Nothing that Meg Mallon said after her victory at last week's du Maurier Classic in Aylmer, Que., had quite the resonance of her words three weeks before, when she was asked how it felt to tie for second in the U.S. Women's Open. "It just sucks," said the usually chipper Mallon. "It hurts like nothing else. It's like being brought to the dance and having your date leave you." The pain didn't go away, either. After a week's rest Mallon played at the Michelob Light Classic in St. Louis, growing edgier every time a fan or caddie stopped her to say, "Way to go, Meg!" or "Great Open!"
"It wasn't a great Open," the 37-year-old Mallon said on Sunday afternoon after what turned out to be a great du Maurier. "It was a good Open." A great Open for Mallon would have had her beating Karrie Webb by five strokes at Chicago's Merit Club, instead of the other way around. A great Open would have been—well, hell, she hadn't had a great Open since 1991, when she won the event two weeks after her victory in the LPGA Championship and transformed herself from Miss Congeniality into Miss to Be Reckoned With. The 36 majors Mallon had played since then had only tested her patience. This year she ate Webb's dust not only at the Open but also at the Nabisco Championship, which the Australian won by 10 strokes. Mallon, who finished third, was just another also-ran—albeit a rich one, with 12 victories and almost $5 million in prize money to show for her 13� LPGA seasons.
On Sunday morning Mallon woke up in her bed at the Ottawa Marriott, threw back the curtains on a dazzling Canadian dawn and stared her own legacy in the face. She trailed coleaders Annika Sorenstam and Lorie Kane by three strokes going into the final round of the du Maurier. If she was going to have a shot at winning the career grand slam—pending a victory in the Nabisco—Mallon had to win that very day.
Her reasoning was at least tentatively sound. The du Maurier is shutting down after 28 years because a Canadian bill passed in 1997 prohibits tobacco companies from sponsoring sports events. That leaves the LPGA limping along with three majors, and until a substitute for the du Maurier is found—the tour is eyeing the British Women's Open—there can be no authentic grand slam for anyone who hasn't already won the Canadian major.
So Mallon drove to the Royal Ottawa Golf Club and with a three-under-par 69 edged Rosie Jones by a stroke, winning $180,000 and the crystal ashtray—er, trophy. "You talk about giveth and taketh away," a happy Mallon said. Presumably she was talking about the golf gods, not the smoking police.
Truth is, the du Maurier has long been the invisible major. Most newspapers in the U.S. gave it an inch or two of wire service coverage; network television ignored it completely. (Just who was this du Maurier, anyway—the French swordsman played by Stewart Granger in Scaramouche or a Dickens character in A Tale of Two Cities?) That aside, it has been a gem of a tournament. Over the years du Maurier, a brand of Imperial Tobacco, has poured millions of dollars into prize money, venues and hospitality, and many LPGA players considered it their favorite major. ("I don't think of tobacco when I think of du Maurier," says tour veteran Dawn Coe-Jones. "I think of people in red shirts and black pants running all over doing things for you.") The golf courses were usually of the lush parkland variety surrounded by snowcapped mountains. There was also something beguiling about playing in a no-pressure major—even if it meant having to send all those I WON A MAJOR cards to friends and family.
The end being imminent, this year's du Maurier buzz centered on Webb and on What Next. With a victory in the final du Maurier, Webb would have joined Babe Didrikson Zaharias, Ben Hogan, Mickey Wright and Pat Bradley as the only players to earn three major championships in the same year. It was a race of sorts—Tiger Woods will try for the three-quarters slam this week at the PGA Championship in Louisville—but Webb stumbled out of the blocks at Royal Ottawa and tied for seventh, seven strokes behind Mallon. "My whole game was off this week," Webb said. "I hit it real bad and made the putts, or I hit it real good and made nothing."
As for What Next, the players and LPGA officials watched the horizon, hoping that some corporate sponsor would come forward to replace du Maurier. "It feels like the imminent death of a family member," said tournament director Jocelyne Bourassa, who won the event in 1973 when it was called La Canadienne. But no white knight galloped up Aylmer Road with a check for $7 million, the amount the tobacco company lavished on the final tournament. Instead, the expression of Canadian pride was ceded to some vandals who jumped the fence last Friday night and carved I AM CANADIAN and GO CANADA into the first green.
Fortunately, the last du Maurier had 35-year-old Canadian native Lorie Kane, the LPGA's ambassador of gratitude. Kane is a child of the Maritimes Provinces, and like the geese in Fly Away Home she needed help to get where she is today. She didn't qualify for the tour until she was 31, holding down jobs as a salesclerk and as a manufacturer's rep for Moosehead Breweries. Consequently, she treats people as if they were paid-up members of the Lorie Kane Fan Club. At the Women's Open in July, she walked through the merchandise tent clutching a pile of hats. "They're for all the guys at the club," she said, referring to the Belvedere Golf Club in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. "If I go home without hats, I'm in trouble."
Kane did everything but toot Canadian Sunset on the kazoo to entertain the fans at Royal Ottawa. When she wasn't playing superb golf (her second-round 67 was the low score of the week), she was making impassioned pleas for "corporate Canada" to save the tournament, and on Saturday afternoon she signed autographs for fans at a scheduled lovefest. "This is part of me; this is where I began," Kane explained. "We're going to find a way to continue the Classic, come hell or high water."