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Anne Quast Welts, the eventual winner of that Amateur and now a three-time national champion, marveled at Roberta. "She's at that wonderful stage where it never occurs to her all the horrible things that can happen on a golf course." It was true. "I was on cloud 3," Roberta says today, "not cloud 9. Everyone else is on that," she adds laughing.
In the quarter-finals Roberta played 36-year-old Mary Pat Janssen. "All Roberta has to think about is her golf and her stomach," said a rightfully worried Miss Janssen. Roberta beat her 5 and 4, and the next day won again to become the youngest semifinalist in the tournament's history. She recalls thinking that night, "I'm playing with the big girls now. I could get beat." It was, she says, "the first time I ever doubted my ability." When she lost to Tish Preuss on the 17th hole the next day her tournament was over, but the doubt lingered on. She began to lose her confidence. Peggy Conley and Jan Ferraris, the other two fine golfers her age, had been scraping their way to the top, and they had learned how to scramble to stay alive. It was something Roberta had never been forced to do. "It would drive me nuts," she says, "to know I was hitting the ball better and hitting more greens, while they would be all over the park but still get down to halve a hole. I had started on top and was getting knocked down a little bit farther each tournament, while they just kept working their way up."
Roberta might now be an ex-golfer but for her own determination and a Sioux Indian named Ted LeCompte, who had been a good friend of Babe Zaharias'. A veteran with 100% disability from World War II, LeCompte spends his winters around Temple Terrace playing golf and coaching anyone who might ask him for advice. He once thought of being a golf pro, and he teaches better than a lot of them.
When Roberta's game went sour, LeCompte began to coach her. He tried to reassure her by telling her over and over again that she could depend on her swing. As one golf writer said recently, "If you took all the instruction manuals and arrived at a composite perfect swing, it would be Roberta's." It is a swing to envy, and it was as good then as it is now.
"I kept hearing Ted and my father say this, but it never penetrated," Roberta says. "I thought they were telling me my swing was good because they were my father and friend. Every time I missed a shot, it would get to me."
"When youngsters are 14 or 15 they suddenly realize that golf is hard," says LeCompte. "But they still don't realize they are human, that they will make mistakes. It takes time to learn to control yourself. Roberta needed to understand that she was going to miss five or six shots in a round. She had to convince herself she could still play and win even if she missed them."
For three years she did not win a noteworthy tournament, though each summer was completely devoted to golf. "I looked forward to summer, yet I dreaded it," she says now. "I would get on the first tee and freeze."
Her grandfather, Giulio Bottari, a Tampa dermatologist, became concerned about the hours she was spending in the sun and told her she must always wear a hat. She does, faithfully, and her forehead remains white long after the rest of her face is tanned. Her hats, in fact, have become a fetish. She has 10 of them, which she carries through the summer in a paper box. "I used to buy one at every tournament, but I would never wear a new hat until the following week," she says. "I had this feeling that if I wore it right away I would lose. Everything was so mental with me."
She planned to be a government student when she enrolled at Miami—having given up a whimsical notion that she wanted to be a veterinarian—but an accounting course got her interested in business school, and her endless string of A's has followed. Her life is in part summed up by the two magazines she subscribes to: Golf World and Business Week. "I don't think Roberta will ever turn professional," a USGA official said recently. "She will make more money in a few years as a stockbroker than Mickey Wright will earn in her whole career."
Perhaps, but this fails to reckon with the fact that Roberta Albers wants something back for her summers in the sun and is showing signs of getting it. She has hardly been home to Temple Terrace this year, moving from one big tournament to the next and giving increasing indications that she is at last going to be able to win with her picture swing.