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At last week's Mazda LPGA championship, Patty Sheehan was fretting about her putting and her inability to hit fairways consistently off the tee. She had already gotten some putting advice from fellow pro Beth Daniel—stand more upright. And she had taken a swing lesson from fellow Hall of Famer Patty Berg—hold your hands higher on your backswing and watch your posture. But when a reporter asked whether she had considered consulting a sports psychologist, the 36-year-old Sheehan looked at him as if he had suggested she start wearing shorts instead of her trademark knickers. "I don't want any of them messing with me," Sheehan said.
The way Sheehan sees it, after 13 storied years on the LPGA tour, there's nothing a shrink can tell her. She knows as much about winning—and losing—tournaments as anyone. And she made good use of that knowledge on Sunday to win the LPGA Championship at Bethesda Country Club by one shot.
The victory was Sheehan's fourth major title and her 31st career win. She missed many makable birdie putts during the final two rounds, but when the putts really mattered—like the four-footer she sank on the 72nd hole to avoid a playoff—Sheehan made them. "I didn't play my best golf," Sheehan said. "But I won because I played a little bit better than everyone else."
Sheehan likes to say that winning takes patience, determination and intestinal fortitude. She developed all of those traits during her youth in Middlebury, Vt. During the winters her father, Bobo, who coached running backs, shortstops, golfers and skiers at Middlebury College, strapped her to a pair of skis and pushed her down the bunny hill. By age 13, Patty was a nationally ranked junior skier who could hold her own against her three older brothers on the slopes and on the golf course. "I lost a lot of battles, but I learned a lot," she says. "Competing against them taught me to never give up."
Those lessons helped steel Sheehan for two devastating setbacks she suffered within 10 months a few years back. First, the earthquake that hit the San Francisco area in October 1989 severely damaged her house, leaving her homeless. Then, in a heartbreaking collapse played out on national television the following July, Sheehan blew an 11-shot lead during the final round of the U.S. Open, losing by a stroke. "After those mini-catastrophes," Sheehan says, "I had to overcome a lot of psychological hurdles—bad memories and bad thoughts."
Last July, after settling into a new house in Reno, Sheehan came face-to-face with her U.S. Open nightmare. Once again she reached the closing holes of the Open near the top of the leader board, but this time she drained an 18-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole to force an 11-hole playoff with Juli Inkster, her friend and the woman who had taken her in after the earthquake. In the playoff Sheehan displayed some of that old intestinal fortitude; she hit only nine greens in regulation yet scrambled to win her first Open.
Now that she has exorcised all her demons, Sheehan seems rejuvenated. As she said last week, "Just because I'm in the Hall of Fame doesn't mean I'm going to roll over and die."
Not that she isn't preparing for the day when her playing career ends; she has plans to try her hand at golf course architecture. "I don't know if anyone will be interested in my ideas," says Sheehan, deadpanning just a bit, "but I think I know a little bit about golf courses."