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Women's golf used to be a faint rumor operating out of the trunk of a rusty sedan with a cracked windshield and a coat hanger for a radio antenna, limping along on the road between Waco and Tippecanoe. That was before Gucci shoes, television cue cards and toothpaste tournaments got into the act.
Now the tour is the Star Ship Enterprise. Everyone has a real big smile, a public relations consultant and lingering jet lag from a travel schedule that demands the ability to yell "fore" in eight languages.
Last week there was yet another example of the new look, the $70,000 Women's International held at Moss Creek Plantation on Hilton Head Island, S.C. In the field of 71 were all the top money-winners, many of the best amateurs in the country and a smattering of international stars. If the format looked a lot like the Masters, it was no coincidence. The sponsors wanted to call it that before Masters majordomo Clifford Roberts decreed they could not take his title in vain. The word Masters became International, which is a shame. Well, women are used to changing their names.
Actually the new name fit as well as the old, since the tournament turned into a two-country match between South Africa's Sally Little and Jan Stephenson of Australia. Moss Creek may have lost a name in the settlement, but it got custody of the excitement.
Little won the International the way you always dream about winning. She sank an 80-foot bunker shot for a birdie on the last hole to win by a stroke and send Stephenson into light shock. It was Little's first victory in six years of scratching around the tour, and it was worth $10,000 and about five minutes of hugging and squealing by a coterie of friends who had gathered at the final green.
Little was below par in each of her rounds, shooting 71-69-71-70—281, seven under on a course that was so tight the golfers felt as if a hand was ever on their shoulders. She also demolished the notion that she gets dishpan hands from sweating under the pressure, by birdieing three of the last five holes.
The International is one of seven new LPGA events this season. Hollis Stacy, nicknamed "Horace" because of a recent trip to Japan, represents Moss Creek on the tour, and she sold the development's president, Stewart Smith, on staging the event, then set about winning it. Urged on by a group of hometown fans up from Savannah, Ga., Stacy opened with a pair of 72s and was in contention until two front-nine double bogeys on Saturday signaled the death of a salesperson.
Every golfer knows that hell will be a crowded golf course with a wind in your face, a smart-aleck caddie and a clumsy putter. Moss Creek's course is named "Devil's Elbow" so players can have their hell on earth. It winds through thick forests, brushes alongside ominous marshes and has small greens and large, docile alligators that delay play when they lumber out of ponds. None of this seemed to bother Sally Little. When she birdied the second hole on Saturday, the guardians of the leader board were in a quandry. There were no red (for under-par) sixes available. Lucky it was a women's tournament. Out came a handbag and lipstick was used to transform a five into a six.
Judy Rankin wished she could apply some makeup to her game. She came to Moss Creek leading the tour in money earned, the winner of two of her last three events. But she kept hitting good shots and coming up ugly. "All I need is a brain operation or a birdie," she said after a third-round 72 that left her four back of Little and tied for third place with Debbie Massey and Murle Breer. On Sunday, Rankin was really holding her head, the victim of a headache and a fourth-round 77 that dropped her into a tie for ninth.