- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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Louise Suggs flopped down on the locker-room couch and tore into the day's mail.
"How do you like this!" she exploded. After a pause the taciturn Georgian, not usually given to emotion, went on, "Here's a guy in California who has a bet with a friend. The friend thinks Babe, Patty and I have it all arranged in advance who is going to win our tournaments. He's betting we don't."
"And what will you tell the man?" asked Betsy Rawls.
"Tell him?" Louise said. "I'll ask him if he's ever seen three cats fighting over a plate of fish."
The allusion to the cats may be somewhat inelegant, but the meaning is clear. Women's professional golf is competitive. Two dozen women golf professionals currently play for about 30 tournament titles a year and some $200,000 in annual prize money. All essentially are just career girls who commute to work over considerably greater distances than other commuters on the Long Island Rail Road or the Wilshire Boulevard bus. But the rigors and complaints on the tour are frequent. The malcontents (invariably those who are playing poorly at the moment) insist the distances between tournaments are too great, the social requirements harassing, the laundry problem overwhelming, the greens bumpy, the caddies untrained, the neighborhood dogs noisy, the steaks tough and the sponsors too demanding.
In the past two years the scoring pace has quickened significantly. In 1954 the top 10 players averaged 76.87 strokes each tournament round. In 1956, aware they must earn $8,000 in prize money to pay expenses, they have improved almost a full stroke.
This year the tournament winner has been forced to total 293 for 72 holes, one and one-half strokes better than that shot by the titleholders of 1954, the first year any appreciable number of 72-hole events was played by the LPGA. But everything in women's golf is getting bigger. The tournaments are more frequent, the purses plumper and the field larger. The day when a competitor could afford the luxury of an instant of carelessness or something less than her best effort is gone forever.
But the girls seem to like it that way. Ask any of the presumably overworked, taut-nerved tournament professionals who have ever punched a time clock how the tour compares with working for a living back home, and they'll tell you they'll take a tour, any time.
There are nine players now following 1956's tournament trail who have the ability and the experience, singly or in combination, to play critical shots well, often and usually on demand. These are the finished golfers, the recent tournament winners and runners-up and the leading money earners. They are Marlene Bauer, Louise Suggs, Patty Berg, Mickey Wright, Fay Crocker, Betsy Rawls, Betty Jameson, Mary Lena Faulk and Beverly Hanson.
Award of publicity space is often disproportionate to players' skills. So the sports fan unfamiliar with golf may be confused as to who is the greatest of women golfers. The women professionals are not confused. The majority of them are certain she is Patricia Jane Berg.