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.
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."