Here's what we're going to do. We're going to follow Amy Alcott
from the ground floor to the roof of her house in Santa Monica
Canyon, near Los Angeles, and we're going to do it without ever
bringing up the word thirty.
This will be difficult because if you tell Amy you're thirsty,
she sighs and says that she no longer gives the LPGA Hall of
Fame a thought. Look at your fingernails and say they're dirty,
and Amy replies that 29 tour wins, including five major
championships, should get you into anybody's Hall of Fame.
Murmur that the orange sun dropping over that ridge sure looks
pretty, and Amy insists that she's not concerned that four years
and seven months have gone by since she has won. The number 30
flutters around Alcott like bluebirds around Snow White.
Sad, that. To view Amy Alcott as a 39-year-old golfer chasing a
missing integer is to blind oneself to her other gifts. She
lives, bless her, not in a fairway condo but in a tall, white
stucco house halfway up a ridge of crowded cliff houses and
small gardens. "Living my whole life in California, I'm
convinced it is the land of fruits and nuts," she says. Perfect,
in other words, for Amy Alcott. Sun spills across the threshold
of her open front door as one of her two Scottish terriers
snuffles contentedly around the legs of a visitor. The living
room is sparsely decorated--white walls and hardwood floors with
techno furniture and a few pieces of contemporary art. But the
conversation starts outside, by a long, narrow swimming pool
that gets even narrower at its shaded end, finishing at a modern
sculpture called Vertebrae Man, which moves in the wind.
"I have two different sides," Alcott says, growing relaxed in
her pool chair. "One is the Pisces, this fish who likes the cool
water, the peace, the freedom. The fish becomes immersed in
things and doesn't like loud noises and overly boisterous
people. That's the side that has made me the great concentrator,
the course manager--the side that can focus on one thing and
focus on it really well."
Alcott clings to memories of a childhood spent as "a loner and
an outcast." Teased by other children for her tomboy tendencies,
she spent countless hours in private communion with her golf
clubs. Since then, she has spent as many hours educating
herself. It is this self-sufficient Alcott who, when she's on
the road, often enjoys going solo in search of an out-of-the-way
"Then there's the other side," she says, "the gregarious show
person." This Alcott is the extrovert who dived into a pond to
celebrate two of her three Nabisco Dinah Shore victories; the
flaky celebrity who used to spend her off days baking and
selling pastries to customers at Santa Monica's Butterfly
Bakery. She's the mischievous golfer who, when asked what she
would do with her winnings from a tour event sponsored by the
Archdiocese of Trenton, N.J., joked that she would give the
money to the United Jewish Appeal.
"That side has come out more as I've grown successful as a
golfer," Alcott says. "My mother instilled it in me. She'd say,
'Just go out this week and let the world enjoy you.'"
Linda Giaciolli, Alcott's agent of 15 years, deals mostly with
the gregarious show person. "Amy doesn't actually come to my
office," says Giaciolli. "She honks her horn in the street, four
floors down. Like a hillbilly." Susan Hunt, who next spring will
cohost with Alcott a television show about women's golf,
describes her partner as "a pretty eclectic personality."
Eclectic, as in willing to try almost anything. A friend told
Hunt, "The two of you will be like Lucy and Ethel."
But here's Alcott by the pool, her head buried in the newspaper,
and you know you've caught the fish again. Her eyes roam the
business pages. "I don't own a lot of stocks, but sometimes
something will jump out at me. One night I had a dream about
being in line at a Sizzler steakhouse." She looks up. "I can be
really crazy. I had this dream and I bought some Sizzler, and it
went down five points. So I don't necessarily pick winners. I do
it strictly for fun."
A quick tour of the ground floor reveals Alcott's other
enthusiasms. In her kitchen, ensconced like a shrine, is a
gleaming, six-burner Garland professional range with broiler and
griddle--the sort of unit upon which a restaurant chef can
prepare 10, 20, maybe 29 omelets at a time. "The cooking I do
when I'm calm," Alcott says, proudly running her hand over the
chrome molding. "I love preparation the most because it gets
your mind off everything. And I love the presentation. I look at
myself more as an artist than as a golfer."
