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Storm Cloud
Amy Nutt
May 22, 1995
Reported remarks by a TV analyst overshadowed the stellar play of Kelly Robbins at the LPGA
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May 22, 1995

Storm Cloud

Reported remarks by a TV analyst overshadowed the stellar play of Kelly Robbins at the LPGA

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Focus has never been a problem for Robbins, who learned the game from her father, Steve, a high school biology teacher. She was the dominant player on her University of Tulsa team when it won the NCAA title in 1988. All week long she succeeded in steering clear of the controversy while other players addressed it directly.

"Your first reaction is, you're mad that it was even brought up," Joanne Carner said. "Then you read something like 'boobs,' and you think, What a stupid statement.... [But] I can't imagine [Ben] ever talking to a woman reporter he's never met and saying something like that. You know, Sunday night, when you're half in the bag with personal friends, you might make a statement like 'boobs,' but to someone you don't know?" Lopez, who said that the quotes attributed to her in the original News Journal story were all accurate, seemed to sum up most of the players' feelings on Saturday when she said, "I truly want to believe he didn't say any of it."

If some players seemed eager to forgive, or at least, grant Wright the benefit of the doubt, they also expressed frustration at what they perceive to be a double standard. "When women room together," Lopez said, "they are gay. When men do, they're just buddies. I don't think that's fair at all." When asked whether high-profile golfers who are gay should come out of the closet, Carner responded, "Why don't they ever do stories about gays in professional football?"

Wright's alleged remarks were also being discussed in the line into the ladies' rooms, between police guards outside the players' locker room, on the clubhouse patio and in the grandstands. On Saturday one local woman handed out buttons that read WRIGHT is WRONG. Some players weathered the controversy with humor. Australian Mardi Lunn was seen practicing shots on the range with her driver extended as far out from her chest as possible to see what the effect was. It wasn't good. She shanked all of them. Before starting her round on Saturday morning, Jane Geddes was overheard to say, in response to a friend's words of encouragement, "Thanks. Now, if I can only keep my boobs out of the way."

Wright issued a second statement early Saturday, this time to the press, offering a two-page, detailed rebuttal to Helmbreck's original story. "For the record," the statement said, "I never said anything to the effect that lesbians in women's golf are hurting the sport or that lesbians were bad for the image of the game." Shortly after Wright issued his statement, the executive editor of the News Journal, John N. Walston, issued one of his own, saying that the paper stood by its story.

Also on Saturday, CBS, expressing support for Wright, announced that he would be back on his perch at the 17th hole for the weekend broadcasts. Indeed, Lopez joined him there after her third round.

Repeated efforts were made, to no avail, to contact Helmbreck for a response to Wright's accusation that the quotes were fabricated. Her only interview on the subject came on Friday, by telephone, with David Kamens of The Golf Channel. Kamens, who asked Helmbreck for background details on her interview with Wright, said of his conversation with the 12-year News Journal veteran, "She walked me through it and read from her notes.... She was very believable."

When Mechem called a press conference for Saturday, it was only in part to address whether or not Wright uttered the offensive statements, a question that Mechem said was still unanswered. The other reason was to address a larger social issue. "We have read comments about lifestyle before," Mechem said. "I have come to understand that to a degree these comments are leveled at all women's sports and, for that matter, at virtually any successful unmarried professional woman. It is a way of demeaning or trivializing their performance and their accomplishments.... The LPGA's major problem and its biggest challenge by far is not the personal lifestyle of its players. It is much less complex than that. Any problem we have...is a societal problem."

Finally on Sunday the siege seemed to lift, giving way to the golf, specifically to the two longest hitters on the tour, Davies and Robbins. While Davies is able to power the ball through sheer physical strength and tremendous leg drive, the 5'9" Robbins says the source of her club-head speed lies elsewhere. "God gave me quick hands," she says. In only her fourth year on the tour, she has also made a name for herself with her iron play, ranking ninth in greens in regulation.

On Sunday, Robbins had to use all of the clubs in her bag to beat Davies, though Davies bore a measure of responsibility for losing. The championship slipped away from the Brit on the par-5 16th. After teeing off, Robbins and Davies were forced to wait more than five minutes before hitting their second shots. For Davies, one of the faster players on tour—"You see the ball, you pick a club, and you hit it," she says—the wait proved disastrous. She lost her concentration and missed a three-foot putt for bogey. Meanwhile, Robbins nailed a sand wedge to within a foot. Suddenly Davies, who had been leading by one coming into the hole, was losing by one with only two to play. Despite a valiant effort on 18, where she took out her driver, aimed for the fairway beyond the dogleg on her left, then launched her ball 270 yards over the trees, Davies could do no better than par. The only problem that Robbins had was keeping her hands warm. Her solution, however, was pretty simple. "I put my hands under my caddie's jacket," she said.

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