The parable of Betsy King and the Hypnotist will serve as our
Easter reading. It is told that the young Betsy, winless in her
first seven years as a professional golfer, went to a hypnotist
who had enhanced the careers of several bowlers. "Imagine
yourself playing without a care," the hypnotist murmured to the
entranced Betsy. "Picture yourself shooting high scores."
"She didn't know anything about golf," King said years later,
having climbed the mountain on her own. "I told her, 'High
scores in golf are bad.' She said, 'Oh, dear--I'll have to put
you under again.'" No, thanks, said Betsy. The one true path to
better golf, she decided, was the practice range. As she once
explained to an apostle of Zen golf, "You can visualize hitting
a 250-yard draw all you want, but unless you have the swing
mechanics to produce that shot, it won't happen."
King's fundamentalist views came to mind last week in Rancho
Mirage, Calif., as she led herself out of the desert with a
surprising two-stroke victory in the first of the LPGA's four
majors, the Nabisco Dinah Shore. Having won no tournaments in 20
months and having finished an uncharacteristic 45th on the 1996
money list, the 41-year-old King went to Mission Hills Country
Club as a respected but discounted elder. "Burned out," said
some, citing the year and a half she needed to get her last
victory, the one that got her into the LPGA Hall of Fame. "Ready
to move on," said others, citing her commitment to causes such
as Romanian orphans and Habitat for Humanity.
How to explain, then, King's sudden return to Hall of Fame form?
What to make of her winning score of 276--seven shots better
than the 283s she shot to win the Shore in '87 and '90? Was it
diet? Meditation? Transdermal applications of titanium extract?
King had the answer on Sunday. "I think I'm swinging better,"
Coming from the LPGA's most other-worldly star, the
swing-mechanics answer had its usual jarring effect. Despite all
the credit she has given Jesus over the years, the devout King
usually attributes her victories to some simple act of sinew and
bone--a slight change in posture at address, say, or a
correction of the hands at the top of the swing.
"For me, the mental side has always been pretty constant," King
said last Saturday after shooting her second straight
five-under-par 67 to share the third-round lead with
long-hitting Kelly Robbins. "I think well on the golf course, so
it's just a question of getting my swing mechanics straight."
It's not good, for instance, when King pushes down excessively
with her left shoulder on the backswing. Last year that
garden-variety swing fault had her upper body recoiling upward
on the downswing, causing fat and thin shots. (Also fat: her
stroke average, which jumped from 71.24 to 72.65. Also thin: her
tour earnings, which fell by more than $344,000, to $136,459,
her lowest total since 1983.) "I've been trying to keep my upper
body level," she said last week at Rancho Mirage, "the way I did
in 1989, when I won six tournaments."
To get back her '80s swing, King revisited her '80s swing coach,
Ed Oldfield. Whenever possible she studied videotapes of her
once-level self. At times this season, particularly on the
Arizona segment of the tour, King regained command for a round
or two. "She started hitting the ball cleanly and straight,"
said her father, Weir King, a retired physician. The week before
the Dinah, in the final round of the Standard Register Ping,
King hit 16 greens in regulation--a clear portent.
Still, the two-time U.S. Women's Open champion attracted little
notice with her opening 71, which put her five shots behind
coleaders Kathryn Marshall and Kris Tschetter. It was King's
second-round 67, fashioned in a kite-crashing wind, that got
everyone's attention. "It's so good to see Betsy playing well
again," said Robbins, who partnered King in a four-ball victory
at last fall's Solheim Cup. "It's great for the game."
But not, as it turned out, so great for Robbins. The 27-year-old
Michigander, winner of five tour events, including the '95 LPGA
Championship, had carried Laura Davies to sudden death before
losing in Phoenix the week before. On Sunday morning, under a
blue sky crisscrossed with airplane contrails, Robbins was the
clear favorite--possessed of a precise draw and longer off the
tee than King or Amy Fruhwirth, the other member of the final
Sure enough, Robbins drew first blood with a birdie on the par-5
2nd hole. King, meanwhile, struggled a bit with her bobbing
impulse and hit some high knuckleballs--straight shots, but
impressionable, had the wind been stiffer. After bogeying number
10, King dropped into a third-place tie with Fruhwirth, three
strokes behind Robbins--at which time, King admitted later, she
began thinking of second place. But three birdies down the
stretch by King, coupled with a bogey, bogey, double-bogey crash
by Robbins, put her on the tee of the watery par-5 18th with a
two-shot lead on Tschetter, the Ben Hogan protegee who finished
second in last year's Women's Open. "I hit the ball real well
coming in, but I didn't expect Kelly to suddenly lose it like
that," King said. "Maybe it was just my time to win."
And maybe it was time for King to join Sandra Haynie, Nancy
Lopez and Patty Sheehan as the only players in the past 20 years
to win a major championship after gaining entrance to the LPGA
Hall of Fame. (Four rounds without a three-putt? King couldn't
recall it happening before in her career.) Three dead-level
swings on the 18th got King over the hole's signature moat. Two
putts later she had her sixth major and the winner's check for
"I'm not surprised Betsy won on Easter," said Marshall, who
finished 10 shots back. But King, while conceding that
resurrection made for an apt metaphor, insisted that it was
swing technique, not religious inspiration, that had made her
eligible for the now-obligatory winner's dive into Lake Alcott.
"I'm not trying to find a new golf swing," she explained. "I'm
just trying to get back to where I was."
Where was she? Oh, yeah--on top.
For the record, King revealed that in 1994 she had consulted a
sports psychologist--not a hypnotist--for help in dealing with,
of all things, the media. But they had talked about competition
as well. "I think a lot of the things sports psychologists tell
you to do, I do naturally," King said. "So we decided it was
O.K. for me to think swing mechanics a little."
O.K.? Just O.K.?
For Betsy King, it's practically gospel.