Perhaps the LPGA's most effective reply yet to all those who think the women's game is troubled—that it should be thinner or younger or sexier or richer or smaller-breasted or larger-breasted—came in last weekend's JCPenney/LPGA Skins Game, a grandiose, made-for-TV 18-hole event at windswept Stonebriar Country Club in Frisco, Texas, where Dottie Mochrie won a record $290,000 in a single afternoon. If corporate America is shunning a lesbian-populated LPGA Tour, then how come the folks at JCPenney put up a purse of $540,000 for an animated quartet of stars: Mochrie, Laura Davies, Patty Sheehan and Nancy Lopez? And if boobs are such a handicap, as CBS analyst Ben Wright allegedly believes, how come Mochrie kept vectoring irons at the pin, and Davies walloped drives over Stonebriar's undulating mounds and swales to such dramatic effect in a two-way duel to the finish?
Need they say more? "Hopefully people will realize we're out here winning money because we deserve it," Sheehan says.
Included in Mochrie's take was a haul of $180,000 on a single hole, Stonebriar's 352-yard, par-4 15th, where she sank a 16-foot birdie putt to win a four-hole carryover. "If you thought about the money, you'd never be able to draw the club back," says Mochrie.
Davies contented herself with $140,000 and second place after she struck her approach into the water on the par-5 18th while attempting to reach the green in two. She thereby surrendered a last sum of $80,000 to Mochrie, who sank a five-foot birdie putt to ensure her victory. Sheehan, the defending champion, earned $110,000 with four skins, considerably less than the then-record $285,000 she won in 1994, while Lopez was shut out for the second straight year.
The timeliness of the Skins Game was not lost on anyone. The event offered LPGA players and administrators a chance to set the record straight on a variety of subjects in the wake of Wright's alleged comments that the presence of lesbians on tour "hurts" the women's game, and that women are additionally handicapped by having "boobs," which make it difficult to swing a club effectively. Contrary to some misconceptions making the rounds in the wake of the Wright controversy, the LPGA is not in desperate need of cosmetic makeovers, liposuction, an infusion of corporate sponsorship or additional network coverage. In fact, it is doing just fine, as evidenced by JCPenney's decision last winter to hike this year's purse by $90,000 specifically to make the women's prize money equal to that of the men's and seniors' Skins Games.
LPGA commissioner Charlie Mechem was conveniently on hand at the tournament to point out that prize money on the tour has risen 40%, to almost $25 million, in the past five years. ABC devoted 2½ hours of coverage last Saturday and another 2½ on Sunday to the Skins event. "If there is a problem in women's golf, nobody has told these people," Mechem said, on returning to the Stonebriar patio after mingling with the 5,000-strong gallery.
And that seemed to signal the end of the controversy. LPGA players and administrators have concluded that the best course is to move forward rather than to pursue a who-said-what-to-whom debate that probably wouldn't resolve anything anyway. By the end of the Skins weekend, the affair had been smothered by the LPGA's determined goodwill, good golf and cheerful references to the corporately sponsored future. "I'm a glass-is-half-full kind of guy," Mechem said. "I honestly believe this is a positive for the LPGA.
The question of whether Wright ever made the comments attributed to him will probably never be answered. But another intriguing question has risen out of this issue: Why has the LPGA been so lacking in indignation?
The LPGA players do not seem to resent CBS or Wright, whom some players defend as a longtime friend of women's golf, or the double standard by which women athletes are judged, for appearance and sexuality as well as ability. Instead, the players appear to be most resentful of the media for raising the specter of lesbianism. "I personally don't think any resolution is needed," Mochrie says. "It's a cultural issue. The media has been unfair in stamping it an LPGA issue."
But surely it doesn't do the LPGA image any good when players seem unwilling or unable to speak intelligently about a cultural or social issue. Confronted with some of the more profound problems in women's sports—Why are the sexual preferences of female athletes constantly questioned and their appearance remarked upon? Why are women athletes still considered second-class citizens in the eyes of networks?—and given a national forum in which to discuss these problems, the players reacted with all the independent thought and spirit of Stepford Wives.