Betsy King needs explaining. Probe those cool blue eyes, and it's like looking into a swimming pool—you see bottom. Which is to say, not much. No fire shows.
"I've never been to a sports psychologist," says King calmly. She stretches her tanned legs in the desert sun but keeps her face in the shadow of the patio umbrella. She pops a grape into her mouth and smiles, looking out at the palm-dotted fairways of Scottsdale's Orange Tree Resort. Explaining herself is an exercise she accepts with grace, but no obvious delight.
"I went to a hypnotist once for my putting, which I would never do again," she says. "The hypnotist had worked a lot with bowlers. She put me under and had me visualizing success, saying things like, 'Picture yourself shooting a high score.' When she brought me out of the trance, I said, 'You know, shooting a high score in golf is bad.' And she said, 'Oh dear, I have to put you under again.' "
King permits herself a tiny laugh. "That didn't last too long," she says. "That, too, I did before I was a Christian. I don't think I'd ever do that as a Christian."
Ah! So it wasn't mental calisthenics but spiritual enlightenment that transformed King. Seven years without an LPGA tour win, then she finds Jesus and, hallelujah, she's on her way to becoming the best woman golfer in the world: 20 victories since 1984, including six in '89, when she won the U.S. Women's Open and earned a record $654,132 in prize money; two Rolex Player of the Year awards; a Vare Trophy....
The 34-year-old King shakes her head. Religion may be her first priority, but tour titles are not her reward for good works and diligent Bible study. "Looking back," she continues, "I think the improvement in my golf was just a question of mechanics."
Mechanics. The word lands with a thud. "I think the mental part of golf is overplayed," she says. "Visualizing success is fine, but I can beat any 18 handicapper in the world, I don't care what the person's attitude is. He can picture hitting it 250 yards all he wants, but if he doesn't have the swing to do it, he can't do it."
That's it? With tournament players these days attributing their success to everything from acupuncture, Scientology and square grooves to Syber Vision, vegetarianism and the teachings of golf mystic Shivas Irons, the hottest player in women's golf says she plays great because of her swing? King nods. "The mechanical part is more important than the mental part," she says.
O.K., let's talk mechanics. Photographs of King taken in 1978, her second year on the tour, show her with a very upright swing and a closed position at the top; her club face is hooded. To compensate for that position, which invited a pull hook, King swung from the inside on the downswing to square the club face at impact. She pretty much perfected the maneuver at Furman University, where she and another future LPGA star, Beth Daniel, led the Paladins to the NCAA championship in 1976. King was also the low amateur that year at the U.S. Open.
But her swing limited her when she joined the tour. Despite flashes of promise—second-place finishes at the '78 Borden Classic and the '79 Wheeling Classic—King averaged 74.26 strokes a round during her first four years as a pro, barely good enough to make a living. By 1980 she was ready to make a change.