Perhaps the LPGA's most effective reply yet to all those who
think the women's game is troubled--that it should be thinner or
younger or sexier or richer or smaller-breasted or
larger-breasted-came in last weekend's JCPenney/LPGA Skins Game,
a grandiose, made-for-TV 18-hole event at windswept Stonebriar
Country Club in Frisco, Texas, where Dottie Mochrie won a record
$290,000 in a single afternoon. If corporate America is shunning
a lesbian-populated LPGA Tour, then how come the folks at
JCPenney put up a purse of $540,000 for an animated quartet of
stars: Mochrie, Laura Davies, Patty Sheehan and Nancy Lopez? And
if boobs are such a handicap, as CBS analyst Ben Wright
allegedly believes, how come Mochrie kept vectoring irons at the
pin, and Davies walloped drives over Stonebriar's undulating
mounds and swales to such dramatic effect in a two-way duel to
Need they say more? "Hopefully people will realize we're out
here winning money because we deserve it," Sheehan says.
Included in Mochrie's take was a haul of $180,000 on a single
hole, Stonebriar's 352-yard, par-4 15th, where she sank a
16-foot birdie putt to win a four-hole carryover. "If you
thought about the money, you'd never be able to draw the club
back," says Mochrie.
Davies contented herself with $140,000 and second place after
she struck her approach into the water on the par-5 18th while
attempting to reach the green in two. She thereby surrendered a
last sum of $80,000 to Mochrie, who sank a five-foot birdie putt
to ensure her victory. Sheehan, the defending champion, earned
$110,000 with four skins, considerably less than the then-record
$285,000 she won in 1994, while Lopez was shut out for the
second straight year.
The timeliness of the Skins Game was not lost on anyone. The
event offered LPGA players and administrators a chance to set
the record straight on a variety of subjects in the wake of
Wright's alleged comments that the presence of lesbians on tour
"hurts" the women's game, and that women are additionally
handicapped by having "boobs," which make it difficult to swing
a club effectively. Contrary to some misconceptions making the
rounds in the wake of the Wright controversy, the LPGA is not in
desperate need of cosmetic makeovers, liposuction, an infusion
of corporate sponsorship or additional network coverage. In
fact, it is doing just fine, as evidenced by JCPenney's
decision last winter to hike this year's purse by $90,000
specifically to make the women's prize money equal to that of
the men's and seniors' Skins Games.
LPGA commissioner Charlie Mechem was conveniently on hand at the
tournament to point out that prize money on the tour has risen
40%, to almost $25 million, in the past five years. ABC devoted
2-1/2 hours of coverage last Saturday and another 2-1/2 on Sunday
to the Skins event. "If there is a problem in women's golf,
nobody has told these people," Mechem said, on returning to the
Stonebriar patio after mingling with the 5,000-strong gallery.
And that seemed to signal the end of the controversy. LPGA
players and administrators have concluded that the best course
is to move forward rather than to pursue a who-said-what-to-whom
debate that probably wouldn't resolve anything anyway. By the
end of the Skins weekend, the affair had been smothered by the
LPGA's determined goodwill, good golf and cheerful references to
the corporately sponsored future. "I'm a glass-is-half-full kind
of guy," Mechem said. "I honestly believe this is a positive for
The question of whether Wright ever made the comments attributed
to him will probably never be answered. But another intriguing
question has risen out of this issue: Why has the LPGA been so
lacking in indignation?
The LPGA players do not seem to resent CBS or Wright, whom some
players defend as a longtime friend of women's golf, or the
double standard by which women athletes are judged, for
appearance and sexuality as well as ability. Instead, the
players appear to be most resentful of the media for raising the
specter of lesbianism. "I personally don't think any resolution
is needed," Mochrie says. "It's a cultural issue. The media has
been unfair in stamping it an LPGA issue."
But surely it doesn't do the LPGA image any good when players
seem unwilling or unable to speak intelligently about a cultural
or social issue. Confronted with some of the more profound
problems in women's sports--Why are the sexual preferences of
female athletes constantly questioned and their appearance
remarked upon? Why are women athletes still considered
second-class citizens in the eyes of networks?--and given a
national forum in which to discuss these problems, the players
reacted with all the independent thought and spirit of Stepford
"All that business was unnecessary," Davies said. "It was bad
news for everybody, and we were the real losers. Some of the
girls have different lifestyles. Good luck to them. Why comment
Eager as some players were to defend Wright, no one thought to
suggest that he may simply have been trying to say that gays are
still perceived negatively in the corporate and network worlds--a
comment that is perfectly appropriate. Yet Sheehan went so far
as to deny that gay athletes suffer in the endorsement
marketplace. "I don't believe that's true," she says.
"Pardon me?" says Martina Navratilova. "Excuse me?"
Navratilova professed increasing frustration with the LPGA's
wall of obfuscation. "Lesbianism is still perceived of as a
negative, and I feel the LPGA has run away from the issue," she
says. "At the same time the burden shouldn't just be on women
golfers. We know there are gay male athletes as well. I just
would like to see more pursuit of whether he [Wright] said it.
