It started out as the tournament nobody wanted to play in, and for a time it seemed like one nobody wanted to win. Out in a Chicago suburb last week, in the U.S. Women's Open, the sound of applause was drowned by the gnashing of teeth. Golf shots clinked instead of clicked. And then at the very end, Sandra Haynie made a couple of putts that stretched from the LaGrange Country Club halfway to the Loop.
While the rest of the leaders were falling apart, Haynie rolled in a 70-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole, then a dramatic 15-footer on 18 for a 72-hole score of 295 and a seven-over-par, one-stroke victory over Carol Mann, who was always a threat, and Beth Stone, who came out of the ruck with a final-round 71.
Those putts were Sunday punches that rescued what threatened to become a debacle as the leaders—Haynie included—staggered through the last nine holes wondering if it might have been the tournament's retribution for the fact that this was the week the sisters put the United States Golf Association up against the wall in what almost was the last U.S. Women's Open.
Having seen the price of prime ribs driven down by concerted action, the women wanted to drive up prize money the same way. They threatened a boycott when the USGA announced an Open purse of only $40,000. "I know there's a difference between men's and women's golf, but is it $185,000?" asked Jane Blalock, gazing across the gap between the men's and women's Opens. "That silver cup is kind of hard to eat."
The women's truculence stemmed from a long-standing belief that the USGA considered their tournament a mere appendage to the men's. The boycott concept surfaced last spring when 56 players signed a petition saying that they intended to go knitting during Open week. They wanted the purse raised, a different method of entry selection, a change in the prize-money distribution, polish added to the television broadcast, the golf course defanged and an improvement in the USGA's "general attitude." The women were miffed over the tournament officials' stoical mien. "You don't smile enough," they complained to the august group. "You don't smile enough," came the even reply. So last week everyone was walking around with toothy grins.
It was only two weeks before the entry deadline that the Ladies Professional Golf Association membership finally decided to play, and then only after the USGA agreed to chuckle more, change the purse allotment, add two women golfers to the TV team, thin the rough, soften the greens and widen the fairways so that the scores would appear relevant instead of outrageous. "The public thinks that when the men shoot high scores, it's because the course is tough," said Mann, the LPGA president. "But when we score badly, it's because we're lousy golfers." The USGA also said it would consider raising the purse and altering the entry format in 1975.
Years ago the burning issue of women's golf was whether their pet dogs should be allowed in the country club parking lots. Now the prosperous ladies are into six-figure purses, tax shelters, gallery ropes, television ratings, business consulting, player performance points, pretournament qualifying, endorsements, commercials, player card review, tour caddies, corporation pro-ams and sponsor associations, just like Arnie, Jack and Gary. They did not want a crummy-looking Open. If they had to, they would take it to a lipstick company for sponsorship.
But it still was, after all, the Open and once they arrived the players treated it with reverence. Carol Semple, the U.S. and British amateur champion, brought along a tape recording extolling the powers of positive thinking and played it before teeing off. Mann stood endlessly in front of her motel-room mirror practice-swinging a golf club and asking, "Who's the smoothest swing of all?" She also dumped four sugars in her ice tea for energy and said she was putting herself into a trance. Judy Rankin summoned her father-tutor for some emergency schooling, and just about everyone started getting a high pulse rate.
The course was the immediate problem. According to the women, if the USGA tape measure were used at track events, people would still be trying to break the five-minute mile. The course was listed at 6,266 yards, but the players said that was as accurate as Jack Benny's age. "Everyone will have to keep the covers loose on their fairway woods," said Susie Berning, the Open winner the past two years. And someone with a macabre sense of humor dangled a hangman's noose from one of the television towers.
Attention centered on Joanne Carner. When her driver goes "bop" instead of "boo," people suspect she is playing with a ball made out of plutonium. Carner was radioactive during an eight-week stretch recently when she won three times, was second on three other occasions and finished fifth and eighth. She had a similar but shorter streak during the 1971 U.S. Open that she won by eight shots.