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King's Drive Has Paid Off Royally : After Bad Start, Her Game Is Way Above Par

March 10, 1985|Special to The Times

After seven winless years on the LPGA tour, when most players would be reconciling themselves that they might never win, Betsy King said she was not discouraged.

"I knew I would have success because I worked hard on my game and was improving every year," King said. "However, I never expected the extent of my success last year."

In 1984, King was the LPGA Player of the Year and the leading money winner with $266,771. Her winnings were up $172,000 over 1983 and her 1984 earnings totaled more than in the previous four years.

"I suppose most people would say I was an overnight sensation, but I don't look at it that way," she said. "I thought my game was better than what I was getting out of it before last year."

Her point was valid in that during 1983 King finished in the top 10 seven times and won nearly $100,000. In 28 tournaments, she missed only one 36-hole cut.

King's first victory came at Maui in the Women's Kemper last March. Her second came four weeks later in the Freedom Orlando tournament. It took her four months to win No. 3, the Columbia Savings tournament.

King, who last week won in a playoff at Phoenix, said she is not shooting for higher stakes this year. "I'm really not goal-oriented. But I'd like to win a major like the Nabisco Dinah Shore or the U.S. Open."

King will play in the tour's richest tournament, the $400,000 Dinah Shore at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage April 4-7. She tied for 24th there last year.

King, 29, savors her first victory. "Winning the Kemper was my biggest thrill . . . Doing it on national television. After that, the rest just fell into place. I felt I was overdue for a win."

Her 1984 season was not just three wins and a blank. Her record was as steady as her putting stroke. After her tie for 24th in last year's Dinah Shore, she was never out of the top 20 the rest of the year.

She had a tour-leading 21 top-10 finishes, including 17 rounds in the 60s. She made every cut last year, extending her streak to 56. Her scoring average of 71.77 was second only to Patty Sheehan, the Vare Trophy winner.

King said she has no illusions of grandeur for 1985. "It's a struggle to keep what you've got. There's nothing automatic about golf. Besides, the other players don't care what you did last year," she said.

Maybe not. But the other players have something to think about based on King's early performance in 1985. She almost swept Arizona, losing by one shot to Amy Alcott in the Circle K Tucson Open.

Last week, King birdied the final hole to tie Sheehan and force a playoff in the Samaritan Turquoise tournament at Phoenix. Then King eagled the first extra hole to win the event.

In five tournaments this year, King already has won $54,737, second only to Sheehan's $60.525.

The 5-6 blonde is one of the ironwomen of the tour, averaging about 30 tournaments per season for the last seven years.

Will she curtail her activity based on recent success?

"I probably will play less, but I'll only play if I keep a good head on me when I play," she said. "I try to be 100% prepared for every tournament in which I compete. I try to worry about my own game and I really don't care what the other player is doing."

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