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The conversation at the J.C. Penney Mixed Team Championship at the Bardmoor Country Club in Largo, Fla. last week was of sensitivity, short-term relationships and commitment. This is the tournament in which players from the PGA and LPGA tours get hitched and spend four days trying not to point fingers at each other. "We're talking about treading on eggshells," said Hollis Stacy, the three-time Women's Open champion, alluding to the subtle character of the $550,000 tournament.
What chivalry came down to at Bardmoor wasn't whether a man should open a car door for a woman, but whether he should entrust her with hitting a 100-yard wedge shot. Above all, a woman had to be certain not to snicker when her muscle-headed partner whomped a tee shot into a distant condominium, while, conversely, a male had to strive for compassion after his hare-brained partner left a bunker shot in the sand. Talk about pressure.
"It's nerve-racking," said JoAnne Carner, who played with John Mahaffey. "By the end of the day, you're worn out from being nice." Tim Norris's partner, Sandra Palmer, said the women resented the men's browbeating. "If they want to be hard on women, let them yell at their wives," she sniffed.
How seriously the players take this tournament can be illustrated by the fact that the normally less than diligent Lori Garbacz—who drives her Porsche at subsonic speeds, bets on anything that moves and generally displays a total disregard for prudence—practiced for six hours a day during the two weeks before the tournament. Her partner was Craig Stadler, the gruff-looking Walrus. Said Garbacz, "There are 10 commandments. The first is: 'Thou shalt not have the wrath of Stadler upon you.' "
In the Mixed Team, the teammates each tee off and then hit each other's second shots. At that point they pick the ball they like more—or dislike less—and alternate strokes on it to the hole's conclusion. Compatability counts, and thus two Unknown Soldiers, Mike Donald and Vicki Alvarez, were able to smile, bite their tongues and encourage each other to the title and the $100,000 first prize. It was the first tour victory for both.
The diminutive, 106-pound Alvarez, who swings as if she's listening to soft and slow music, saved the day during Sunday's final round. She hit a deft bunker shot that led to a birdie on the par-5 16th, fired a six-iron onto the 17th green and sank a three-foot putt on the 18th. Donald rewarded her by lifting her up for a high-five kiss.
The pair of 29-year-old Floridians—he's from Hollywood, she's from Jacksonville—finished at 270, 18 under, after a final-round 68. Overall, it was a solid performance. They played every nine in par or better and finished a stroke up on the 54-hole leaders, Stadler and Garbacz, who had only a 70 on Sunday when the Walrus's putter turned to scrap iron, and Curtis Strange and Nancy Lopez, who birdied the last three holes for a final-round 67.
This tournament is unique in that it's the only professional golf competition in the U.S. in which men and women are on the same side. But just because they're playing together doesn't mean that they all like it. "The women play at a level of a good 14-year-old boy," said one male pro, who was trying to be nice. "Some of these guys are huge intellects," cracked a female player. "I like the ones who have four Jeeps. Think about it."
Not surprisingly, given the respective attitudes, partnerships come and go at the Mixed Team. Aside from Jim Colbert and Silvia Bertolaccini, Gil Morgan and Marlene Hagge and Strange and Lopez, almost every pairing has had a divorce since the tournament was started in 1976. "Ask her," answered Lon Hinkle cryptically when asked why he wasn't teamed with Jane Geddes, his partner last year in a second-place finish to Fred Couples and Jan Stephenson. This was the year for the women to invite the men. Hinkle waited, but Geddes never called. He finally paired with Sharon Barrett. The corner malt shop was atwitter.
The big upset, of course, was that anyone asked J.C. Snead to golf's prom. "I'm supposed to be the sorriest s.o.b. out here," said Snead, referring to his pit bull reputation. "He told me that he'd never been invited back by the same partner," said his 1984 cohort, Muffin Spencer-Devlin. "My heart went out to him. He kind of goes along grouchin' and grumblin', but he's really a good guy."