If he was quoted as saying there are too many blacks in the NBA,
it would have been pursued a lot more vigorously."
At least one LPGA representative seemed thankful for the
opportunity to speak to some difficult issues. Mechem saw
nothing wrong in discussing homosexuality. "It's given us a
chance to talk about an issue that needed to be out front," he
said in Frisco. "Of course it exists. It exists everywhere in
society and in every sport." That said, Mechem maintained that
the reaction from corporate sponsors had been universally good,
despite his initial concerns about some of them. "I've been
surprised and pleased that people have said, 'Who gives a damn,
let's play golf.' "
Mechem defended the lack of player reaction by saying that the
players were trying to respond professionally to subjects they
felt they shouldn't have to comment on. "There is the suggestion
that we have not talked about this because we were ashamed or
trying to hide it," he said. "But it's just never been an issue."
Certainly it is not incumbent upon LPGA players to tackle the
ills of society or to come out of the closet. For better or
worse the players are more comfortable restricting their
discussions to golf and making their social contributions via
charity. Thus, probably the boldest statement by an LPGA player
in recent weeks came from Davies, who suggested while playing at
a tournament two weeks ago in Kent, England, that she wouldn't
mind playing in a men's event. "I've competed against guys like
Fred Couples and Ray Floyd in a mixed event," says Davies, "and
I'm pretty much level with them off the tee." The remark was
picked up by the international wires, and ever since Davies has
been the second hottest topic of conversation in golf.
Davies leads the LPGA with an average of 269.3 yards off the
tee, which is almost two yards longer than Floyd (267.8) on the
Senior PGA tour, and five yards shorter than Couples (274.4) on
the PGA Tour. "There's absolutely no question that she could
compete," says David Feherty, who was Davies's partner in last
year's JCPenney (mixed team) Classic at the Innisbrook Hilton
Resort in Tarpon Springs, Fla.
John Daly, the PGA Tour's longest driver, at 287 yards, said
last week he would welcome Davies in a Tour event. "It's just
like women wanting to play hockey or drive a race car," he said.
"Heck, I wouldn't complain if she played."
Lopez, however, does not want to see Davies enter a men's event.
She said she wouldn't be in favor of it because then men might
want to play in a women's tournament. It would open a can of
"I wouldn't do it to prove anything for women's golf," Davies
said Saturday after the first nine holes of the Skins game. "I'd
want to do it purely for the fact of having fun, of teeing it up
and seeing if I could go."
Just about anything Davies does adds get-up-and-go to an event.
She was playing in her first Skins Game, and she was the only
rookie, but she found the format--$20,000 for the winner on each
of the first six holes, $30,000 on each of the next six and
$40,000 on each of the last six--to her liking. Her aggressive
play on every hole and ability to hit momentous shots from any
position made her the most exciting member of the foursome; she
was either courting disaster or doing something spectacular at
every turn. Although she hit just two greens on Saturday, she
On Sunday, Sheehan and Lopez were unable to win a single skin,
and the event became a two-way competition between Mochrie and
Davies. Mochrie had been shut out on Saturday, and the
29-year-old South Carolinian, a vicious competitor, had
practiced for two hours after that round. She showed up the next
morning prepared to do everything but throw body blocks in front
of her competitors. She served notice when she chipped in from
40 feet on the first hole of the day, the 350-yard 10th, for
On the 12th, a 340-yard par-4, Davies holed out from a bunker
and seemed certain to collect $60,000. "I deserved something for
that little tap-in," she says. But Sheehan sank a 30-foot
breaking putt to halve the hole and start a snowballing
carryover. She then jogged into the grateful arms of Mochrie and
Lopez. "Ganging up on me, are you?" Davies said.
When they stepped up to the 15th with $180,000 riding on the
hole, the light joking that had marked the event ceased. "You
have to make the right thing happen at the right time," Mochrie
says. "That's the nature of this beast." She did, sinking a
gentle curving putt that broke about the width of the cup.
They weren't done yet. After Davies birdied the par-5, 475-yard
16th to collect $40,000, she was the only player who could catch
Mochrie. They came to the 18th-a water-, sand- and
trouble-filled par-5 of 490 yards--with $80,000 on the table. But
here Davies finally paid for her aggressiveness. She drove into
light rough on a slight incline. She had a downhill, sidehill
lie with 221 yards to reach the green in two. "Nothing to
lose," she murmured. "I think I'll have a go." Davies took a
huge rip at the ball with a two-iron and deep-sixed it.
Mochrie meanwhile was engineering the last of her four birdies,
set up by a neat wedge approach to five feet. She swept the putt
cleanly into the hole and then issued a shriek that seemed to
come from her heels. Later, lounging in the Stonebriar
clubhouse, Mochrie tried to grasp the notion of all that money.
"I don't know how it feels," she said. "I don't have it in my
hands yet." Some of it is earmarked for mortgage payments on a
new home in Greenville, S.C. Almost as satisfying, however, was
the gleam of success over the whole LPGA. "This can't help but
shed a good light on everybody," Mochrie said.