Former snow bunny and reluctant star Patty Sheehan borrowed a page from pro football Coach Bum Phillips' playbook Sunday. She stopped knocking on the door marked Opportunity and kicked the darn thing down with a barrage of birdies in the final round of the LPGA in Kings Island, Ohio. Sheehan is a gambling player. What do you expect from someone raised amid the soft green felt of Nevada? And her victory in the LPGA was the first major title in a career that looks like it just might take right off and fill the record books.
"She's the greatest player in women's golf," gushed her agent and attorney, Margaret Leonard, after her daredevil-may-care client had birdied five straight holes on the back nine on Sunday to wrest the lead from Sandra Haynie, whose normally controlled, placid game had gone haywire, leaving her ankle-deep in sand, rough and other grief. "I was heading the wrong direction," Haynie, a mellow lady gone to nerves, moaned after it was all over. A 40-year-old veteran, Haynie had cruised 45 holes without a bogey on the way to a four-stroke lead after three days, but she three-putted the first two on Sunday, never got her timing back and played a collapsing round of 75, a blowup totally out of character.
Meanwhile, after starting the day seven back, Sheehan was sailing to a 66, a two-stroke win and the $30,000 first prize, which put her first on this year's LPGA money list with $119,092. Her total of 279 was nine under par. "Patty's in for a wonderful career," Haynie said graciously. "She has the kind of golf swing that will hold up for a long time."
Blessed with a deft iron game, Sheehan indeed seems sure to become one of the LPGA's bigger stars—and soon. Two weeks ago she won the Corning Classic with a final round of 63. Said Leonard on Sunday, "The first time I saw her, in 1978, I said, 'There's my champion.' She hits the ball so pure that it's frightening. The only thing that has held her back is that she's one of those golfers who has to feel bad before she can make birdies. I think we've got her convinced that she can smile and play great."
"I've got to get my gander up," said Sheehan, and then struggled to explain. "That's a goose, isn't it? They get mad. That's what I need, something to get me going."
Sheehan, 26, was born in Middlebury, Vt. and raised in Reno, where her father, Bobo, the 1956 U.S. Olympic ski coach, owned a ski shop. She came off the slopes and immersed herself in golf as a teenager, and later won four straight Nevada and two California state women's titles. She played on the 1980 U.S. Curtis Cup team winning all four of her matches, and then turned pro in July of that year. In '81 Sheehan was Rookie of the Year, with earnings of $118,463, and had her first tour victory. She followed that up with $225,022 in winnings—good for fourth on the money list—and three victories last year.
Tom Kite, the top money-winner of 1981, once asked Sheehan what she thought about technically when she played. She gave him the answer of an innocent who has never had a lesson. "I just play," she said.
On Sunday, hard by the roar of the roller coaster in the nearby amusement park and among the telephone poles and the light towers that pepper the Grizzly course at the Jack Nicklaus Sports Center, Sheehan went crazy in a game that can make you that way. Things started off innocuously: a 10-foot birdie putt on No. 3, followed by a three-putt bogey on the next hole. But then she got rolling, making a 20-footer on the 7th and two-putting from 40 feet for a bird on the par-59th.
Sheehan's second and final bogey interrupted the hot stuff when she missed the green at the 10th hole. Then came the five in a row: putts of five, three, 18, five and 12 feet for birdies. On the 16th, the toughest par-3 on the women's tour, Sheehan, in character, sailed a 5-iron shot over the water and right at the pin, 180 yards away. Her putt from 20 feet barely slid by, which stopped the river of red on the leader board. "I really thought I could make it," she said later. "I thought I could birdie 'em all. I'm a gutsy player. I like to charge."
Sheehan saved par with a fine chip at the 17th and then played cautiously on the par-5 last hole, making par. Haynie's last chance ended when her drive took an unfortunate bounce into the rough on the 18th, preventing her from going for the green and a possible eagle. She walked off the course as if she were lugging 100 pounds of disgust on her shoulders. "It was just one of those days," she said. "Patty turned it on and took off."