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Fame or Shame?
JANE BLALOCK had 27 victories in her 18 years on the LPGA tour, exactly fulfilling one of the criteria needed for an active player to enter the tour's Hall of Fame. But Blalock, who retired in 1986, falls into the veterans category, and until recently she believed that she failed to meet all the eligibility requirements for retired players. Specifically, she had never won a major title, a Vare Trophy for best scoring average or a player-of-the-year award. She preferred not to believe that she would be kept out because of her role in the darkest episode in LPGA history.
"It's almost a relief that I don't qualify," insists Blalock, 55, who runs a golf-event management firm, the Jane Blalock Company, in Boston. "What if every year my name came up and every year I didn't make it? I'd be thinking, Is what happened the reason?"
"What happened" started on May 20,1972, after the second round of the Women's Bluegrass Invitational in Louisville, Ky. Blalock, in her third year on tour, had already won twice that season and was leading the money list. But that night the LPGA's executive committee, which comprised five players—Linda Craft, Sharon Miller, Judy Rankin, Cynthia Sullivan and Penny Zavichas—told Blalock she had been observed incorrectly marking her ball on several occasions. Blalock had never before been accused of violating the rules. Despite denying the charges, she was disqualified from the tournament.
Before her next event, on the advice of a friend, Blalock apologized, saying, "If all these things you say are true, I guess I've dug my own grave and I'll just have to live with it." LPGA president Sullivan interpreted Blalock's comments as an admission of guilt. When that view was reported to the players, 29 of them signed a petition calling for the LPGA to suspend Blalock for the rest of the '72 season, which it did a few days later.
Blalock responded by bringing a $5 million antitrust suit against die LPGA. She quickly won an injunction that allowed her to continue to play, but Blalock was ostracized by her peers. Finally, in '75, a judge found the LPGA in violation of antitrust laws and a jury awarded Blalock $13,500 in damages and $90,000 in legal fees. Blalock says she lost $40,000 on the case.
After the verdict, the LPGA hired a commissioner to deal with controversies involving players. "The LPGA was wrong. You can't have players ruling on other players," says Carol Mann, the LPGA's president from 1974 to '75.
Blalock remains ambivalent about the outcome of the case, regretting that the ruling was on antitrust issues, not on the cheating allegations. "People will always wonder and have their doubts," Blalock wrote in her '77 autobiography, The Guts to Win.
As for the Hall of Fame, when Blalock retired she was at least three victories short of qualifying under the existing criteria. "I resigned myself a long time ago that it was never going to happen," she says. But does she belong? "Yes. Absolutely," she says.
Last year Rankin, who had one win fewer than Blalock, became the first veteran inducted. The veterans committee is to meet this spring to nominate a second candidate. That will likely be Donna Caponi, who had 24 victories, including four majors.