Carol Mann, who turned professional at 19, says, "You spend most of the first two years on the tour adapting to a different world and trying to find a group in which you feel secure. I was like an overgrown teddy bear (she is 6'3"), and I wanted to be liked by everyone. I raced from group to group. It wasn't until much later that I felt accepted and could really concentrate on my golf."
This transitional period is difficult, and the answer to it for most of the young players has been to band together in a quasi-sorority and take comfort in each other's successes, minimal though they may be.
Donna Caponi, who became a pro two years ago, remembers driving to her first tournament from her home in Los Angeles and crying almost all the way. "I thought I would never see my family again," she says. "I'd never been away from home, and you know how close Italian families are. Even now I still get homesick, and I cry when I leave to join the tour every spring."
It is their lack of confidence that prevents the young players from scoring well. Only three times last year did one of the rookies manage to finish in the top 10 in a tournament. Mary Lou Daniel recalls shooting 72-72-82 in Toledo. "The day I shot the 82," she says, "I was planning to use a three-wood on the first hole, but the girl I was paired with pulled out her driver, and I immediately began wondering why I was using a three-wood. I switched to my driver but tried to hold back on it, because I knew it was the wrong club. Everything went wrong from then on."
Another problem the younger players have is more fundamental. "When they first come on the tour," Carol Mann says, "they have what I call a summertime golf swing. It is what an amateur needs to play in the summer tournaments, but it will not stand up to 30 weeks of professional competition." Their machinelike swings are the major factor in the consistently good finishes of the best players. Last year, for instance, Kathy Whitworth was in the top 10 in 30 of her 31 tournaments.
A newcomer who just might break the relatively staid and settled pattern of LPGA life is Sharron Moran, who is 24 and holder of a master's degree from San Diego State College. Starting from the viewpoint that pro golf success in this decade is not entirely a matter of how much time you spend on the practice tee, she has quickly developed other aspects of a financially sound golf career.
Of all the rookies now on the tour she is the only one who has had the cool to go it alone. "I don't need the group bit," she says. "I was thinking about getting married, but I decided to forget security for a while and play golf." In Dallas, on the same night that other young players were congregating in motel rooms and discussing, among other things, their "sex symbol," as they call Sharron, The Goddess herself was off having dinner with, as she described him, "a shy assistant pro." They shot some pool, and she played the guitar for him.
The following afternoon a Chicago lingerie manufacturer flew into Dallas to offer her a contract as a girdle consultant. "I've got to think about it," Sharron said. "I'm not so sure I want to be thought of as driving down the fairway in my swingingform bra." She has signed a contract with Lincoln-Mercury, and last April she appeared in Las Vegas, along with Arnold Palmer and Bart Starr, at a large Lincoln-Mercury outing.
While still an amateur Sharron was named the Most Beautiful Golfer by
, and ever since she appeared in its pages doing exercises in a gold sweat suit she has been consciously cultivating, as she calls it, "the beauty bit." She has let her blonde hair grow long and wears Garbo sun hats "to prevent my face from turning to leather." She realizes better than anyone that there is as much money in her image as in her golf, which is technically sound and enhanced by unusual competitiveness, but is far from Wright yet.
To her fellow competitors and to the LPGA's tournament director, Lennie Wirtz, Sharron is a little too nonconformist for comfort. LPGA members have been known to begin an interview with the statement, "I don't know whether I should talk to you now. I've had one drink." They are conscious of their image right down to their golf socks—not long ago Sandra McClinton was told to stop wearing anklets. "We have our ways of changing a person," a senior member of the LPGA said recently. "In two years Sharron will be different."