Between the endless rain and the rampant commercialism last week at the McDonald's LPGA Championship, there was some question as to whether the tournament deserved major status. Good thing the loused-up event was won by a player of genuine stature.
Never mind that Laura Davies's even-par total was the highest winning score in a women's major since 1984. And never mind that the inclement weather in Wilmington, Del., reduced the event to 54 holes, marking the first time a men's or women's major had been curtailed. Davies's play was nothing short of redemptive for herself and the tournament. On Sunday she secured a one shot victory in raw conditions with a bogeyless one-under 70 in what she called her finest final-round performance ever. "It was quite something," she said proudly in perhaps the biggest understatement of the week.
Bitter 40-mph gusts rendered the 6,386-yard, par-71 DuPont Country Club a charmless place on Sunday. Water spewed sideways out of fountains, and litter tumbled down fairways. Every swale and trough was a morass of mud and standing water. It was a bad day for waste management, not to mention golf. The final-round stroke average was 76.1, and 11 of the 79 players who made the cut failed to break 80.
What wasn't reflected in flat numbers was the Biblically long day that Davies, the 32-year-old from West Byfleet, England, had to endure to collect her third major and 43rd victory worldwide. Rain suspended play late on Saturday afternoon with 69 players still on the course; they were forced to return early Sunday to complete their second rounds, some with as many as 11 holes to play. With only two holes left, Davies was in better shape than most, but she promptly double-bogeyed the first of them and was three strokes behind defending champion Kelly Robbins after 36 holes.
That double bogey would be Davies's only hiccup on a day that saw 18 players within two shots of the lead at one juncture. Midway through the final round she was locked in a tie with six others, including U.S. Open champion Annika Sorenstam. Davies stayed in contention with steady play. She racked up 15 consecutive pars before ramming home an 18-foot birdie putt at the par-5 16th. The lone birdie provided the margin of victory over Julie Piers, a perennial also-ran who had missed three straight cuts coming in. "I'll be surprised if anyone looks back on this as not a proper major," Davies said. "How we ever got in 54 holes defies belief."
So, too, do LPGA officials who have made this major much too commercial. Ever since the LPGA merged its championship with the regular McDonald's tour stop three years ago, golden arches have become ubiquitous. They adorn the tee-box markers. They are stamped on every concession tent and even on the flags. What other major permits such a surpassingly vulgar display?
The most important problem tournament officials must address, however, is the consistently inclement weather at their event. Wilmington in May is inhospitable, and the storm front that tormented last week's championship was no freak. This marked the fourth time in five years that rain has suspended play. And although there were no delays last year, Robbins won in a cold drizzle. Perhaps LPGA officials should smell the double cappuccino sitting under their noses and get out of town, or get a later date.
The simple reason for staging the tournament in mid-May is to hold the golf TV spotlight. The LPGA's hand was forced, however, when, by 11 a.m. Thursday, officials determined that the rain-soaked DuPont layout would not be ready for play until Friday. Limited daylight precluded playing 36 holes on any one day. Extending the tournament to Monday was not an option because it would have conflicted with an already scheduled U.S. Women's Open qualifier. Just as important, the LPGA was eager to crown its champion on national TV on Sunday. Strangely, assistant LPGA commissioner Jim Webb insisted that a rain-shortened major was "just not that important."
That's easier to say when you have a Sunday leader board that includes the likes of Davies, Sorenstam, Patty Sheehan, Betsy King and Juli Inkster. Then there was the triumphant resurgence of Nancy Lopez, who held a one-stroke lead when play was suspended on Saturday and fell out of contention in the final round only grudgingly. It has been some years since the 39-year-old Lopez figured so prominently in a big event. She has not won since 1993, and the last of her three LPGA Championships came in 1989. But last week she predicted that if she continues to strike the ball so solidly, "I know I'm going to win once, and maybe more than that."
Lopez admitted that over the past three years she had become increasingly overweight and unhappy with her game. "I'd almost say I felt depressed," she says. "I didn't realize that was what was hurting me." In February she hired a personal trainer and set out on a grueling exercise regimen and low-fat diet. She has been working out two hours daily, putting in 60 minutes on a step machine and another hour in weight training. In five weeks she lost 30 pounds and felt like a new person. "I could go all day long," she says. "I could work out, play 18 holes, chase the kids and still go."