"Ma'am, this is serious," he said. "Your platelet count is 40." That didn't mean much to me at the time, but I later learned that 40 is short for 40,000; a normal platelet count is from 130,000 to 400,000, and most people die when it hits 50,000.
Still, I just wanted some reassurance. I was going to be fine, right? "What do you mean serious?" I asked. "You can't die from it, can you?"
"Oh, yes, you can," he said flatly "At any moment."
Those words hit me like a two-by-four. I leaned over and vomited, but I stayed awake and alert. God, I was going to die. I had a better chance of dying than living. After all I'd done, after all I'd been through, I was going to die a drunk in the bowels of this Orlando hospital. Oh, god, how did I get here?
When you're an alcoholic working through a recovery program, your counselors require you to recount your first drink, your last drink and every drink in between that you can remember.
When did alcohol first touch your lips? How did it taste? How did it make you feel? What did you think about drinking? How soon after your first drink did you have your second drink, your third, your fourth? When did you pour your first early-morning drink, and how did you rationalize it? When did you strike your first bargain with alcohol? And when did you first say or think, I need a drink?
I clearly remember the first time I got the false message that alcohol could make me a better golfer.
For a long time I was known as golf's Golden Girl, but in 25 years, through all the hype and riches, the highs and lows, I never won an event on the LPGA tour. Two years after winning the 1971 U.S. Women's Amateur at age 16, becoming the youngest woman ever to do so—a record that still stands—I joined the tour. From age 18 to 43, however, I never hoisted a trophy on the 18th green, never held the cartoonishly large cardboard check presented to the winner, never gave the winner's press conference. The girl who seemingly had everything, who won almost every tournament as a junior, spent 25 winless years on the LPGA tour.
At times I wondered if some of the things in my life would have turned out differently if I had won a few tournaments, but I know now that the "what if" game gets you nowhere. I am an alcoholic, with or without a victory, and the elements of my personality that led me down the darker paths of my life had nothing to do with winning, losing or even playing golf. I certainly don't blame my behavior on the fact that I didn't win on the LPGA tour. One of the lessons I've learned as a recovering person is that golf is golf and life is life, and blurring the line between the two can be disastrous.
Unfortunately, as a young woman who was expected to take the LPGA by storm, I put a lot of pressure on myself to win, and when it didn't happen I drove myself even harder. From 1974 through 19911 finished second eight times and had 30 top five finishes. In the process I found some of the most imaginative and dramatic ways possible to finish second. In Chicago I birdied four of the last five holes to pull into a tie for the lead with Betty Burfeindt, only to watch as Betty sank a long birdie putt on the final hole to beat me by one. In Noblesville, Ind., I shot a final-round 67 to gain a share of the lead with Judy Rankin and Hollis Stacy, only to lose to Hollis on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff. In St. Paul I missed a five-foot putt on the final hole to finish second.