She arrived on the pro tour last March with a white convertible supplied by Lincoln-Mercury, a gold golf bag and golden good looks. And if, to be honest, her golf game still lacks the Midas touch, Sharron Moran is nevertheless the brightest of the bright young things who are making women's professional golf more and more a game worth watching.
Not so long ago the women pros looked like field-hockey players out of Philadelphia, and when sportswriters wrote about, say, Patty Berg, they told how she grew up in Minneapolis playing football with Bud Wilkinson—good old-fashioned tackle football, not the Kennedy kind.
But the outlook may be changing. At the recent Dallas Civitan Open an enthusiastic newspaperman searching for a way to describe Sharron Moran reported, "She makes you think of a Greek goddess," an assessment that is only a slight slander against the good name and good looks of Aphrodite and Pallas Athene. "The Goddess" is the exemplar, the most interviewed and most talked about of the LPGA's young players. But there are plenty of others, not so flamboyant, who are also reshaping the sport. As a group they are lively, lighthearted and appealing, and if, as the older players point out, they are not as dedicated as pro golfers might be, they are bringing some public attention to the tour that it well can use.
Among the group are a homecoming queen—Sandra Palmer from North Texas State University—some teeny boppers (signs on their automobiles read PROTECTED BY BATMAN) and a few incipient capitalists who have parlayed personality into business contracts. Pam Barnett, for example, is a 23-year-old North Carolinian whom the Del Chemical Corp. hired and put on the tour to interest club professionals in its weed killer and bug spray. And 5'2" Mary Lou Daniel convinced a group of Louisville sportsmen who were sponsoring a young boxer that, given the chance, she could be a knockout, too.
Mary Lou must have done a lot of talking, since women's golf is among the hardest of all sports for a rookie to succeed at—far harder, certainly, than the men's golf tour. The rookies usually end up with little more than the key chains, pens, face lotion, suntan oil and charms that say Midland, Texas, which tournament sponsors hand out. No first-year player has won an LPGA tour event since 1961. The top players—Mickey Wright, Kathy Whitworth, Sandra Haynie, Carol Mann, Clifford Ann Creed and Marilynn Smith—so dominate the game that last year they won 29 of the 32 tournaments. These six have been pro golfers an average of nine years.
Discouraging as such statistics are, they hardly seem to matter to the new pros. They arrive on the tour with notions of traveling, of a stimulating life, of being a somebody and perhaps, eventually, of having a powder-blue Cadillac like Mickey Wright's.
A year ago Becky Eismon was a school teacher in Aransas Pass, Texas. She turned professional, she says, because she could make more money playing golf than teaching. Becky won $56 in 1966 and has won barely $100 so far this year; but she still maintains that her theory is right. "Half the players on the tour make more than $10,000 a year," she says, "and that is twice a schoolteacher's salary."
Nor does the pleasure of travel prove to be quite what it might seem when viewed from Aransas Pass. The pros drive from golf course to motel room to another course to another motel room. While the men are playing at places like Pebble Beach and Palm Springs and Doral, the girls are collecting match-books and laundry stubs in Waco, Worcester and Shreveport.
It takes the enthusiasm of youth to exact a full measure of pleasure from this kind of touring. "Traveling around you learn things about different parts of the country," 19-year-old Candy Phillips says. "Like up North you don't get many tomatoes, and they put butter on hamburgers, not mayonnaise. And we see the sights sometimes. Last year when we were playing in Caldwell, Idaho they had a cocktail party for us downtown, so we got to go all over Caldwell. Of course, some places disappoint you. I won my first check, $50, in Spartanburg, and I wanted to buy everyone dinner. But South Carolina has blue laws, and the only place we could find that was open was Colonel Sanders Kentucky Fried Chicken."
For many rookies, tour glamour is no better than the Late Late Show, and many is the night that the peaches and cream of the LPGA has watched breathless as William Holden takes Grace Kelly into his arms and murmurs, "Five months ago I kissed a woman. Now I love her.... "So much for glamour.