Perhaps my biggest disappointment, however, came in California in March 1986. By that time I was living near Palm Springs, and all my friends drove up to Costa Mesa to watch me play in the Uniden Invitational. After I shot 68-70-68,1 held a four-shot lead going into the final 18, and friends I hadn't seen in years came out to cheer me on. Finally, after 13 years, I was going to break through with my first win on tour, and it was going to come near my home, in front of people I'd known since high school. By the time the final threesome teed off on Sunday afternoon, a very partisan gallery had lined the 1st fairway, shouting things like, "Come on, Laura, it's your time." I could almost feel the tension in the air as hundreds of people held their breath, hoping that this would finally be it.
Mary Beth Zimmerman, who had won the week before in Phoenix, started the day four shots off my lead, and we were paired together in the final group. I was nervous, but I always had a few butterflies before teeing off. That was only natural.
I three-putted three greens on the front nine, but I made a couple of birdies and still held a comfortable four-shot lead with four holes left. All I had to do was hold it together.
At 15, a dogleg left, I hit what I thought was a decent drive, but it drifted into the rough, and all I could do was hit my approach into a sand trap. As I was walking up to the bunker, I looked down at my right hand and saw that it was shaking...trembling like some pro-am rookie's. I cursed myself and put my hand in my pocket. I had always been able to channel nervousness to my advantage, using it to heighten my senses and give me an edge. This time, though, I was shaking, something I hadn't done since I was a kid.
The bunker shot flew longer than I wanted, and I left myself with a difficult 12-foot putt for par. Normally I would have relaxed, gone through my routine and made a good aggressive stroke, but as I gripped the putter, I could see that my hand was still trembling. I tightened my grip and missed the putt, giving another shot back to the field.
At the 17th I had to take the tee out of my pocket with my left hand because my right was shaking so badly. I missed a 10-footer for par, and Mary Beth rammed in a 20-footer for birdie. Suddenly we were tied, and when Mary Beth ran her 10-foot birdie putt into the middle of the hole at 18, the tournament was over. She had birdied the last three holes, and I had played the last five holes in three over par—a six-shot swing in an hour and 15 minutes.
At first I wanted to vomit, but I knew the television cameras were on, and I had to congratulate Mary Beth. She deserved it. Afterward I went to the locker room, where I put a towel over my face and wept. Several players and friends tried to console me, but I didn't want to speak to anyone. I was consumed with doubt, fear and questions about my future. Was I ever going to win? Did I have what it took? And what the hell was wrong with my hand? Even after Mary Beth had lifted the trophy over her head at the postround ceremony, my hand still shook as it had throughout most of the final holes.
After the tears dried and everyone else had left the club, I stuck around a little longer, not for memory's sake but because I needed a drink before crawling into my Porsche and making the drive east to Palm Springs. The bar was closed, but the bartender knew what had happened and took pity on me. He poured a glass of white wine too full and slid it over to me on a napkin. I gulped it like water, and the buttery smooth chill wet my throat like nectar from the gods. After finishing the glass in two swift slurps, I wiped the edges of my mouth and thanked the bartender. Then I looked down and noticed something fascinating.
My hand had stopped shaking. Just like that. I held it up and turned it palm up and palm down, then I rolled my fingers in and out. Nothing...not even a twitch. "Wonder what it could have been?" I asked myself as I headed out to my car and prepared for the long trip ahead.
I always assumed no one knew about my drinking because, in my mind, I was perfectly normal when I drank. In reality everyone knew. The girls on the tour would smell alcohol on my breath at eight in the morning, then roll their eyes and go about their business. Few knew the extent of my addiction, but everyone knew I drank too much.