One night last winter Carol Mann was invited to appear on Johnny Carson's TV show, but at the last moment she was told that her services were not needed. "I knew they had gotten somebody better," says Miss Mann, "so I watched that night. The guy who replaced me played a homemade harmonica. The thing looked like a sweet potato."
For years that has been the story of the women's pro golf tour. While the men are winning $50,000 in a single tournament, starting corporations and flying their own jets, the women are losing out to harmonica players. But as the touring ladies moved into Raleigh last week, there were signs—dollar signs, to be exact—that Johnny Carson should pay attention to.
Listen to Lennie Wirtz, the girls' tour director, father confessor, clothes coordinator and, more often than he would like, nursemaid: "When I started out here in 1961, we played for $186,000 in total purses. Only two tournaments were worth more than $10,000. Now we don't book an event for anything less than $12,500, and this season we are sure to make more than half a million. The galleries are larger, and the whole tour is getting more attention. One reason is that the girls are taking an active part instead of saying, 'I don't give a damn.' We're not so obscure anymore, everyone is working on promotion and the girls are finally getting credit for being people rather than a bunch of Amazons. We're getting there."
For Wirtz and the 35 to 40 regular touring pros, "there" is where the TV money is. The LPGA came within a hairpin of a $115,000 contract with Shell's Wonderful World of Golf last December, but the idea for the series—elimination matches involving 12 women and 12 men pros resulting in eight winners pairing off for a mixed Scotch foursome tournament—was turned down by the PGA Tournament Committee. The rejection was, as they say in the college dorms, a nifty shoot-down, but the girls have not taken their jilting silently.
" Gardner Dickinson came out with the statement that it would hurt the men's professional image to play with us, and that the women shouldn't be getting so much money," says Kathy Whitworth, president of the LPGA. "We were plenty mad at the time, but maybe we're better off this way. Now we know where we stand with the men. We know we're not going to get any help from them, and we'll have to do it on our own. Well, that's fine."
Having found out where they stood with the men—nowhere—the ladies settled down to battling among themselves for the half a million dollars on their 32-stop tour. Last week's tournament in Raleigh was the sixth this year, and as it began it was evident that only the number of free cars allotted to contestants during the tour (up from 10 to 20, Carson take note) had changed. Most of the faces were the same.
For instance, there was Betsy Rawls, shooting 69 on opening day and proving the old gang wasn't still around just to talk about sun visors, wooden shafts and how it used to be. There was Marlene Hagge, with her orange pigtails and her neat curves and most of the men in the gallery in her "army." There was the goddess, Sharron Moran, last year's Rookie of the Year, with her glowing teeth and her wide hats. And there was Donna Caponi, the last of the great Italian sand players, acting like a refugee from Rowan and Martin with lines such as, "Hi, I'm Donna Caponi from beautiful downtown, sock it to me, sock it to me, Burbank, California."
There were a couple of new faces, of course, girls who were making their presence felt by vastly different methods. Red-haired Sandra Post from Canada has had finishes of 12th, 10th and seventh. Until withdrawing from Raleigh because of illness, she was off to the hottest start of any rookie since Clifford Ann Creed finished fifth on the official money list in 1963.
Another newcomer is making a different sort of impact. Sue Dobson, a 25-year-old stewardess on leave from United Airlines, got a big $1,500 chunk from an advertising agency in Chicago for posing for 27 rolls of color film in her little blue coffee, tea or milk uniform while holding various golf clubs. But the stewardess' pictures have not been placed well with the media, and Sue's game is, well, coffee, tea or milk. She has broken 80 just twice in 17 rounds with a high finish of 35th.
Perhaps the most noteworthy development on the tour so far is that the two-way battle for supremacy between Kathy Whitworth and Mickey Wright has been expanded to include a third—Carol Mann, the 6'3", effervescent blonde who won the 1965 Women's Open. Kathy won the first tournament of the year but Mickey Wright responded by winning the next two before dropping out with an infected eyelid. Meanwhile, two weeks ago in Atlanta, Carol Mann shot an amazing 66-66-68 to win by 10 strokes, then followed that with a second straight win last week in Raleigh. She is now the tour's leading money winner and certainly one of its most colorful personalities.