QUESTION: What do National Velvet, Stalag 17, High Noon and the richest tournament in the history of women's golf have in common?
ANSWER: Three thousand acres of brush-covered hills and dusty canyons in the western reaches of California's San Fernando Valley known as the Warner Ranch, that's what.
For three decades the Warner Ranch was rented to movie companies which transformed its arid landscape into whatever the script at hand called for, be it England, Nazi Germany or the Old West. In the 1950s, when the movie moguls moved out, the bulldozers rolled in and the old Warner Ranch became Calabasas Park, a real-estate development with a Robert Trent Jones golf course that last week was the site of The Carlton, a new tournament on the LPGA tour worth $205,000. And that, sports fans, is more money than female athletes have ever competed for.
Donna Caponi Young, whose home is in the San Fernando Valley and whose husband Ken runs the pro shop at Calabasas, put her knowledge of the mysteries of the big, fast greens to work and walked away with the tournament and the $35,000 first prize, more money than she has won in nine of her 12 years on the tour. On Friday, after two rounds of 69, she was six under par and held a four-stroke lead. Although she shot a 72 on Saturday, she nonetheless increased her lead to five as challengers failed to materialize and on Sunday another 72 gave her victory by five strokes. Judy Rankin and Jane Blalock tied for second.
There was one moment on Saturday when it looked as if someone might challenge Young. Sandra Palmer began her round six strokes back but by the 18th she had reduced the margin to three. There, facing a 170-yard second shot into the wind to carry the water, Palmer chose to lay up with a seven-iron. She then pulled her third shot into thick grass a few inches off the green, hit a poor chip less than halfway to the pin and wound up with a bogey 6. Young, playing just behind, went for the green for the third day in a row, and for the third day in a row was rewarded with a birdie.
The two-stroke swing on the last hole on Saturday turned Sunday's final round into a virtual walkover. Although Young insisted, "It's tough to have a big lead—you don't know whether to charge or protect it," Palmer and several dozen other players would gladly have been faced with her dilemma.
Young's first victory was the U.S. Open in 1969, her fifth year on the tour. She won the Open again the next year to become the only player besides Mickey Wright and Susie Berning to have won two in a row. In those days she was a 180-pound brunette. Now she is a 138-pound blonde and having a lot more fun. Three weeks ago she launched into a program of positive visual thinking called Power Golf. Her victory the very next week in the Portland Golf Classic may have been a coincidence, but no one is likely to convince her of that now. Her two straight winning weeks have earned her more than $41,000, which is only slightly less than she won all last year, and that was her best year ever.
"Every time I hit a bad shot I do this," she says, and she touches her right thumb and first two fingers together. "Then I visualize the good shot I should have hit so that when it's time to hit the next shot I have replaced the bad shot with a positive attitude. It's as if I had just hit a good shot." Her level of concentration throughout The Carlton was extraordinary, considering she was playing in front of hundreds of friends and family, all of whom wanted at least to say hello.
"I'm all right," she said when someone remarked that she seemed dazed after the third round. "I'm concentrating and haven't come out of it yet."
Far more significant than the prize money at The Carlton (which, after all, was only $20,000 more than the LPGA's rich uncle, David R. Foster of Colgate-Palmolive, had put up for the Dinah Shore tournament a few years ago) was the fact that another corporate giant had entered the LPGA picture. It was a harbinger of good times for the tour and good times are long overdue in women's golf.