Survivalists, even those among that hearty breed who have never replaced a divot, would have relished last week's U.S. Women's Open in the once placid suburb of Kettering, Ohio. Never mind the precise doglegs and yawning bunkers on a storm-lashed NCR Country Club course that didn't yield a score lower than 69. We're talking looming clouds of poison smoke, tree-shattering lightning, an earthquake, golf carts crashing in the forest and—close that box, Pandora—flesh-eating flies.
But while the industrious folk residing in and around Kettering were wondering if they were suffering some sort of divine retribution, Sally Little and Jane Geddes calmed the turbulence with some solid golf, proving that chaos need not infiltrate the bucolic fairways of the mind. On Sunday, after 72 holes, they tied at 287, one under par, a stroke ahead of Betsy King and Ayako Okamoto.
The final thunder came from Geddes in Monday's 18-hole playoff. She shot a 71, one under, beating the tiring Little by two strokes. Thus Geddes became the 11th woman in history to make the Open her first tournament victory.
Geddes's performance put a different face on a tournament that, at times, seemed a horror. The diabolical NCR course is tough under any circumstances, but last week's events forced the players to become suburban guerillas. The disturbances began Tuesday afternoon as most of the field played practice rounds. A railroad tanker loaded with phosphorus derailed in Miamisburg, a city about 10 miles southwest of the course. When the tank ruptured, its contents ignited and a white plume of noxious smoke rose into the air, leading to the evacuation of 30,000 people, the largest evacuation as a result of a train derailment in U.S. history. Several golfers had to change hotels because of the irritating fumes, which lingered for days.
That calamity somewhat overshadowed the buildup to Pat Bradley's bid for an unprecedented Grand Slam. Bradley won the Nabisco Dinah Shore in April and the LPGA Championship in June, and needed the Open and the du Maurier Classic to complete the slam. But she opened at NCR with a 76 on Thursday, followed it with a 71 and 74, and a gallant finishing 69 on Sunday could only get her to 290, two over par, and a tie for fifth.
Beth Daniel had taken a short-lived lead with a first-round 70. Then on Friday Betsy King and Judy Dickinson went to the front at 143. King, a wiry 115 pounds, is a nine-year veteran and was the leading money winner in 1984. She swings with as much effort and hits the ball as high as anyone. The wetter NCR got, the better King liked her chances.
Two behind at 145 was Japan's Okamoto, who said she lost a shot on the 12th hole Friday when a fly bit her on the leg as she made a chip shot. "Ayako says the flies here eat you," said her interpreter and business manager, Margie Kato.
Saturday for many of the players began with an earthquake at 4:20 a.m. The quake was felt in four states and measured 4.2 on the Richter scale. "I laughed when I heard about it," said Little, who slept through the tremor. "What else could happen?"
Plenty. About three hours later, an NCR security guard skidded and crashed his motorcycle into the scoreboard in the press tent. And when a ferocious thunderstorm stopped play later in the day, the cart bringing Okamoto to shelter skidded and smashed into a tree. She suffered a bumped head, a bruised thigh and a severe fright. "She was more scared than when she saw Poltergeist II." Kato said. When play resumed, Okamoto recovered to shoot a second straight 69, which featured 23 putts.
That put her at 214, one shot behind the leader, King, who had hit 18 greens in shooting a 70.