Twenty years ago this week, I won my fifth straight tournament, the Bankers Trust Classic in Rochester, N.Y. It was a magical week. In the last round I hit a ball right off a spectator's head, but things were going so well for me that the ball stayed in play and the spectator, Dr. Jerry Mesolella, became a friend for life.
That might be my most famous win, but there was one that was even more emotional. It happened in February '78 at the Bent Tree Classic in Sarasota, Fla. I was 19, I'd had my card for only a few months, and there I was, walking up the 18th fairway with a chance for my first win as a pro. I must have looked nervous, but nerves weren't why I was having trouble seeing straight. It was memories I was fighting. My mother had died of a heart attack four months earlier. She was only 52. She had spent 10 years driving me to tournaments, changing family plans, sacrificing so that I could play golf. Now she wasn't here to see it pay off. Pictures of her kept running through my head. But I kept it together, parred the 18th and won by one shot. Then, when I got to the clubhouse and called my dad in New Mexico to tell him I'd won and say how I'd been thinking of her, the tears came. That's how I spent my most emotional moment in golf, me and Dad crying on the phone.
Today, as a member of Team Bayer along with Tom Kite and Bob Murphy, I play for the American Heart Association. We've raised almost $205,200 for the AHA's stroke and heart research. It's a cause that's close to my heart, and not just because of my mother. My father suffers from congestive heart failure. My husband, Ray Knight, has hypertension. Fortunately, Dad's still with us, and Ray, thanks to the right medication—and, I think, the fact that he's not managing!—has his blood pressure under control.
I'm keeping it together, too, even when I think of how it all began.