Sandra Post chipped away at the Nancy Lopez legend last week, beginning the Colgate-Dinah Shore Winners Circle tournament as a woman scorned, at least in her own mind, and then going on to beat a host of real and imagined opponents to win the $37,500 first-place prize.
Post was a survivor in Palm Springs. All week people waited for the wind to blow, and Post to be blown away with it. Neither happened. The veteran golfer shot a final round of 70 to finish at 276, 12 under par on the docile Mission Hills course. That figure beat the tournament record by seven strokes, and Lopez by one, and put to rest Sandra Post who under pressure held her putter like a vacuum cleaner and had a reputation for faltering and finishing second. Post now has won the richest prize in women's golf two straight years. "My major," she calls the championship. No more twitches for Sandra.
Besides the money, the win gave her a great amount of personal satisfaction, especially because of an incident that might be termed the Great Program Flap, and because she had to beat Lopez to win. All through the week, the two matched birdies around the course, and were tied coming down the stretch Sunday following Post's chip in from 35 feet at the 12th hole.
And with Mission Hills' most difficult stretch of holes still remaining, it was assumed that Post would fold. This time it was Lopez who lost her gyroscope, sailing a four-iron shot well to the right of the par-3 17th and bogeying the hole. Meanwhile, on the hole behind, Post was watching a birdie putt approach the edge of the cup, and, as she said, "make a last-minute decision to go in." When the ball toppled, so did Lopez' chances.
Nancy had to settle for the second-place check of $24,500, and Pat Bradley, who shot a 69 in the final round, and Donna White, with a 70, shared third place at 281, earning $15,000 apiece.
These figures are noteworthy because they underline the fact that the women's tour is paying its own way; record crowds turned out for the Winners Circle. On Sunday alone, 29,000 fans were on hand. And a big reason was Nancy Lopez, who shared or was only a stroke off the lead every day.
Lopez and Colgate are responsible for adding luster to women's golf, because each has propelled the tour to new heights, one by means of a checkbook, the other using a scorecard.
David Foster became the fiscal angel for women's athletics eight years ago when he instituted the Dinah Shore, the first $100,000 LPGA tournament, and he got the company involved in other women's golf events, as well as in skiing, track and tennis. But Foster resigned as president and chief executive officer of Colgate earlier this year and was replaced by Keith Crane, known as a bottom-line executive who is expected to pull the company back to the motherlode of detergent sales. Last week, some of the players thought it ominous that the balls on the practice range had a red stripe painted around them, an economy move. Early last week, Ray Volpe, the commissioner of women's golf, said that he had not yet met with Crane, although the LPGA had signed a contract with Colgate for the 1980 Dinah Shore. "After taking eight years to build this monument, it would be a shame to give it up," Volpe said. When Volpe took over as commissioner in mid-1975, only two women's events were on the tube. This year there will be at least a dozen, and the ratings are healthy, a good indication that, with a bona fide star like Lopez, the LPGA doesn't need Colgate as much as it once did.
Someday the movies will do Lopez' life story. Right now she is living a Hollywood script: a small-town girl of Mexican descent, with a widowed father, Domingo, who taught her the game when he wasn't busy running an auto body shop in Roswell, N. Mex. Lopez won nine tournaments in her rookie year and came to the Dinah Shore with a 1979 record that included two victories, two seconds and a tie for ninth in five starts. Since turning professional she has played in 38 events, winning 11 of them and finishing second eight times.
To the rest of the players she is a big pain in the neck, whether she is winning a tournament or not. The question now is not so much whether Lopez can be beaten, but whether she has intimidated the other women. NBC devoted itself to that notion recently when it interviewed the players during a telecast. And two weeks ago, when Nancy lost the Kemper Open to JoAnne Carner in a playoff, there was cheering in the locker room (as there has been on the PGA Tour when Jack Nicklaus misses a putt).