1993 USGA WOMEN'S OPEN CHAMPIONSHIP

"I just hit some shots that I'll probably never be able to hit again. I saw the shot, I just visualised what I had to do. It's fun to miss the greens and pull off shots like that."

 

–Lauri Merten, 1993 USGA Women's Open Championship

LAURI MERTEN • CHAMPION

In the afterglow of the 1991 PGA, the club pauses, but not for long. In less than two years Crooked Stick will again host a major championship, this time the 1993 U.S. Women’s Open. “We won’t have much of a breather in between championships,” Michael Browning tells the Indianapolis News.

 

Women’s golf is somewhat of a local fixture from the mid-1970s through the late 1980s. The Indianapolis area serves as host to the LPGA’s Mayflower Classic, first at Pete’s 1973 Noblesville design, Harbour Trees from 1976–79, and then the Country Club of Indianapolis (CCI) from 1980–88.

 

The 1993 Women's Open also marks the second time it is contested in the Indianapolis area. In 1978, CCI plays host to the Championship and to winner Hollis Stacy.

 

Course preparation to the USGA’s tournament standards requires little more than the usual Crooked Stick greenskeeping regimen. Former club president Doc O’Neal serves as General Chairman for the event, and marshals a force of volunteers 1,500 strong.

 

Tournament officials set up the course to 6,311 yards. Yet in curiosity, they peg the opening hole at 345 yards, slightly longer than it plays two years earlier for the PGA.

 

A total of 156 players descend on Crooked Stick to compete for the title July 22–25. Among them are favorites Dottie “Pepper” Mochrie, 1992 LPGA Player of the Year, Nancy Lopez, three-time U.S. Open runner-up and a winner earlier in the year at the Sara Lee Classic, and 1992 LPGA Rookie of the Year Helen Alfredsson.

 

No one, it seems, places 33-year-old Lauri Merten among the favorites. Merten, with a career total of two LPGA wins to her credit (the most recent nine years earlier), arrives at Crooked Stick with few expectations. In fact, Sports Illustrated reports that two years earlier, when asked by golf teacher Mike McGetrick to rate all aspects of her game on a scale of one to 10, the highest score Merten can muster the confidence to give herself is a two. And that while interviewing a potential caddie at about the same time, Merten sheepishly “recruits” him with the following: “I haven’t made a cut in a major in about two years.”

 

Tom Hanson takes the caddie job and Lauri Merten does more than simply make the cut at Crooked Stick. On day one, she comfortably negotiates her way around Crooked Stick in one-under-par 71—leaving her three strokes behind co-leaders Alfredsson and 15-time LPGA Tour winner Ayako Okamoto.

 

Day two ends with the tour’s longest hitter, 23-year-old Michelle McGann (253.8 yards per drive), atop the leader board. She fires a Friday 66 to lead at eight-under 136, two strokes clear of Helen Alfredsson and Hiromi Kobayashi. Merten again cards 71, to settle in six back of the leader.

 

Saturday proves to be moving day. And leader McGann does move—backward, carding a disappointing 78 in the sweltering heat and humidity, leaving her at two-under-par at day’s end. A logjam at three-under includes 54-year-old Joanne Carner, Nina Foust, Kris Tschetter, Laura Davies, and Patty Sheehan, the 1992 winner. Another steady round by Lauri Merten, this time a 70, keeps her on the leader board, alone at -4. Ahead of her at five-under-par are Ayako Okamoto, Nancy Lopez, and Dina Ammaccapane. Pat Bradley (with a 68) and Donna Andrews (69) move into third at -6, a stroke behind Hiromi Kobayashi (71). But the day belongs to Helen Alfredsson who fires 69 to move two strokes clear of the field at an Open-record nine-under-par 207.

 

The day’s intense weather turns violent overnight. At 11:30 p.m., thunderstorms and high winds rage through the grounds at Crooked Stick, dumping 2.85 inches of rain in 45 minutes, while knocking down trees and countless limbs.

 

Superintendent Chris Hague and crew arrive on the scene at 4:30 a.m. to survey the damage—16 trees down, bunkers filled with water, and greens 14 and 16 completely submerged. Assisted by club members and volunteers, crews rope off areas around downed trees, gather tree limbs, squeegee greens, and pump standing water from numerous bunkers—and return the course to playability with only a one hour delay in morning starting times.

 

Hoping to start quickly, overnight leader Helen Alfredsson does just the opposite, going out in 38 to provide an opening to her pursuers. Taking advantage, Pat Bradley momentarily grabs the lead—and Donna Andrews charges to share the top spot for a time—but both players relinquish the top spot with bogeys on the inward nine. Tied for the lead through seven holes, Nancy Lopez takes a triple-bogey seven on eight—and again, the Open crown eludes her grasp, as she ties for seventh. Joanne Carner’s bid for victory ends with bogeys at 15 and 17. And Patty Sheehan’s chance to repeat as champion vanishes when two balls disappear in the water on 18. Meanwhile, Alfredsson rights her ship with birdie at 15, which takes her to eight under.

 

Merten, two-under for the day, miscues slightly on her approach to 16, her ball ending up a foot or so from the greenside pond and caked with mud, 72 feet from the hole. Undismayed, she plays nine iron and deftly pitches the ball into the hole for a spectacular birdie, tying her for the lead. She follows a two-putt par at 17, with a fairway splitting drive at 18, leaving her 166 yards to the pin. Selecting a six-iron for her final approach, she delivers it to the front of the green. The ball rolls forward and stops four feet from the cup. Moments later, Merten’s birdie putt finds the hole to forge one stroke ahead.

Alfredsson, playing three groups behind, bogeys 16 and makes up no ground on the remaining holes—and Lauri Merten, who finishes 3-3-3, captures the 48th U.S. Women’s Open Championship. “I’m a ham-and-egger,” Merten tells the press after her triumph. “I never give up.”

 

Merten’s sparkling performance is witnessed by record-setting crowds—75,000 for the week. No Women’s Open champion—not Babe Didrickson Zaharias, Patty Berg, nor Mickey Wright—has ever captured the ultimate ladies’ crowd in front of more fans than are assembled at Crooked Stick.

 

Across the board, the club receives high marks for its staging of the championship. “On a scale of one to 10, this Open was a 10,” Judy Bell, a member of the USGA executive committee tells The Indianapolis Star . Later she tells Star reporter Phil Richards, “The heart of the membership is what got me. They have a wonderful golf course, and they are proud of it and should be, but it’s the members. I honest to God think they can do anything.

 

“What I really love is the enthusiasm of the members. That’s what made it go.”

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