When she mentions her artistic side, Alcott usually mentions her
mother in the same breath. Alcott's father, an orthodontist,
encouraged her creativity, but it was her mother who convinced
her that anything could be art--conversation, clothing, food,
even golf. As a teenage golf prodigy, Alcott was granted rare
playing privileges at exclusive Riviera Country Club. She spent
hours on the club's secluded practice hole, learning to shape
golf shots the way a sculptor shapes clay. It is no coincidence,
friends say, that Alcott's game lost its luster when her mother
died four years ago. Amy's father had died in 1981, and Alcott
suddenly realized that she had been "steamrolling professional
golf for 17 years" and that maybe she was tired and "a little
burnt out," and maybe she should have gone to college instead of
turning pro at 19, and....
But her canvases tell it better. Several are hung on the walls,
unframed. Others clutter the floor of an upstairs hallway. The
work consists of great violent splashes of color with objects
glued on: Q-tips, paint tubes, golf tees, dried pasta. "I tend
to paint when I'm angry about something," Alcott says, taking a
canvas from the floor and turning it several ways as an act of
assessment. "I buy premixed house paint that nobody's picked up.
Then I go up on my roof and literally throw things around.
"I think I was upset or confused about something," she says of
the work she's holding, "and my unconscious self knew that I was
only going to feel like this for a little while, and then I was
probably going to be back to my spirited self. I needed to do
this to get it out of my system."
How long, one asks, has she been painting?
Alcott stares at the canvas. "About four years."
Reconciling the golfer with the abstract expressionist would
take more than an afternoon. Tournament golf has been at the
center of Alcott's existence since she was nine, and it is a
life of practice routines, travel itineraries and tee times. The
golf swing itself is a miracle of precision and minute
tolerances. At her best--when winning the 1980 U.S. Women's Open
by nine strokes or when winning the Dinah in 1991 for victory
number 29--Alcott has been able to visit that place where
conscious thought bails out and the subconscious starts playing.
"And that is a very healthy place," she says, "but it's also
extremely structured." Climbing another flight of stairs, Alcott
throws open a door and steps into sunshine. Her rooftop is a
flat rectangle--a stage?--from which she can look down on other
rooftops and upon which the gazes of residents higher up the
ridge fall unobstructed. The roof is where she throws her paint,
although on this day there are no cans of paint, no
canvases--just a rubber doggy toy that she predicts will end up
on some future work.
"I think this is the nicest place in the house," she says,
watching a car glide past her front walk. "A friend was going to
give me a hundred bucks to come up here and paint nude."
"I said, 'I'll do it!'"
(Later Alcott says, "I want to come back in my next life as a
'Solid Gold' dancer. Remember that show?" One is reminded how
much her facetiousness has contributed to women's golf and how
joy-less her quest for the LPGA Hall of Fame has been made by
the requirement that a player with two or more major
championships must also win more than 29 tournaments for
automatic inclusion. This year the closest that Alcott has come
to winning was a tie for fifth in March at the Ping/Welch's
Championship in Tucson.)
The view from Alcott's rooftop, of course, may be part of her
problem. By simply turning around, she can see into many windows
and gardens, each suggesting alternatives for her own life.
"Sometimes I think the focus I need as a golfer kind of keeps me
in a cocoon," she says. "The longer you do it, the more
single-minded you become. The thing that bothers me most...."
She hesitates. "I'm interested in a lot of things, but I wonder
if I'll ever have that passion again, the all-consuming passion
I've had for golf."
With a last look around the canyon and a wave to Vertebrae Man,
the gregarious show person leaves her sunny perch and takes the
stairs back down to the cloistered realm of the fish. It's a
tall house, a lot of steps. If you're compulsive, you find
yourself counting: ... 27, 28, 29....
But not out loud.