The devil in Alfredsson was pretty obvious to her coach, Gordon Severson, during her days at U.S. International University in San Diego between 1984 and '88. He used to introduce her as "Crazy, from Sweden." The only thing that's consistently unbalanced about Alfredsson, though, is her follow-through, which even on her best shots often leaves her lurching like a tightrope walker.
Still, Alfredsson led by two shots over Hiromi Kobayashi of Japan—a first-time tour winner the previous week at the JAL Big Apple Classic—going into the final round, and Merten, who was five strokes back, could not envision her own victory. If asked who could beat Alfredsson, Merten might have picked another young player, someone as tall as the 5'10" Alfredsson and even longer off the tee, someone with confidence and flair. Someone like Michelle McGann.
McGann was the main player in the week's principal subplot, which was an effort by some members of the press to relive history. On Saturday, The Indianapolis Star ran a banner headline, LONGEST HITTER WALLOPS CROOKED STICK, that was clearly meant to evoke memories of John Daly's coming-out victory at the 1991 PGA Championship, also played at Crooked Stick. In Indiana folklore the Daly saga already approaches the Bob Knight chair-throwing episode, and it teaches that Hoosier golf tournaments are won by brash youths of Bunyanesque strength and mysterious origin.
McGann, 23, is the LPGA's longest hitter (253.8 yards per drive), and she possesses a few of the attributes Daly brought to Crooked Stick—youth, a crowd-pleasing manner and no victories. But McGann is a five-year tour veteran and a recognized presence, thanks largely to her gaudy jewelry and designer hats. So her second-round 66, good for a two-stroke lead over Alfredsson and Kobayashi, was a hit, yes, but not a myth.
Besides, who has ever heard of a Bunyanesque figure with diabetes? On Saturday, McGann reacted to the heat, humidity and excitement of leading a major by almost going into insulin shock—on the 3rd hole. "Eat something. Eat something!" said her caddie and father, Bucky McGann, alarmed by his daughter's leaden leg action. Granola bars, grapes and Gatorade had her back to normal by the 6th tee, but by then she was four over for the round and on her way to a tournament-killing 78 that included an eagle, three birdies, seven bogies and two double bogies. "Sometimes it's just not meant to be," said McGann, smiling gamely after the round.
It was also not meant to be for defending champion and Hall of Famer Patty Sheehan—who went from contender to curiosity in 10 minutes by rifling two balls into the water at 18 on Saturday—and 54-year-old legend Joanne Carner, whose bid to replace Sam Snead as the oldest tour winner in American golf perished on Sunday at 15 and 17, where she made bogeys. McGann wound up tied for seventh, Sheehan finished sixth and Carner tied for 11th.
The final round, which followed a violent overnight thunderstorm that felled trees and flooded several greens, seemed to offer hope to most everyone. Alfredsson went out in 38, and the leader board quickly became clogged with three-way and four-way ties. Pat Bradley, yet another Hall of Famer, had the lead momentarily on the back side but gave away three strokes down the stretch. Andrews shared the lead with Bradley at eight under, but then she three-putted the 14th. Kobayashi—who delivered the line of the tournament on Saturday when she said, "A lot of nervous today. Like, I almost puke"—looked unflappable with 13 straight pars on Sunday, but she bogeyed number 14 and was gone, finishing tied for fourth.
All that action seemed to put Alfredsson, who shook off the doldrums with a 15-foot birdie putt at the par-5 15th, back in control at eight under. But that's when Merten emerged like a subconscious thought. She'd been lingering, after all, at the bottom of the leader board for all four rounds—unnoticed, uninterviewed. Now one stroke back, she found her ball on a patch of mud-caked grass a foot or so from the lake on 16 and 72 feet from the hole. "The grass was brittle," she said, but her chip with a nine-iron was not. The ball curled around the pin and into the cup for a stunning birdie, and the tournament was tied again.
Two holes later, while Alfredsson was yanking her second shot into the long grass to the left of the 16th green, Merten struck another remarkable shot, a six-iron from the 18th fairway that hit the front of the green and rolled saucily up to the pin, stopping about a Hoch short. Alfredsson chunked her chip, punctuating her disappointment with a vicious swing at the grass and a string of scathing admonitions and Swedish epithets—and bringing to mind the line John Wayne used on Susan Hayward in that terrible '50s flick The Conqueror: "You're beautiful in your wrath!"
Merten still had to make her three-footer. "Terrible thoughts," she said afterward, describing her visions of Hoch and other golfing gargoyles. Even the one positive putting image she mustered was something of a downer. She recalled Sheehan's dropping a putt of about the same length to beat her in this year's Mazda LPGA Championship.