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A reviewer given the chance to elucidate on the atmosphere of the Ladies' Professional Golf Association tour might well come up with such snappy descriptions as "fresh," "light," "entertaining" and maybe even "wholesome." But somewhere along the line he must face another reality, one that is, unfortunately, more a plague on women's golf than a pleasantry. To wit: the LPGA tour is probably the most static of all our national sports shows. This statement would seem to fuel the constant debate that goes on among those on the outskirts of sheer fandom as to which sporting events are strictly routine and predictable, therefore flat, tedious and undeserving of so much attention.
There are some people, for instance, who believe the tactical development of pro football has caused each game to look alike and every season to resemble just one long exchange of downs between the Eagles and the Lions. Others say track-and-field meets are so repetitious that contestants could mail in their times and distances every week and the results of the competition would not change.
Men's golf used to be the biggest culprit in this respect. Arnie and Jack, Billy and Gary won. Everybody else lost. Drive one, putt two, turn to another channel. Pretty simple, really. Since the PGA now has a lot of other guys who can win, and since football and track have too many followers to argue against without being punched in the mouth, the undisputed champion of regularity—and too often monotony—has become the women's pro golf tour. There, every week, every tournament, all of the following are certain to take place:
1) Paul Jerman, the tournament supervisor of the LPGA, will make an unpopular ruling, after which several girls will cry, moan and complain and then admit that Paul was right after all, kiss him and make up.
2) A man with a blue baseball cap and a black-and-blue handicap will come out of the gallery to shake his head and say something like, "Jeez, didja see that one? These girls know how to hit it like you won't believe."
And 3) Kathy Whitworth will either a) win the tournament or b) scare whoever is winning it right back under her hair dryer.
Over the past four years, in fact, Miss Whitworth has beaten enough people out of enough money to force many of her sister golfers into hocking their dryers and taking up shuffleboard for a living. She has been the leading money-winner on the tour every year since 1965. She has led the Vare Trophy standings (for low-scoring average) three of the past four seasons. She was named Woman Athlete of the Year twice (1965 and 1966) and LPGA Player of the Year all three times the award has been given. Probably more than anyone else, Kathy Whitworth must also take responsibility for making each week's tournament a chase instead of a race for most of the other 50 touring women.
The men's tour has been dispossessed of its Big Three image for several years now, but the ladies' triumvirate marches on, unwilling to make room at the top. Of the 91 official tournaments of the LPGA schedule during the past three years, Mickey Wright, scoring sporadically, Carol Mann, scoring zanily, and Miss Whitworth, just plain scoring, have won 59, or almost two-thirds. Last season the trio's dominance was most obvious. Kathy won 10 events, Carol won 10 and Mickey, playing less than half the season, won four. Total: 24 of 32 tournaments. No other girl won more than once.
To be sure, prospects for a more competitive tour are considerably brighter than these statistics indicate. There are other girls who have struggled for years along the tour and are just now bringing their games to maturity.
Players like Donna Caponi, Gloria Ehret and Margie Masters, now in their fifth year, and Pam Barnett and Sharon Miller, in their fourth, are all considered capable of stardom. Miss Ehret has already won the LPGA championship, as has Sandra Post, the 20-year-old Canadian who was such a delightful surprise last season. Sandra Palmer is another girl who has quietly developed into a solid contender after five years on the tour.