Before the tournament, Sandra Palmer had predicted that par (71) would be the undefeated champion at Rolling Green. "I'll be surprised if anyone shoots a round under par," the 1975 Open winner said. Then she followed Chillemi to the tee and went around the course in 70. "I'm really surprised," said Palmer. "It's such a marathon out there. But I made every putt within reason."
Judy Rankin was not so lucky. She came to the Open needing only $615 to become the first woman golfer in history to win $100,000 in one season. She practiced long and hard, even getting up at 6 a.m. Wednesday to hit some balls on the range at the Philadelphia Country Club, where she was staying. But when rain swept across Rolling Green late Thursday afternoon, suspending play for a couple of hours, Rankin took to the sidelines under a giant umbrella and a cloud of dismay. "I've just bogeyed six straight holes," she said. The course had her so spooked that she would not walk across the high bridge on the par-3 14th because of a fear of falling. Instead, she took a circuitous land route. When play resumed, Rankin finished with a 79.
Most of the field were having problems similar to Rankin's. The trouble was in the layout—virtually all the holes were uphill. Even though this was listed as the shortest Open course on record—6,066 yards—the wet grounds and peaks at the Rolling Green Mountain and Ski Lodge made it one of the longest.
"I love it," said Carner, the tour's longest driver, after her opening 71. "It's so much fun here. I just crank up. It's the first time in years that I've seen an Open course like this." The other players said the last time the event was played on such a demanding course was in Erie, Pa. in 1971 when Carner lapped the field and won by seven shots. "The big hitters are fools if they don't win this tournament," snapped Rankin. "They have us right where they've wanted us for so long."
The Open was Rankin's 10th straight week of competition and the strain was showing. She followed her opening round with a 75 and made the 36-hole cutoff by two strokes, but she had little else to cheer her. "With a perfect drive," she said, "I still have to hit a wood at the hole from most fairways. I think I hit six iron shots all day. I told JoAnn Washam, whom I was playing with today, 'I'm a pretty good iron player if I ever get to hit one.' The greens are so crusty they crinkle when you walk on them. From above the hole, you get a nervous breakdown." Or five putts.
As the brash Connie Chillemi was discovering, brave new words were no help whatsoever after the opening round. On Friday a bad drive on the 12th hole led to a triple bogey, followed by a bogey at the 13th and a double bogey at the 14th. Chillemi hit the green at 16, then started playing croquet. "How many putts did I take there?" she asked her caddie, walking off the green. "Five," he answered. It was the end of a phenom. Chillemi finished with 43 putts and a 38-46—84. "That's a sacrilege in our family," she said. "We're good putters." She finished with 78-79 in the last two rounds and wound up tied for 30th.
As predicted, Carner moved into the lead at the halfway point following a second 71. She was two ahead of Palmer; Pat Bradley, another bazooka hitter, was in third place at 145. Palmer is one of the most tenacious players on the circuit. She is only 5'1�" tall, but she is a battler and around the greens she was working miracles. "She gets the most out of what she has," said Blalock, who was tied for fourth with Alcott at this point. "Her shots aren't pretty, but they're certainly effective."
On Saturday, Rolling Green wiped out all but a pocket of token resistance. Typical were the travails experienced by Bradley. In one nine-hole stretch she had seven bogeys and two double bogeys. The fallen star, Rankin, meanwhile, had another 79 that meant she needed a fine round on Sunday if she wanted to top 100 grand. She managed, shooting a final 74 to earn $1,279 and a tie for 17th.
Ironically, the treacherous par 3s, not the long holes, were to cow Carner on Saturday. She triple bogeyed the 3rd hole when her six-iron tee shot sailed over the green, and double bogeyed the 10th when she missed the green, then three-putted. "It shook me up," she admitted after her round of 77. Palmer took the lead by two shots over Carner after 54 holes, and Blalock moved into third with a two-over-par 73, the third best score of the day. "I feel like I'm hanging on," she said. "The greens are unreal."
Palmer appeared to be losing her grip Sunday when she bogeyed four of the first five holes on a course so wet that the TVA could have been tournament co-sponsor. But she birdied the 15th, two-putted from way across the moonscape on 16, birdied the 17th and wobbled into the playoff with a five-foot par putt on 18.