Kelly Robbins left nothing to chance at last week's McDonald's LPGA Championship in Wilmington, Del. In bone-chilling cold and a steady drizzle on Sunday, Robbins, a long-hitting 25-year-old from Mount Pleasant, Mich., never stopped scrounging, coming up with three back-nine birdies and a final-round 68, the lowest score of the day, to defeat Laura Davies by one stroke for her first major championship. Afterward, as Robbins accepted her trophy and $180,000 winner's check, an LPGA official approached Davies to console her on her second-place finish. Davies made no excuses. Smiling, she whispered into the official's ear, "She was better than me." Indeed, Robbins had been better than everybody from the moment she blasted out of the blocks with a first-round-leading 66, but last week in Wilmington it took four days for anyone to notice.
The oversight had nothing to do with the storm that drenched the grounds of the DuPont Country Club on Sunday and cut attendance nearly in half. What almost overwhelmed the LPGA's second major of the year was the storm of controversy involving CBS golf analyst Ben Wright and a story in last Friday's Wilmington News Journal (page 16). In a story written by the paper's Valerie Helmbreck, Wright was quoted as saying, "Lesbians in the sport hurt women's golf," among other inflammatory remarks. Wright made vehement denials that he said any such things, but the paper stood by its reporter, and the "Did he or didn't he?" arguments dominated discussions on and off the course until they seemed to take the tournament hostage.
The week started peacefully enough. On Thursday, Robbins, who finished second twice in the previous three weeks, took a one-stroke lead over the quartet of Patty Sheehan, Dottie Mochrie, Marianne Morris and Becky Iverson. But before Robbins could tee off Friday, the buzz was all about Wright, who claimed he'd been wronged.
According to the story by Helmbreck, the 62-year-old Wright also spoke about the differences between the men's and women's game. "Women are handicapped by having boobs," he allegedly said. "It's not easy for them to keep their left arm straight, and that's one of the tenets of the game. Their boobs get in the way." Several LPGA players were also quoted in the article, offering their responses to Wright's remarks. "[Wright] is a jerk," said Lauri Merten. "He should be fired." Nancy Lopez, when asked to comment on Wright's supposed remarks, said, "He shouldn't be doing women's golf if he feels that way."
By lunchtime CBS Sports had issued a short statement saying that Wright would not appear on Friday's telecast, which was being aired by The Golf Channel. Instead he would be meeting with network officials in New York City.
Then LPGA commissioner Charlie Mechem weighed in—sort of—with his own statement: "[T]he LPGA does not have a statement with respect to Ben Wright's alleged comments until we know more about the facts."
Wright, on the other hand, didn't hold back. In a memo given to the players only, he reassured them of his support for the tour, then lambasted the News Journal's story: "I am disgusted at the pack of lies and distortion that was attributed to me in the newspapers this morning.... As a result, I currently am exploring my legal options."
By Friday afternoon nearly 100 extra media credentials had been issued to such unexpected arrivals as the TV tabloids Inside Edition and A Current Affair. Entertainment Tonight and E! sent reporters to interview players, and radio talk shows from Spokane to Chicago to Daytona Beach were calling the tournament.
For the most part the players were sanguine about the unwanted distraction, though Beth Daniel's patience wore thin when a reporter from Fox-TV, having cornered the LPGA veteran as she came off 18 on Friday, asked at the end of the interview, "And who are you?" The players quickly tired, though, of questions about Wright. "I'm disappointed the media have brought up what is basically a cultural issue," Mochrie said after her second-round 70 put her three strokes behind Robbins, who held on to her lead with a second-round 68. "We have breast cancer, we have divorce, we have everything else society faces on a daily basis." Davies, whom Wright allegedly said was "built like a tank," was more dismissive of the whole flap. "I couldn't care less," she said. "It's really not worth commenting on. It's not my job to fire or hire Ben Wright. I could say what he said is bloody ludicrous, but I didn't hear him say it."
For her part Robbins had no trouble keeping her mind on the tournament. "I made sure I didn't read anything," she said on Sunday night. "I let other people handle it."