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Patty Sheehan takes the pain out of golf. She also can take the mystery out of golf tournaments. She did both last week in her calm and smiling way, winning the LPGA Championship Sunday with a flurry of birdies and broken records, finally walking down the 18th fairway of the Grizzly Course at the Jack Nicklaus Golf Center in King's Island, Ohio, applauding the crowd, herself, the weather—who knows? It was beautiful.
No "negatalk" last week. That's the term used by Sheehan's close friend and agent, Margaret Leonard, to describe Sheehan's rare periods of pessimism. No negatalk. No mistakes. None. Sheehan made the tournament hers alone when she went from even par at the turn on Friday to 12 under on Saturday—a span of 27 holes. From then on the championship was just a springtime stroll through the park. Sheehan's 71-70-63-68-272 put her 16 under par and gave her a 10-stroke victory over Beth Daniel and Pat Bradley and her second straight LPGA title.
As for the records, Sheehan broke a bunch of them. Her 16 under shattered the championship scoring mark of 13 under set by Nancy Lopez on the same course in 1978. Her victory margin was the largest in the tournament's 30-year history, one better than Mickey Wright's runaway in 1961. Sheehan's almost unbelievable, certifiably spectacular round of 63 on Saturday, when she had eight birdies and a closing eagle, matched the lowest score in a single round in a major championship—by a man or woman. And Sheehan was also the first to win back-to-back LPGA Championship titles since Wright did it in 1960-61.
To paraphrase Bobby Jones' words about Jack Nicklaus, Sheehan plays a game with which most people are not familiar. When she's right, she's awesome. In the final round of last year's LPGA she nailed five straight birdies and made up seven strokes to overtake Sandra Haynie. When her game is on, she's marvelously single-minded, her concentration so intense that the outside world is totally excluded. "She creates her own reality," says a rival pro.
"I think birdies," says Sheehan. Never was that more evident than on Saturday. The 6,357-yard Grizzly, designed by Nicklaus, is one of the longest layouts the women play all year. Some of the pin placements were exceedingly treacherous, tucked maliciously behind bunkers. And, the wind was gusting unpredictably, especially on the back nine. In other words, the course was no sponge from which anyone could squeeze out birdies.
Sheehan started the day two strokes behind the 36-hole leader, Betsy King, and finished 11 strokes ahead of King. Sheehan's putter and indomitable spirit did it. She went out in 31, dropping birdie putts of 20, three, 25, 10 and 15 feet, then birdied the 10th hole with a 30-footer. "At that point, I knew everything was going my way," she said.
After Sheehan birdied the 12th and 13th, she began thinking of Wright's all-time LPGA single-round record of 62, set in Midland, Texas in 1964. Of course, this sort of preposterous thinking almost caused Sheehan to bogey the 16th hole; she saved par with an 18-foot putt. Then she did bogey the par-3 17th, hitting a six-iron short, chipping up and missing a nine-footer.
But there would be no negatalk, remember. In the gallery, Leonard had already figured out that Sheehan would need a double-eagle 2 on the par-5 18th to match Wright's 62. "C'mon, Patty," she was yelling. "You can do it." Sheehan responded with an astounding drive measured by tournament officials at 304 yards. That left her 162 yards from the pin, which was across a lake. Why not go for it? She had a seven-stroke lead. Sheehan grabbed a six-iron and, with the type of aggressiveness that Lee Trevino says reminds him of Tom Watson, hit it 30 feet past the hole. Then she curled the putt into the cup with the kind of putting that Trevino says reminds him of Ben Crenshaw.
When Sheehan made the eagle, Leonard gave such a yell and a holler that, she said, "my back went into spasm."
"I'm not psychic," said Dick McCarney, her caddie, "but when she made those early birdies, I knew what was coming. You were watching the greatest player out there."