Golf is supposed to be a frustrating game, but compared to what Jan Stephenson has been going through off the course for the last few months, it must seem a breeze. Last week Stephenson won the LPGA championship, the second major title of her career, and did it while involved in a bizarre tug of war between two men, both claiming to be her husband.
Stephenson has long been one of the most glamorous players on the circuit. In recent seasons she has become a legitimate star as well. Her ambition is to go down in history as the most famous woman golfer ever. Right now she's the runaway favorite for woman golfer with the most tumultuous personal life ever.
Somehow, though, whenever she's on the golf course she manages to keep all the trauma outside the gallery ropes. As she achieved a two-stroke victory at the Jack Nicklaus Sports Center at Kings Island on the outskirts of Cincinnati, Stephenson played with what seemed to be total serenity. She had rounds of 69-69-70-71-279, nine under par, and survived the charges of a bunch of the best, including JoAnne Carner, Beth Daniel and Hollis Stacy.
Stephenson led from wire to wire, as impressive a feat as figuring out who gets the community property when you may or may not be married to two people at the same time. Between rounds, she was being asked barbed questions about her love life. "I'm dreading this," she said before talking to reporters on Thursday. By Sunday, Stephenson was a lot more chipper. "It meant a lot to me that I could overcome all the people trying to hurt my game," she said after the final round.
But she also had some helping hands. Her mother, Barbara, walked in the gallery and kept her well fed, fixing a favorite dish—steamed vegetables—for her every evening. Her father, Frank, caddied, and Jan rewarded him with the sports car that went along with the first-place prize of $30,000.
Stephenson pursued the LPGA title with particular intensity, because, she said, it was important to have "respectability." What she meant was that her first and only other major title, last year's Peter Jackson, could then no longer be written off as a fluke. Trying to dodge the press and other distractions, she registered under an assumed name in an out-of-the-way motel and spent a lot of time in her room practicing her putting.
As she walked down the 18th fairway Sunday, two strokes to the good, her father turned to her and said, "Now you can relax." "Don't say that," she told him. "I might four-putt."
Carner made one charge at the leader midway on the back nine, but Stephenson responded with a 20-foot birdie putt on the 15th hole, which kicked the door shut for good. "I don't think anybody could have caught her today," said Carner after shooting a final-round 69 and finishing second. "The thing that gets me is, the more trouble she has, the better she plays. I wish she would get everything straightened out so the rest of us could win more tournaments."
Altogether, this has been a wet and wild year for the LPGA, replete with bad weather and emotional storms. Rain has interrupted seven of the 19 tournaments so far, and in the last 12 months, the marriages of three top players—Stephenson, Nancy Lopez and Donna Caponi—have been blown onto the rocks.
Stephenson's travails have been physical, mental and financial. She has broken her right foot, been fined $3,000 and been ordered to undergo a psychiatric examination. Also, her assets have been frozen, and whether she currently has one, two or no husbands depends on what a court has to say.