On Sunday evening, after Tammie Green had tried on her green champion's jacket and accepted all the other booty—a medallion, a silver trophy, a check for $180,000—that goes to the winner of the Sprint Titleholders Championship, she faced a gantlet of feverish fans at LPGA International in Daytona Beach, Fla. Hats, programs and T-shirts were thrust in her face. One guy shoved a newspaper toward her and yelled, "Tammie! Sign my headline!" As she complied, the crush of people and pens moved like lava toward the press tent until the four security guards surrounding Green finally cleared a path to the waiting media. Green, wide-eyed and smiling, could relate, briefly, to the last golfer to don a green jacket on national TV. "Hey," she said when she was safely inside the press tent, "I'm Tiger Woods!"
But unlike Woods's 12-shot triumph at the Masters, Green's final round was no cushy victory lap. She led wire to wire, but after coping with a pair of lightning delays last Saturday, she had to face two other elemental forces on Sunday: a 25-mph wind and a challenge from Annika Sorenstam, the LPGA's leading money winner, who surged to within one stroke of Green before running out of holes. Green never wavered, and her closing 72 and personal-best four-round score of 274, 14 under par, provided a two-shot win.
The title, Green's fifth in 10� years on the tour, was particularly gratifying, coming as it did less than 15 months after she had undergone emergency surgery to repair a ruptured ovarian cyst. "That was a real wake-up call," says the 37-year-old Green, who also had her appendix removed during the surgery. "It made me think about whether I'd ever have children and whether I'd ever win on the tour again. How long would it take to get back to the winner's circle? How much dedication would it take? At least the doctor was very particular about reconnecting my abdominal muscles. I appreciated that."
When she returned to golf in March '96, only four weeks after the surgery—"About two weeks too early," she says—Green, a native of Somerset, Ohio (pop. 1,500), struggled to regain the form that had made her one of the LPGAs best players in 1993 and '94, when she won three times and had three runner-up finishes. "Last year I didn't have the strength to play full tournaments," Green says. "It was frustrating. To get rid of some of that frustration and to know I can put together four good rounds and win is a real plus for this season."
Another plus is the handsome payoff for winning this tradition-laden event. Green vaulted all the way from 61st to sixth on the money list, and the victory put her name next to some of the LPGAs alltime greats. The Titleholders was first played in 1937 at Augusta Country Club as the women's answer to the Masters, held next door at Augusta National. The tournament enjoyed major status for 29 years before it died for lack of funding in the mid-'60s. Since Sprint breathed new life, and cash (the $1.2 million in prize money matches the tour's two largest purses, the LPGA Championship and the U.S. Women's Open), into the Titleholders, the event has become the LPGA's unofficial fifth major, and there's growing sentiment for the tournament to be officially designated as such. "I'm not married to the idea of having just four majors," says LPGA commissioner Jim Ritts, "but you get penalized for self-adulation. This tournament has all the hallmarks—home course, top purse, strongest field, depth of history—of becoming, over time, a 'lowercase m' major like the Players Championship, which is often called the men's fifth major. But I say let those who play and cover the sport designate it. I want this to naturally evolve to its ultimate status."
One thing is certain: LPGA International, opened in July 1994 and home to the Titleholders for the last three years, is not yet an appropriate setting for an "uppercase M" major. Still in the early stages of a 10-year development plan—the facility will eventually be home to a Hotel Intercontinental, a second 18-hole course and a 50,000-square-foot clubhouse—LPGA International is short on amenities. When lightning first sent spectators and players running for shelter on Saturday afternoon, the golfers were told to stay away from their "locker room" because the tent in which it was housed might not be safe. Some of the players who weren't lucky enough to be interrupted within sight of Ritts's spacious, three-TV, snack-filled house beside the 7th fairway, as Kris Tschetter was, were forced to wait out the three-hour interruption in their cars.
Lengthy storm delays were only one of the week's unexpected developments. Noticeably absent from the leader board was 1996 player of the year Laura Davies, a pillar of the European tour who tends to make a lot of hay in the U.S. between March and May, a stretch in which she has won 11 of her 15 LPGA titles. Five weeks ago she won the Standard Register Ping in Phoenix for a record fourth consecutive year, but since then she has had four middling finishes, including last week's tie for 14th, eight strokes behind Green. Considered by many to be the paramount player in women's golf—she has won 50 times worldwide—Davies has recently been eclipsed by Sorenstam and Karrie Webb, last year's Titleholders champion (page 68). "I think Laura is still the dominant player on the tour," says one of Davies's friends, fellow pro Mardi Lunn. "Certainly she'd dominate if she played here all the time. Nobody else has the schedule she has. She must put in 500,000 air miles a year traveling to Europe, Japan, Australia or here every week."
Davies, who lives in West Byfleet, a town about 50 miles southwest of London, agrees that it's all a matter of time. "Obviously, I'd play a hell of a lot better if I spent all my time over here," she says, "but that's never going to happen. I'm 100 percent committed to the European tour. It gave me my start, and if it doesn't survive, we may not see a lot more great European players. But someday I may look back and say it was stupid not to give the LPGA three or four years."
Her week in Daytona was typical in that it included very little practice—Davies seldom plays practice rounds because she plays in so many tournaments and because "she can get away with it," says another friend, Kathryn Marshall—and the usual diversions, such as trips to the dog track and a stint as a guest bartender at a sports bar. The only thing missing was her usual strong finish. Starting her Sunday round seven shots off the lead, Davies struggled to a 73 for a six-under-par 282. Her problem? "I putted like a dog," she said.
Green, meanwhile, putted beautifully, thanks to a new putter and a bit of advice from a friend, Bill Parker, who had watched her play a shaky practice round on Tuesday. After noticing that Green was moving her head on putts, Parker suggested that she play the ball forward in her stance and concentrate on keeping her head still after making contact. "That small adjustment made a huge difference," Green said. "I felt comfortable over the putts all week."