You could call Donna Caponi the Lon Chaney of women's golf. Yes, there's yet another new Donna in a line that began back in 1965 when she was a 19-year-old professional who thought a good round was breaking 80. This latest Donna has a straighter nose, a vanishing husband and a very big bank account. But guess what. She still wins major golf tournaments.
No longer using the name of her husband, Ken Young, who is about to go the same way as the old nose, Caponi won the LPGA Championship at the Jack Nicklaus Sports Center in Kings Island, Ohio last week, surviving torrential rain, tornado alerts and an almost fatal last-round collapse. But at the end, with what seemed like the entire leader board threatening to storm past her, the fun-loving Caponi, who has done more than her share to keep disco alive, triumphed by means of a remarkable birdie on the 18th hole, sinking an 18-foot putt that brought tears to her eyes.
This was Caponi's fourth major championship, and she won it despite a shaky final round of 73 that gave her a total of 280, eight under par. She finished a stroke ahead of Pat Meyers and Jerilyn Britz. Caponi's other major wins were in the 1969 and 1970 U.S. Opens and the 1979 LPGA.
Her victory was even more satisfying because it followed the breakup of her 10-year marriage to Young, a tournament promoter. In fact, Caponi was to appear in a California courtroom a week after the LPGA for preliminary proceedings in a divorce action. "There isn't a day I don't think about it," she said. "But it's not the worst thing that's happened to me. It's just a different direction."
There have been quite a few turns in Caponi's road. The tour caddies now call her Boogie D, but when she started out she was the Watusi Kid, a green player whose golf game hardly matched her late-night exuberance. It took her until 1969 to win a tournament, and in that season she earned a little more than $30,000. On Sunday, her LPGA victory was worth $22,500, a sum that boosted her to the top of the 1981 money standings, with $109,426.
Caponi underwent plastic surgery on her nose about 18 months ago, and at roughly the same time she began dieting. She was asked if her streamlined appearance, her changing marital status and the fact that she had won more than $220,000 last year and now is well on her way to another big year might already have led to a bunch of marriage proposals. "No," she said. "But I go out a lot."
Caponi took the tournament lead on Friday when she shot a 32 on the final nine for a 68. For a brief time on Saturday, as she rattled the cup with a putting stroke taught her by touring pro Dave Stockton, her lead soared to five strokes, before the wet and treacherous conditions caught up to her and she stumbled a bit.
Meanwhile, some of the pros were letting it be known that they again thought the Jack Nicklaus course to be of less than championship caliber. In fact, Kathy Whitworth, the women's alltime leading money-winner, has such little regard for the layout that this year she skipped the championship. Whitworth's absence was especially notable because she's having her best season in some time. Her victory in last month's Coca-Cola Classic was her 81st in a 23-year career, and she now needs only $13,376 to become the LPGA's first million-dollar money-winner.
To stem some of the criticism, tournament officials tinkered with the course this year, planting 50 trees at various locations and modifying the 18th hole, a par-5 that usually ended the tournament with more of a whimper than a bang because a large lake in front of the green forced the players to lay up with their second shots. This year the hole was shortened 70 yards to entice the players to take a chance with their second shots, but the women still played it like cats trying to sneak up on a pigeon, teeing off with irons and then punching wedges short of the lake. "The only way I'll try for it is if I need an eagle the last day to win the tournament," said JoAnne Carner, one of the tour's longest hitters. Groused one official, "I guess the only way we'll get them to go for it is to make it into a par-3."
For her part, Sandra Post was walking around with a smile on her face, oblivious to the shortcomings of the layout or even the rainstorms that seemed to hit Kings Island every few hours. Post had a chance to collect a $100,000 bonus, the amount offered by the sponsors of the McDonald's Classic to any player who could win both that tournament—as Post had the previous week—and the LPGA.