but she arrived without entourage -- her three
siblings, all in their 40's, and her parents live in the Southeast
-- and without a sponsor's name on her bag. For those who track
such things, the bag contained clubs by Callaway, Cobra, Cleveland
and Ping.

Not surprisingly, the little-known pro seemed no threat to the
glamour threesome of Lopez, Davies and Green. And she seemed to
know it. ``I was really glad yesterday when I found out I was in
the second group,'' said Bowen. ``If I'd been in the last group,
I definitely would not have played as well.''

Not that a comfortable pairing was insurance against Mission
Hills' thick rough and smooth, fast greens. Only six players
broke par for the tournament, while 21 finished at 12-over-par 300
or above -- and those were players fortunate enough to have made
the 36-hole cut. For a time, in fact, this year's Shore scarcely
resembled tournament golf. High winds and cold, blowing rain
during Thursday's opening round made it carnival golf, testing who
could play best on one leg and who could putt while swaying like a
slack- wire walker. Club selection? On some holes a player
needed the instincts of a guess-your-weight pitchman to stay out
of the water hazards.

Bowen and Muffin Spencer-Devlin, early starters, shot their
co-leading 69s before the weather turned the course into a midway.
Davies, who went out in the afternoon, had to settle for 75. Two
former Dinah Shore winners were even less fortunate. Three-time
champion Amy Alcott shot 81, and 1993 winner Helen Alfredsson,
playing like a leaf in the wind, shot 86. ``My 74 was good,''
said Lopez, happy to be in contention after going three over on
the first six holes.

On the other hand, there was the strange case of Penny Hammel, who
shot Thursday's other 69 at the height of the tempest. When the
wind slackened on Friday morning Hammel went around in a
less-steady 76. And when the desert turned warm and placid on the
weekend, she could barely stand upright, hitting balls fat and
thin on the way to a 77-78 finish.

For most of the field, though, Saturday's sounds of birds
chirping signaled the start of the tournament. At first it
appeared that Davies, who had shot 69 on Friday, would catch
Green before lunch. But the Englishwoman ``duffed'' (her word) a
couple of iron shots on the back side while Green played
textbook golf behind her. Lopez, meanwhile, birdied the 13th,
15th and 16th holes, evoking shrieks of ecstasy from her
gallery. ``You can tell a Nancy roar from someone else's
roar,'' Davies would say afterward. The excitement reached
its peak on the 16th green, where Lopez rolled in a four- footer
to go four under, a stroke behind Green.

``I could tell Nancy was really into it,'' said Redman, one of the
Three Moms grouping of Lopez, Redman, and Terry-Jo Myers. ``The
nice thing about Nancy is that she never lets her own excitement
turn negative against her playing partners. It's fun to play with
her when she's center stage.''

Lopez bogeyed the 17th and finished Saturday's round two behind
Green and one ahead of Davies, but she admitted that just being in
contention gave her the old ``sensation of the hair rising on the
back of my neck.''

As a part-time golfer and full-time mother of three, the
three-time LPGA champion didn't feel that electricity often last
year. She finished 25th on the money list and failed to win a
tournament for the first time since 1986. But now she's practicing
more -- out of guilt and at the prodding of her husband, former
New York Met Ray Knight. The old guy can't sleep because he has
kidney stones, Lopez cheerfully reported on Saturday, so he stays
up to all hours analyzing videotapes of her swing. ``He's got me
trying to pop my putts more, like I used to,'' Lopez said,
referring to the short, accelerating action she used all week.
``The pendulum really isn't my stroke.''

If technique didn't fully explain the Lopez resurgence, one could
always point to inspiration -- the presence in the gallery of her
father and first golf teacher, 80-year-old Domingo Lopez, who is
recovering after months of heart trouble. ``Domingo,'' a smiling
Lopez reminded reporters after the third round, ``is Spanish for
`Sunday.' ''

And a sweet domingo it appeared to be for Lopez, as she birdied
the first two holes in the morning and swept into the lead at five
under. Davies, by way of contrast, succeeded at bogeying the
par-5 second hole even though she outdrove her companions by 40
yards and was never in real trouble on the hole. That left it to
Lopez and Green to carry on the battle -- unless you counted
Bowen, plugging along at two under. And few did.

Bowen still trailed by three after Lopez birdied the 12th, but
then Bowen birdied the 15th, about the time Lopez started running
her putts a sofa's length past every hole. Somehow, Lopez bogeyed
the 14th, 15th, 16th and 18th holes, handing the tournament back
to Green . . . or, rather, to Davies . . . actually, to whoever
wanted it.

Apparently Bowen wanted it. On the par-3 17th, with the vaunted
trio watching from the tee 171 yards away, she rolled a 20-foot
putt uphill and squarely into the hole for birdie and a one-shot
lead. Bowen then arm wrestled the 18th hole for a national TV
audience, blocking her tee shot into the right rough, hitting a
tree limb with her second, punching a three-iron to the fairway
and finally sending a nine-iron over the water to the green. From
20 feet she two-putted for bogey, a final-round 70 and a
three-under-par total of 285.

The rest, one has to report, was a sorry spectacle. Lopez,
disheartened but gallant, pushed a four-iron shot into the water
on 18 to fall into a tie with Brandie Burton and Sherri Turner for
third at one-under 287. Green, equally disheartened, hit a
fairway bunker with her second shot and then plugged her escape
attempt into the grassy lip, causing a delay for a ruling and
bringing more attention to her plight than she would have liked.
She wound up in a tie for seventh, three strokes off the pace.
Finally Davies, firing a sort of two-gun salute to Bowen, carried
all 526 yards and the moat with two mighty swings . . . before
three-putting for a 73 and another piece of third place. For
Bowen, the victory was worth $127,500 -- about the same amount she
had made in three full LPGA seasons.

Afterward Lopez and Bowen met outside the interview tent and
hugged. Lopez couldn't help smiling at the damp, dazed youngster,
shivering in the white bathrobe draped like a graduation gown on
her modest frame. Looking at Bowen's feet, Lopez gave the only
piece of advice she could, under the circumstances.

Said Lopez, ``I would have taken my shoes off.''

COLOR PHOTO:PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT BECK Bowen took the traditional winner's dip in the moat that borders the green at 18. [Nanci Bowen jumping into moat as crowd in stands look on]TWO COLOR PHOTOS:PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT BECKWhile Lopez, who birdied the first hole on Sunday (left), blew up on the backside, Bowen plugged away till the trophy was hers to kiss.[Nancy Lopez; Nanci Bowen kissing trophy]COLOR PHOTO:PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT BECKDistance was no problem for the mighty Davies, but she did herself in with her play around the greens. [Laura Davies]