Hollis Stacy, the leader in the U.S. Women's Open, came to the 72nd tee in Indianapolis on Sunday afternoon with a one-shot lead over JoAnne Carner. Intent on parring the 310-yard, par-4 hole, she took out a one-iron and then hit a shot so fat that it went no farther than the bottom of the hill at the foot of the tee, approximately 150 yards away. Carner, with whom Stacy was paired, chuckled. "Naw, the Open doesn't bother us," she said to no one in particular. Then Carner took out a three-iron—and her ball landed 20 yards right of the fairway and not much past Stacy's. Between Carner's ball and the pin were the low-hanging branches of half a dozen healthy maples, a steep hillside covered with an acre of heavy rough and the gaping maw of an enormous bunker.
Against rather strong odds, Stacy and Carner both parred the hole. So Hollis Stacy, 24, became the 1978 U.S. Women's Open champion and the fourth player in the tournament's history to win two years in a row. When she had made her four-foot putt for the par, the 5'5" Stacy grabbed her 6'2" caddie, Bill Kurre, and swung herself around his neck, as from a maypole, her Orphan Annie curls bouncing. It was an explosion of exuberance that she had kept stifled throughout the grueling day.
Stacy's winning score, 289, was five strokes over par, and the golf that went into her one-over-par 72 on the last day was shaky. But the tenacity or pigheadedness—whatever it is that makes winners—that enabled her to survive two rain delays, five lead changes and recurring adversity against an opponent of Carner's caliber is what made this Open special in its own way.
Carner, who has won two Opens and five U.S. Amateurs, also shot a 72 on Sunday. She had birdied the 3rd, 4th and 5th holes with iron shots that were dead to the pin and was leading Stacy by a shot when the storm that had delayed their start by an hour and three quarters began to act up again. As thunder rolled across the Indiana cornfields, the sirens that signal suspension of play howled over the course, and Stacy headed for the clubhouse. Carner remained on the sixth tee, chatting with the fans who stood in the rain, bumming cigarettes, making people laugh, trying to stay loose. Twenty-seven minutes later the sirens sounded again, but Carner's hot hand had cooled and she bogeyed two of the next three holes. From that point on it seemed both players were trying to give the tournament to the other. But scoreboards can be misleading. In fact the next 10 holes developed into one of the fiercest head-to-head battles ever waged in women's golf. For example, although Carner went from one shot up to one shot down at the difficult par-4, 14th hole, she came right back on the next tee with an astounding 265-yard drive straight down the middle and tied it up again.
Carner said she had looked forward to her final-round matchup with Stacy. Over the years the two have developed a game within a game when they are paired, awarding points to each other for good shots. When Stacy made a 20-foot putt to save par on the 1st green, Carner said, "That's one point."
"You bet it is," Stacy replied. It was only the first of many key shots for her throughout the long afternoon.
"I think the course is therapeutic because it is difficult," Stacy had said earlier. "When I get on a course that's not very good, that's not tough, I fall asleep. Mentally I must be lazy, like a little kid, but I always seem to do well when there's a tough situation."
By the time the day was over it was clear that even without Nancy Lopez, women's golf might just survive. The Rookie, who had tied for the lead after the second round but then soared to a painful 79 on Saturday, redeemed herself with a 72 on the last day that gave her a tie for ninth with Sandra Post and Peggy Conley. Sally Little scored a 65 on Sunday, the lowest round in the 33-year history of the tournament, then sat in the clubhouse dining room, watching TV and drinking beer while her 290 became good enough for a second-place tie with Carner.
Earlier in the week it had been the heat, not the rain, that had bedeviled the field. Sixty-six players made the cut, all of them within 10 strokes of the leaders.
On Saturday morning the air hung hot. heavy and still over the beauty of the Country Club of Indianapolis, among whose members have been such worthy Hoosiers as Booth Tarkington, James Whitcomb Riley and President Benjamin Harrison. Hallowed though these acres might be, ABC-TV irreverently sawed several branches off a large maple growing at the edge of the 18th green so a camera could pick up the scoreboard near the green. A few people, who were watching the amputation from the shade of what was left of the tree, shook their heads, and the foreman of the grounds crew muttered under his breath, "Just as well cut the whole thing down." But the work continued, July in Indiana being a poor season for outrage.