To understand how long Donna Young has been playing golf, you have to know that when she joined the tour her name was Caponi and her nickname was "Watusi," for the wiggle she did when she played well. That was in 1965. Well, last Sunday Donna Young, n�e Caponi, was dancing again, only this time her moves had a disco beat.
Young won the Ladies Professional Golf Association championship, adding another major title to her two U.S. Women's Open crowns, with a final-round 70 over the Jack Nicklaus Golf Center course in Kings Island, Ohio, a suburb of Cincinnati. For her part, defending champion Nancy Lopez played as if she needed an introduction to her putter and finished with a 76 and a tie for 10th, the first tournament in her last four she hadn't won and the only one in her last nine in which she had wound up worse than second.
On a Sunday afternoon of gusting winds, rain and devious pin placements, Young was one of only four players to break par. In doing so, she broke out of a tie for the lead and broke the heart of Jerilyn Britz on the final nine holes. Until that stretch, the tournament had belonged to the unobtrusive Britz, a virtual unknown on the tour. Britz started off with a stunning 64 over the gently rolling course (par 36-36—72) on Thursday and led or shared the lead until the final round. The question of the week had been: "When will Britz fold?" But she never did. Young, who during one streak played 50 straight holes without a bogey, simply outmatched Britz' last-round 73—a satisfying end to a stylish event.
For years the LPGA tournament was one of the most forlorn major championships in sports, a sort of Elba Invitational. As recently as three years ago it was played on a dried-up public course for a purse of $55,000. To be sure, along with a check for $8,000, the winner also carved a niche in history, because the championship dated back to 1955. But as the players would say, that and a quarter would get you a pack of tees.
Oh, how things had changed by last week. There were record crowds, a perfectly groomed course, amenities like courtesy cars, parties and free chow in the clubhouse—and $150,000 in prize money. The festivities included a black-tie dinner on Thursday night following the tournament's first round, to honor past LPGA champions. Shirley Englehorn, the 1970 winner, was so pleased she lit up a cigar on the dais.
Nancy Lopez arrived late to the banquet. She had played the opening round in the last group, which meant she had to putt on greens as beat up as a hillbilly's screen door. And if tournament officials had made the pairings to prove they don't play favorites, they underscored the point by putting Lynn Adams and Alexandra Reinhardt, two non-winners who between them have earned a total of $25,000 this season, with Lopez.
"I was getting more aggravated than anything," said Lopez after finishing the round, noting that she had hit only three greens in regulation and had three-putted three times while shooting a 73. That score doesn't sound so bad—until you reflect that it was only the fourth time in her last 24 rounds that she had been over par.
After the round, Lopez talked to the press, signed autographs and then went back to her motel and washed her hair. She drove the 30 miles to downtown Cincinnati for the dinner, arriving after everybody else had eaten. She dined on reheated chicken, downed the only glass of milk in the room and thanked everyone for inviting her.
That sort of courtesy is one of the reasons why Lopez has become such a media star. Notebooks, tape recorders and questions followed her everywhere last week. Lopez also had a one-liner or two at the ready. When the press questioned her about the score of her Wednesday pro-am partner, former President Gerald Ford, she said, "Better. He didn't hit anybody."
If Lopez was answering a lot of questions, Britz was causing a few to be asked, because hardly anyone had heard of her. She earned a shade under $40,000 last season to rank 23rd among the money earners. That was her best showing since she joined the tour in 1974, a 31-year-old former school teacher who hadn't touched a golf club until she was 17. Britz grew up in Luverne, Minn. and after discovering golf became such a fanatic that she would play all winter, teeing up on mounds of snow and putting into holes bored in the ice.