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How could Whitworth and the other investors have made such an error in judgment? She has tortured herself trying to find an answer. In many ways, she is still the kindhearted, naive woman from Jal, N.Mex. (pop. 2,159), who joined the LPGA tour in 1959. No surprise then that when a friend recommended she meet with Stern in the early 1980s, she agreed. Stern told her he could make her a bundle of money, risk-free. Whitworth established a corporate pension fund and put her savings in it. She recalls that Stern, a lawyer, offered to take care of the necessary paperwork and to invest her money in various Technical Equities projects, mainly limited partnerships in real estate and oil and gas, and promised that if any of the investments started losing money, Technical Equities would buy them back from her.
"It was all in writing and I thought, How can I lose?" she says. "I can see now that it would be easy for him to get people's money that way. But I figured if my friend was involved with him, he had checked him out. The people I met from the company were so nice and helpful."
For Whitworth, the timing of the company's collapse was rotten. She was coming off five of her best money-earning seasons—between 1981 and 1985 she earned $705,134—but she was also near the end of her competitive career.
Recalling her feelings then—"gut-wrenching, devastating"—a pained expression comes across her face. "It definitely took something out of me," she says. "I felt like I'd worked so hard. I didn't know if I had the energy to start over. Also, my mother got sick with cancer in 1988. So there weren't a lot of nice things going on. My career just went downhill."
Her mood fluctuated between anger and depression before settling at grudging acceptance. Her 73-year-old mother, Dama, is better now, her cancer in remission, and her father, M.C., is in good health, so Whitworth is getting on with life. "There was lots of heartbreak and lots of tears," she says. "But self-pity doesn't do any good, so I try not to dwell on it. Getting down about it is just wasted energy."
True to form, the private, self-reliant Whitworth hasn't confided much in friends, though she has many. "We come from an age where you didn't know how much money people made and didn't talk about it," says Mickey Wright, a close pal. "I watch her hit balls and we talk about the tour. But I don't know anything about her money problems or how she's handling herself."
Too bad. Advice from Wright might have come in handy. A fellow LPGA Hall of Famer, the 56-year-old Wright retired 11 years ago because of foot ailments and skin cancer. She lives in Port St. Lucie, Fla., where every day she studies the stock markets and financial reports for four hours. Her savvy management of the $370,000 she earned over her 25-year career has allowed her to live comfortably.
Whitworth recovered about $150,000 from the Technical Equities disaster, and now a stockbroker friend manages her money, which is socked away in blue-chip and government-backed securities. "No more speculative stuff," she says.
"She's been down since this all happened, but she'll pull herself out of it," says Beth Daniel, an LPGA player, who looks forward to seeing Whitworth's lighter side again. "What people see on the golf course isn't her real personality," Daniel says, recalling a memorable bus ride at the 1985 Nichirei International team competition in Japan. The players staged an impromptu lip-synching contest and Whitworth and Amy Alcott stole the show by shimmying up and down the aisle, mouthing the words to Tina Turner's What's Love Got to Do with It?
These days, Patty Sheehan says, the Whit, as she's affectionately known, gets the most respect of any player, which explains why she was the overwhelming choice to captain the U.S.'s first Solheim Cup team last November. The team trounced a side of European golfers, 11� to 4�. By all accounts, the Whit was a hit. She arrived a week early at Lake Nona Golf Club, in Orlando, Fla., to scout the course, and during the three-day event she roamed the sidelines in a golf cart stocked with food, offering encouragement and advice on club selection.