No one challenged Jan Stephenson for the GNA Classic except Jan herself--and the Australian golfer won that challenge on the final hole of the $250,000 tournament Sunday at the Oakmont Country Club.
Stephenson staggered in with a three-over-par 75 for a 72-hole score of 290, the highest score on the Ladies Professional Golf Assn. tour this season.
Waiting in the wings for a possible playoff were Barbara Moxness, Amy Alcott and Pat Bradley, who had finished at 291--two shots behind--with Stephenson still having two holes to play. Stephenson, an erratic putter at best, took three putts on the 17th hole and her margin was only one.
On No. 18, a 427-yard par 5, Stephenson pushed her second shot into thick rough, just short of a bunker protecting the green. She used a wedge and put the ball 22 feet left of the hole. It was a slick downhill putt. She laid her first putt up two feet from the cup and marked the ball.
"It seemed like an hour waiting to putt," Stephenson said. "I had missed so many two-footers this year. I had just missed a short one at 17 and I was full of negative thoughts. I wanted to putt out and get away but I knew that would have been rude and I couldn't. I was so nervous just waiting."
When it came time to putt, she stroked it in the cup and let out a sigh of relief.
"I was so glad it was over. It was the longest day I have spent in a year and a half. I never thought it would end. I was more relieved it was over than I was elated at winning."
Stephenson's winning purse of $37,500 made her the LPGA's ninth millionaire with career earnings of $1,002,559. It also broke a slump that had seen her winless since the 1983 U.S. Women's Open.
Alcott, who was playing with a pinched nerve in her neck, missed a five-foot putt on the final hole that, as it turned out, would have put her in a tie with Stephenson.
"I'd had an eagle and a birdie the last two times I played 18, so it was tough to take when I had to settle for a par. I felt it was the kind of a hole I could make four any day in the week."
Alcott finished with a 71, Bradley 72 and Moxness 73 to each collect $17,709 for their second-place tie.
Nancy Lopez, who crept within a shot of the lead on the 14th hole, bogeyed the final hole and slipped to 73--292.
Pearl Sinn, the high school senior from Bellflower and the only amateur in the tournament, bogeyed the final two holes to slip to 77--296 and a tie for 15th. Had she been playing for money, the California Junior Girls champion would have won $3,418.
Stephenson started the final round on Oakmont's 6,328-yard par-72 course with a three-stroke lead.
"I was jumpy all day waiting for something to happen," she said. "I kept looking at the leader board expecting to see someone to jump up. I made a bad mental error at the third hole and that worried me, making mistakes so early. From the eleventh hole on, I was counting down."
Stephenson's first mistake was hitting a 7-iron on the 160-yard third hole.
"There was a good breeze blowing at us and I didn't take it into account," Stephenson said. "I hit a perfect 7-iron and it buried in the trap in front of the green. It was a stupid mistake."
She blasted out over the green and was fortunate to get down in two putts from 40 feet for a bogey.
The time was ripe for someone to challenge. Instead, Bonnie Lauer and Moxness, who were both tied for second, also lost a stroke on the same hole. So had Lopez a few moments earlier.
Only Alcott, who teed off five shots back of Stephenson, made a slight move when she birdied three of the first five holes to close the gap to one.
"I knew I was back in the hunt but my swing, which is the shortest on the tour, got even shorter when I couldn't turn. I went through a lot of aspirin, but I even had a tough time standing over a putt. When I looked at the hole, I had to twist my whole body around. I couldn't turn my neck."
Alcott never made another birdie and two bogeys prevented her from ever pulling even with Stephenson.
From then on, it was only a matter of Stephenson holding on. No one was challenging.
Stephenson moved two shots ahead when she sank a 10-foot birdie putt on the 10th hole.
All day long she was splitting the fairway with her long, flowing swing and its exaggerated follow-through that is a photographer's delight. In four days she missed only three fairways.
But the short par-3s were different. Stephenson made the same mistake at the 155-yard No. 14 as she had on No. 3.
"I relaxed. I'd just made it through the tough holes (No. 12 and 13) with pars and I thought I had it made. I made another mental mistake. I took the wrong club and buried it in the trap, just like the third hole. This time it cost me two strokes."
Stephenson blasted out about 25 feet from the cup and needed three putts.
"I thought I hit a pretty good first putt and I stood there waiting for Glendale to get it, but it didn't go that way."