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First, At Last
Amy Nutt
September 04, 1995
Unknown veteran Jenny Lidback got her breakthrough win at the LPGA's anonymous major
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September 04, 1995

First, At Last

Unknown veteran Jenny Lidback got her breakthrough win at the LPGA's anonymous major

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Rodney Dangerfield should be the poster boy for the LPGA's du Maurier Classic.

The tournament gets no respect. The fourth and final major of the year on the women's tour, the du Maurier, which was held this year at the Beaconsfield Golf Club in Pointe-Claire, Que., just outside Montreal, is pretty much the poor stepsister to the LPGA's other three majors, the Dinah Shore, the LPGA Championship and the U.S. Open. Played on a different Canadian course every year, the du Maurier is the only one of the women's majors to be held outside the United States. And as if international obscurity were not bad enough, the list of recent winners of the du Maurier sounds like something from Jeopardy! The category: Women's Golf. The answer: Three players who made the du Maurier Classic their first win. The question: Who are Cathy Johnston-Forbes (1990), Nancy Scranton (1991) and Sherri Steinhauer (1992)? And how many wins, in toto, have these golfers had since each won the du Maurier? Answer: Two.

To that list of championship-challenged golfers, you can now add the name of Jenny Lidback, a 32-year-old cipher on the LPGA tour who, when she came through customs into Canada last week, had exactly no wins in her seven-year career and one top-10 finish in 1995. All that changed on Sunday when Lidback, whose $150,000 winner's check is a spot less than what she earned on the tour in 1993 and '94 combined, put together a solid if unspectacular final round of even-par 72 to beat Liselotte Neumann by one stroke. Though Lidback's total of 71-69-68-72-280 was the highest winning score in this tournament since Sandra Haynie's eight-under-par 280 in 1982, Lidback had to contend with 30-mph winds last Thursday, gusting breezes on Sunday, and sunbaked, sometimes grass-less greens all week long. To her credit, she not only survived but also thrived under the less than felicitous conditions. Using her trusty seven-wood to get up and down on a number of occasions, Lidback averaged 28.25 putts per round—two less than normal.

To date, Lidback has struggled to excel on the women's tour after putting together an enviable resume on the junior circuit. Born in Lima, Peru, the daughter of an Italian mother and a Swedish father whose work with a chemical company kept the family globe-trotting, Jenny took up golf as an 11-year-old while living in Rio de Janeiro. The Lidbacks moved to Baton Rouge when she was 13, and as an 18-year-old in 1981 she won the grand slam of junior golf: the Future Legends, the Tournament of Champions and the All-American Junior Classic. In '81 Golf Digest even ranked her the No. 1 junior player in the U.S. She was a two-time All-America at TCU, where she played on the 1983 NCAA championship team, before transferring to LSU and graduating with a degree in broadcast journalism. But with her loosey-goosey swing, Lidback has been playing catch-up ever since she joined the LPGA tour in 1988. Compared with the big hitters, Lidback's driving average of 219.9 yards is painfully short, ranking a lowly 164th, and her yearly scoring average has never been below par.

But Lidback's life was made a lot easier last week when a hefty number of big names took a powder on Friday, including the three longest hitters on tour, Laura Davies, Michelle McGann and Kelly Robbins. McGann's presence, however, was still felt throughout the week: The Beaconsfield pro shop was displaying her photo along with her new line of signature jewelry.

For her part, Lidback made her presence known not on the fairways—Neumann consistently outdrove the Peruvian by 30 to 40 yards—but on the greens. Actually, Lidback did what no one else could do all week: She played some exceptionally bad greens exceptionally well. Because of an unseasonably hot and humid summer in Quebec, the putting surfaces at Beaconsfield were burned and browned from wet-wilt and about as smooth as sandpaper. From his vantage point, parked beside the 11th green, Keith Kennedy, the director of the LPGA's fitness van, watched the greens crew at work every morning before play began. "It's fun," he said on Saturday, "to watch them mowing the dirt." Lidback clearly didn't mind playing in the dirt, doing it with poise and patience, though she also showed a penchant for chipping in, which she did on Sunday from 30 feet short of the green at the 406-yard 3rd hole.

The weather was not Beaconsfield's only nemesis this summer. There was also the problem of some balky equipment. "Basically, the sprinkler got stuck in the 'on' position one day," explained Mark Dufresne, Beaconsfield's superintendent, who meekly accepted an award from the Canadian Golf Superintendents Association last Saturday in the tournament press room after making some heartfelt apologies. Most of the players expressed disappointment, too, but were philosophical. "You can be the best putter in the world," said Betsy King, who finished the tournament tied for fifth, "but if it bumps something, it goes where it goes. It's luck. You can't do anything about it. Everyone is in the same boat." If that was the case, Lidback and Neumann had clearly jumped ship.

By Saturday night Lidback, with successively lower scores each round, was alone at the top, one shot ahead of Neumann, who had joined the leaders on the strength of a six-under 66 on Friday, and four ahead of her next closest pursuer. Sunday's final round was essentially match play between Lidback and Neumann, and they did not disappoint the gallery, which included Lidback's father, Arne, and mother, Franca. Lidback showed her nerves early, three-putting the 1st hole from 13 feet, but she swallowed hard, straightened her narrow frame and nailed a seven-iron to within eight feet of the pin on the 2nd hole for birdie. With Neumann making birdie as well, the two stayed tied just a few minutes more, until Lidback plopped her wedge shot into the hole for birdie at the 3rd. After falling into a tie again on the 5th, Lidback pulled in front to stay with a four-footer for birdie on number 6. The only truly tense moment came at the very end when Lidback, who admitted later that her legs felt like they might give out, nearly whiffed her layup shot on the par-5, 494-yard 18th hole. Recovering to make par, she won her very first crystal vase when Neumann's 20-foot birdie try ran out of gas.

For Neumann the loss was particularly disappointing. Having won three LPGA tournaments last year, and a total of six worldwide, Neumann has been shut out this season, though she has seven top-10 finishes in 19 events and has missed only one cut. "I had such a good year last year," Neumann said, "and now when I put myself in a position to win, I want it so much—too much." After the final round, Neumann could only shrug and smile ruefully. "What do you say when you finish second?" she asked. "It was a long day. Nothing really happened."

For Lidback, what happened was simply the tournament of a lifetime. If her play was more workmanlike than wondrous, it didn't seem to bother the slightly built pro, whose only self-compliment came on Friday when she said of her round of 69, "I didn't hit too many ugly shots." That clearly did not say it all, however—even for a no-name winner in a nearly anonymous major event. On a course that played to accurate drivers and lucky putters and in a tournament where the average score turned out to be nearly 2� strokes over par, Lidback drove decisively and putted with panache. And she should certainly be forgiven if her excitement about winning was tempered by rather pedestrian concerns. "What does the du Maurier mean to me?" she said in answering a question after her victory. "A few years exemption on tour. That's big." But who knows? A couple of wins and a couple of years down the road there might be another Jeopardy! question—say, Women's Golf, for $1,000—with the answer: The only LPGA Hall of Famer to make her first win the du Maurier Classic. The correct question: Who is Jenny Lidback?