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Major League
Kelli Anderson
May 26, 1997
Chris Johnson left no doubt that she's a big-time player with her victory at the LPGA Championship
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May 26, 1997

Major League

Chris Johnson left no doubt that she's a big-time player with her victory at the LPGA Championship

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Of those players Johnson was the most formidable. Tall (5'11") and strong—Johnson adheres to a diet that excludes white flour and sugar and includes things like tofu, beet greens and dense spelt bread—she had won more than the others and has improved steadily since she retooled her game six years ago. Johnson has added length to her drives (she averages 250.7 yards, 17th best on tour) and consistency to her putting (she has improved from 151st last year to 83rd in '97). Also, winning a Grand Slam event, said her caddie, Rob Caliolo, was "a major goal."

By the time Johnson and Lindley teed off, a brief shower had softened the course and the clouds had teased apart. Both players appeared relaxed as they parred the first four holes, the hypermetabolic Johnson noshing discreetly while Lindley, Lopez-like, smiled graciously and hummed the Des'ree song You Gotta Be. Lindley broke through with a birdie at the par-3 5th and remained in front until Johnson birdied the par-5 9th. Two holes later CBS turned on its cameras and things got interesting. Lindley bogeyed the 11th while Johnson birdied, a two-shot swing that Johnson nearly threw away on the next hole by yanking her drive under a tree. She saved par by getting up and down from the fairway. "Chris had been very calm," said Caliolo, "but I began to sense nerves when she started missing shots."

Leaving the 13th green, Johnson and Lindley heard a roar up ahead, at the 15th. Sorenstam, on her way to a 68, had birdied to pull within two strokes of Johnson. Then Lindley birdied the 14th to move within one. Johnson fought to hold on. "I was struggling out there," she said. "On the 14th, 15th and 16th I went back for different clubs. It was hard to stay focused. Maybe it was nerves, but I was making it more difficult than it needed to be."

The championship turned on the 399-yard 18th, an uphill par-4 that doglegs left and was the most difficult hole on the course, averaging 4.39 strokes. All Sorenstam needed was a par to get to three under, which would have put her into the playoff, but her chip ran long and she missed the putt coming back. Fifteen minutes later Johnson drove into the right rough, left her approach short, then failed to get up and down. Lindley's par forced the playoff.

The crowd, 10 deep in spots, stayed put as Johnson and Lindley went back to the 18th tee. This time Johnson hit her approach into a bunker and again failed to save par. Four feet stood between Lindley and her first LPGA victory. Matt Plagmann, her husband and caddie, read the putt inside left. "I thought it was on the edge," said Lindley. "I had to go with what I felt. I made a good stroke, kept my head down. I thought I had made it, but it went right over the edge."

So everyone trudged to the 10th tee. Lindley drove her ball into the thicket of stubby dogwoods right of the fairway. "Where is it?" she asked the gallery as she approached. "You're not going to like it, Leta," a spectator replied. Lindley could only laugh when she saw the ball under belly-high branches, hiding in a fluff of thick grass like an Easter egg. Taking out a nine-wood—"I needed a long shaft to even get to-the ball," she said—Lindley punched back to the fairway and wound up making a bogey. Johnson flew her second shot over the green but chipped to within eight feet and sank the par putt to win, quietly celebrating with a smile and a raised fist.

Eighteen years, whether you count them by rounds, holes or sandwiches, is a long time to wait for a major.

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