SI Vault
Sarah Pileggi
April 11, 1977
Some thought her past her prime, but Kathy Whitworth earned the richest prize of her career, holding off youth in the Colgate-Dinah Shore
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
April 11, 1977

78 Victories And She's Still Counting

Some thought her past her prime, but Kathy Whitworth earned the richest prize of her career, holding off youth in the Colgate-Dinah Shore

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3

Meanwhile, it has been her pretty dimpled face and tidy 5'5", 110-pound body that have made her a success. She is well known on a couple of continents and on all the islands of Japan—in fact, so well known she has to register in hotels under false names. The Japanese print huge calendars with her picture atop every month of the year. Her galleries are always bigger than anybody else's except Gerald Ford's. When she wins, it will be because she is still the same competitor who in 1971, at 16, lost a match on the 19th hole of the USGA's Girls' Junior Championship, cried for 20 minutes and then went out to the practice tee and hit golf balls until her hands were cracked and bleeding. The next week she won the Women's Amateur.

Amy Alcott was Rose Red to Baugh's Snow White in Southern California amateur golf. Between them they won everything—city, state, national, junior and women's. Amy joined the tour in 1975, expecting to win, and she did, almost immediately. She is the alltime champion positive thinker. "I feel good," she said after her second-round 73 at Palm Springs, her cheeks still rosy from the wind and her bright green eyes shining with pleasure. "I know I'm getting stronger—longer and more consistent. I've only got up to go from here." A week earlier she had told a San Diego columnist, "I'm out here alone with my mind and my muscles facing a test. I'm the offense and the defense and the coach. I'm also the student and the teacher. I give myself a grade. I'm tough on myself."

In the same 1971 Girls' Junior in which Laura Baugh lost her quarterfinal match, Alcott, 16, and Hollis Stacy, 17, met in the final. Hollis, the blithe spirit of the Savannah Stacys, all 11 of them, won in 19 holes, for her third straight national junior title. Hollis tried Rollins College in Florida for a year but dropped out. "I had no direction there," she says. "I was just raising hell. I did everything except work on my golf game." Now she is 23 and in her third year on the tour. Her improvement is just now becoming dramatic. At the Kathryn Crosby tournament two weeks ago she shot a 69 on one of the worst golfing days ever seen south of Pebble Beach. The temperature was in the 40s, the wind gusted to 25 mph, it rained steadily and for one horrible half hour it even hailed. Stacy had a bad cold and was bundled up in four sweaters. She said she felt like a Baggie, but she persevered, referring to the experience as one of her "patience days," and she finished second to Sandra Palmer, earning $14,650.

"Relief is beginning now," Stacy said while drinking a Coors in the locker room at Mission Hills after a windblown 79. "That's been my biggest obstacle, regaining self-confidence. I was a bigwig in the juniors." What does losing do to the head of one so long accustomed to winning? "It keeps it very level. One day you're hot stuff and then you have a day like today that's like quicksand. The more you struggle the deeper in you get."

"Hollis has great potential and she's just beginning to realize that," says Bonnie Lauer, who is 26 and in her second full year on the tour. Lauer, too, is ready for a run at the top. She won the national collegiate championship while a senior majoring in health education at Michigan State, and she made it to the semifinals of the Amateur that summer, but she was accustomed to golf Michigan style, which means hanging up one's clubs in September and taking them out again in April. She was not at all sure she wanted to play the game the year round. However, when she was unable to find a teaching job after graduation, she began to think about it. It took her two years to make up her mind.

Once out on the tour, Lauer played too much. In her first 18 months she won $22,000 and was chosen 1976 Rookie of the Year, but in Denver last August, exhausted from trying to play every tournament, she came down with flu and a high fever, passed out in her motel room and was hospitalized for several days. "The hospital made me realize that there were other things in life," she says. "I thought, 'Just let me be out there walking around healthy, even if I shoot 78 or 79.' "

Unlike Baugh, Alcott, Stacy and Lauer, Pat Bradley had a forgettable amateur career. "Locally I was a star," she says, "but I was a zero nationally. I never made the cut in the Amateur or the Open." Bradley is about 5'8", with strong legs, a long hitter in the mold of JoAnne Carner. She grew up with a houseful of brothers in Nashua, N.H. and was a skier because her brothers were, but she was a golfer because her father "believed that it was a ladies' and gentlemen's game and he wanted his daughter to play." She has beautiful blue eyes, a nice, unassuming manner and the only Down East accent on the tour.

Until her senior year in high school, Bradley was a B racer in the Eastern Amateur Ski Association with "farfetched" Olympic dreams. But when it came time to choose a college, she chose golf and Florida International University in Miami. College competition turned her into a very good player. She won the Colgate Far East Open her second season on the tour and the Girl Talk Classic last year. She also tripled her previous year's tournament earnings.

Jan Stephenson was Jan Thomas, a graduate of Sydney's Hales Secretarial College, when she came to the U.S. in 1974, having won everything at home, including the Australian Championship. "I married a man for money," she told Golf Digest magazine last summer. "It's a terrible thing to have to admit, but it's true. Please understand that I was not only young, I was naive and dreaming about a golf career. He promised to help me, so I accepted. But instead of helping me he ended up getting almost all of my money. It was, of course, exactly what I deserved."

The electrifying candor of Jan Stephenson, her utter ease with the press, her wonderful looks and her two victories last year have made her, at 25, a star wherever she goes. She has a house at La Quinta, the pleasantest golf club in the Palm Springs area, a companion who is a stockbroker and enough money to play the crap tables in Las Vegas when the fancy strikes her, but what she cares about is winning. "There is nothing better than that feeling of winning. I want to feel it again." You know she will.

Continue Story
1 2 3