During six winless seasons on the LPGA tour, Carin Koch had a reputation for faltering at the finish. Her worst meltdown occurred two years ago at the Jamie Farr Kroger Classic in Toledo, where she took a two-shot lead to the final hole, an easy par-5, but made a double bogey and then lost to Se Ri Pak in a playoff. Koch, 30, put the choker's label to rest on Sunday by shooting a six-under 66 at Corning Country Club to make the LPGA Corning (N.Y.) Classic her first tour victory.
The win also helped repair the damage done to the Swede's reputation at the Corning four years ago, when she was accused of cheating and was disqualified from the tournament, an incident that also caused a rift between Annika Sorenstam and her younger sister, Charlotta. During the third round of that tournament Koch, the leader, hooked her tee shot at the 16th hole into pines near the adjacent driving range. When fans and marshals failed to find her ball, Koch grabbed her driver and headed back to retee. As she reached the tee box, Stefan, her husband and caddie, said he saw Carin's first ball fall from one of the trees. However, Robert Klasson, Charlotta's fianc� and caddie, claimed that Stefan had broken the rules by shaking the pine, which caused Carin's ball to fall out. Charlotta and Klasson had been paired with the couple. LPGA official Angus McKenzie ruled in favor of the Kochs. "It was one person's word against another," McKenzie says, "so we gave Carin the benefit of the doubt and let her proceed as if the ball was in play."
The next day Klasson produced an elderly couple who backed up his story. Even though none of the marshals looking for Carin's ball had seen Stefan shake the tree, she was slapped with a two-shot penalty and DQ'd for having signed an incorrect scorecard. "It was as if they were calling us cheaters," she says. "The cameras were there, and there was no way Stefan could've shaken that tree."
Annika, a friend of Carin's, grilled officials about the incident. When Charlotta and Klasson were married in December 1998, Annika attended the ceremony but was not a member of the wedding party. When Charlotta and Klasson divorced late last year, the sisters reconciled.
Last week marked Koch's first appearance in Corning since the incident. "I wanted to tell Charlotta, 'Thank you for getting a divorce so that I could come back to Corning,' " Carin said. "The whole thing came down to Stefan and Robert, and it was no secret that they didn't get along. I've tried to block it from my mind, but when someone calls your husband a liar, it's hard."
[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]