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Except for the absence of Carner and the oppressive weather, there were few complaints from players about the Brooklawn Open. The gallery, of course, had hoped for more fireworks from Nancy Lopez, its clear favorite, or Stacy, who was gunning for her third Open in a row, but all in all, the course, designed by the celebrated A. W. Tillinghast in 1930, turned out to be an excellent test of nerve, skill and golfing I.Q. Its moderate length, 6,010 yards, rewarded shotmaking and putting rather than long hitting, which pleased far more players than it discomfited, and the rough was of a height and thickness that they termed "fair."
The key to the course was the greens, which were moderately fast, mostly small and undulating, often elevated and guarded by deep, steep bunkers. Hitting them with the approach shot was critical because if one didn't, getting up and down was well-nigh impossible. A shot from a bunker or a chip from the rough invariably hit a downslope, and once under way the ball rolled until gravity deemed it was all right to stop.
Just hitting the greens was not enough, either. The ball had to land and stay below the hole for a player to have any hope of a birdie or reasonable expectation of a par. A downhill putt from even the shortest distance courted disaster. Lopez was particularly uncomfortable with the greens. She likes to putt boldly, but at Brooklawn the only place she could do that was from directly below the hole and against the grain. Otherwise she had to "baby" her putts, and that, she said, was not her style. "What this tournament is going to come down to," she said after the last practice round, "is who can stand over the eight-footer, downhill, and make it."
Beginning on Thursday, when she finished three strokes behind the leaders, Lopez fell a little further off the lead every day until on Sunday, when she was seven shots behind Massey, her situation was hopeless. Her first two rounds—73-73—were not bad, but as she said on Friday, "The adrenaline just isn't going yet. I've gotten birdies but I haven't gotten pumped up, and that is very important." On Saturday, playing with Stacy, she shot another 73, and that was the end of her fifth try for an Open title. Her best finish so far has been a tie for second in 1975, when she was 18 and still an amateur.
For her part, Stacy had won the last two Opens as well as three straight junior championships, in 1969, '70 and '71. USGA courses like Brooklawn are as familiar as her own backyard, and the Open's sometimes intimidating blue-blazered atmosphere is just another family reunion. Her mother is a USGA committeewoman. Only three players have won more USGA titles than Stacy.
When her first-round 71 left her only one shot off the lead of Massey and Britz, she was bouncy and confident. After a 75 on Friday she was guardedly optimistic, pointing out that she had also shot 71-75 the first two rounds last year. "I figure I have one struggle round in this tournament," she said. The difference was that her 146 last year was only one stroke behind the leader. This time she was six strokes back, and her struggle would not be limited to one round. On Saturday she hit out-of-bounds on 18 and finished with a 74, winding up eight strokes behind Massey.
The crowd at Brooklawn set a Wommen's Open attendance record on the first day and kept getting bigger. On Sunday, even with rain threatening and Lopez out of the running, there were 13,000 paying customers. It was clear, in retrospect, that the 1979 Open would be seen as a watershed. Harry M. Stevens, that giant of the ball parks and racetracks, handled the catering, the first time the company had taken on a golf tournament; ABC had its golf crew there; advance sales of season tickets were double those of any previous year; and a green-and-white-uniformed army of 3,500 volunteers from clubs all over Connecticut scurried to do the manifold things that make a tournament big time.
The rambling Brooklawn clubhouse, perched on the knoll of one of the highest hills in Fairfield County, sparkled with fresh white paint. Its porches, shaded by striped awnings and spotted with large pots of petunias and geraniums, were alive with the well-turned-out crowds that set a major championship apart from the workaday tour. Even the USGA brass, most of whom used to view the women's championship more as a pain than a privilege, showed up en masse over the weekend to lend the authority of their striped ties to the occasion. And after Sunday's spectacular show, who could say that the occasion had not proved more than fitting?