As its own special version of Armageddon crept closer last week the tight little world of the Ladies Professional Golf Association entered a state of suspension. The country's best women golfers were gathered at the Pleasant Valley Country Club just outside Sutton, Mass., but the talk was not about the $50,000 Eve- LPGA Championship, the most prestigious event run by the women pros. Instead it focused on Jane Blalock, a determined, iconoclastic, 26-year-old blonde who is a fine golfer, the tour's leading money-earner and, to hear the LPGA tell it, a cheat.
Miss Blalock stood accused of golf's most appalling sin, the one of deceit. The LPGA claimed proof that the tour's Most Improved Golfer the last two years also had been improving things on the greens, moving her ball away from spike marks. For her alleged transgressions she was suspended by the LPGA for a year.
As acrimonious rumors whirled around Pleasant Valley, everybody seemed to agree on at least two points: Jane Blalock was fighting to survive, and the course, this week anyway, was not living up to its happy name. The controversy deepened as the week lengthened and wounds were opened that would fester far beyond this Wednesday, when the LPGA and Miss Blalock would meet in the U.S. District Court in Atlanta to contest her $5 million antitrust suit against the association. The LPGA planned to make all its evidence public at the hearing. Jane would leave it to the court whether she had been suspended wrongly.
The public seemed amazed by the harshness of the LPGA's ruling. Nobody should have been, supporters of the association point out. In their strict view golf is a game that survives on integrity. Other sports may applaud those who can bend rules to their advantage, like the baseball pitcher who throws a spitball or the football lineman who has become adept at holding against the pass rush. But by its nature golf demands that its players strenuously police themselves. In those rare cases when they do not, the ones who are caught cheating are dealt with summarily. This year the men's tour lifted the playing privileges of Rogelio Gonzalez, a Colombian, after he altered and turned in an incorrect scorecard at the Greater New Orleans Open. A few years ago an American professional was caught moving a ball marker forward a foot or two on the back of his flanged putter. He would walk toward the hole, surreptitiously dropping the ball marker considerably closer to the cup than it had been. Found out in the fall, he was suspended. He was allowed to rejoin the professionals the following spring.
The present scandal surfaced almost a month ago. After the second round of the Bluegrass Invitational in Louisville the LPGA executive board—the five-woman ruling body of the tour—called in Miss Blalock and informed her she was disqualified from the tournament, contending she had been observed moving her ball illegally on a green. A $500 fine was levied.
Currents of tension and apprehension swept through the tour. They increased when Miss Blalock was ordered in by the executive board for two more meetings, first at the Titleholders Tournament in Southern Pines, N.C., next in Baltimore at the Lady Carling Open. After the latter the board suspended Miss Blalock for a year. Subsequently she countered with her lawsuit and obtained a temporary restraining order against the suspension. The war was on.
The executive board claims that Miss Blalock has been under suspicion for over a year, that there have been repeated violations, that witnesses in the gallery at Louisville had observed her replacing the ball to the side of her marker on the green and that Janie tearfully admitted to her guilt. Miss Blalock was denying everything.
The adversaries in the confrontation seem as disparate as fire and rain. On one side stands the executive board made up of playing pros: Cynthia Sullivan, president; Judy Rankin, vice-president; Linda Craft, secretary; Penny Zavichas, treasurer; and Sharon Miller, member-at-large. These five represent the Establishment on the tour, the workers. On the other side is Jane Blalock, a girl who by her own definition is not a mixer. The women's tour is one of the bastions of conservatism, but Jane has the peace symbol on her bank checks and on her golf bag there is a sign, POW'S NEVER HAVE A NICE DAY. While she is now the tour's big money-winner, she is also a girl who has never paid her dues by serving voluntarily, as have many other pros, on a tour committee.
Jane Blalock grew up in Portsmouth, N.H. and as a teen-ager compiled a lukewarm amateur record in the New England area. Her golfing talent appeared so meager when she graduated from Rollins College in Florida that she returned home to teach school. After an unsatisfying year she borrowed some money from her mother and drove back to Florida, where she contacted Bob Toski, recognized as one of the finest teachers in golf. Toski was impressed—in particular with her tenacious attitude—and agreed to tutor her. Jane stayed in Florida for five weeks, living in a rundown, bug-infested hotel for $12 a week. At night she propped a chair against the door to keep out unwanted visitors.
The following winter she returned to work at Toski's club. She cleared $42 a week plus room and board in exchange for which she labored almost from dawn to dusk retrieving balls on his driving range, serving as a starter and doing odd jobs. She also listened as Toski advised students on the practice tee. At 23, having never won a tournament outside New England, she became a pro.