In the town that Monopoly made famous and on a course that nature made impossible, the U.S. Women's Open was played last week. Actually, misplayed might be a better way to put it, since by the time Sandra Palmer walked off with her four-stroke victory, the Atlantic City Country Club course had been thoroughly buffeted and bogeyed. It was the week the wind blew ol' Mary down.
Although Atlantic City is not quite the place it was when the Parker Brothers put this New Jersey resort on the game board, it remains a good spot for a respite from July concrete. But for the golfers there was no summer vacation as they fought par throughout the tournament. The Open rough always is thick, and this year it was especially dense with eight straight days of rain falling before the event. It grew and grew, and Green Superintendent Doug Fraser broke two hand mowers giving it a trim.
Atlantic City C.C. had been the site of two previous Opens. The first, in 1948, was won by Babe Zaharias with a score of 300. The 1965 champion, Carol Mann, finished 10 strokes better, and last week there were high expectations for even lower scores, since Debbie Massey recently had shot a course-record 65 on her way to winning the Eastern Amateur there.
But no one figured on the wind, which gusted up to 35 mph. Most players did not pass Go, most did not collect $200. Most felt as if they had been run over by the Reading Railroad. Each morning they peeked out of their motel windows to see the wind bend back the branches and knew it would be another long day. The breezes dried the greens, then the sun baked them to the hardness of biscuits. The course was listed at only 6,165 yards, but it played as if it was 10 miles long, because the wind came from the south, the direction Club President Leo Fraser says makes his layout toughest to play. To score pars, the golfers needed perfect wood shots that put them in range to chip; if they had to hit to the greens with their longer irons, their shots ricocheted off the crusty putting surfaces and bounced away toward Marvin Gardens.
The week before the Open, Mann had won at Columbus, Ohio with seven straight birdies and a 29 for nine holes. In her first nine at Atlantic City she shot a deplorable 45, finished the round with an 84 and missed the cut. Jan Ferraris, who had been the runner-up in her two previous tournaments, also missed the cut, as did three-time Open champ Susie Berning. The golfers were pulling the trigger but coming up blank. "You can't be in diapers and play this course," said Jo Ann Prentice. She, too, missed the cut.
As Sally Little proved, it was the type of tournament where a golfer could score 80 in the first round and be tied for the lead two days later. It was an Open in which halfway leader Sandra Post could shoot a third-round 76 and still share a spot atop the leader board.
Some of the golfers up there with Post were as unfamiliar as last year's astronauts. Particularly for amateur Nancy Lopez and professional Diane Patterson, this Open turned out to be a good one; it helped them erase some of their identity problems.
Lopez (SI, Aug. 13, 1973) is only 18 years old and recently graduated from high school. She finished 18th in the Open last year and won the U.S. Girls' Junior Championship in 1972. At Atlantic City she had a first-round 73 that put her one stroke behind leader Judy Rankin, then was tied at the midway point with Post and was never out of contention thereafter, finishing tied for second with a 299 total.
Lopez has the strength of a low-handicap male golfer and refreshing innocence. She speaks in a little girl's singsong voice and has an endearing, sincere attitude. She went around smiling and wearing earrings and Indian jewelry, and kept saying things like, "I hope my daddy comes to watch me play," and "The $8,000 prize would be nice, but I'd like to have the trophy, too," and "I hate my three-wood, so I don't use it." She also kept the long-distance lines busy, talking to her parents back home, before they flew up to watch the final round.
Her sister Delma and brother-in-law Bernie Guevara followed her around, taking home movies during her practice sessions. Lopez grew up playing golf on a public course in Roswell, N.M. She was taught the game by her father, Domingo, the owner of an auto body shop. He wants her to turn professional, but she has decided to attend Tulsa University on a golf scholarship. The fans found Lopez so enchanting that they applauded whenever she entered the clubhouse.