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Shipman Has the Drive to Go the Distance in LPGA

March 14, 1986|RICH TOSCHES | Times Staff Writer

As the head of Kim Shipman's driver smashes into the golf ball, a primal grunt or moan drifts over the first tee. The noise seems strangely out of place in the posh setting of a fine golf course. It is the type of sound you would expect to hear as a 350-pound truck driver attempts to squeeze behind the wheel of his big rig.

Shipman relaxes and watches the flight of the ball. No one is quite sure whether it was the blond-haired, brown-eyed Shipman who made the noise, or the golf ball screaming in pain.

There's an old story of a disgruntled male golfer playing behind a foursome of slow-playing, short-hitting women. He repeatedly urges them to get out of the way and let his group play through. One of the women finally snaps, "What's wrong? Don't like playing behind women golfers?"

"I don't know," the man responds. "I've never seen any."

Such jokes are common among some male weekend golfers, guys who somehow refuse to realize that their own efforts, complemented nicely by their pink-and-orange, double-knit pants with tiny green elephants on them, are seldom any better.

But the male ego on a golf course can be a foolhardy thing, as Shipman knows. The 5-6, 130-pound pro golfer, playing in the LPGA's GNA tournament this week at the Oakmont Country Club in Glendale, pocketed quite a bit of money during her days at the University of Texas by taking advantage of the erroneous belief that women cannot hit a golf ball very far.

The setup went like this: Shipman and a male accomplice would hang around the bar at the Great Hills Country Club in Austin. Her friend would start a conversation with some of the club's big bettors about driving distance and eventually would issue this seemingly booze-related challenge--"My money says this girl over here can out-drive you guys."

Moments later, they'd all be standing on the first tee. Money, mostly in $100 bills, was collected. And the pretty and petite Shipman would proceed to crush her drive down the fairway, watching as it rolled to a stop far, far away and then turning to see the stunned expressions on the faces of the middle-aged guys with the elephant pants.

"That's how I got all my spending money in college," she said. "It was a lot of fun."

Shipman won Wednesday's long-drive contest at Oakmont, pocketing $500 for a drive that came to a halt 258 yards, six feet and two inches from the tee. A big, big hit by LPGA standards. But because of the soggy, rain-soaked fairways that stopped the ball virtually upon landing, it wasn't even close to some of Shipman's really big drives.

In October, 1984, at the LPGA qualifying school in Houston, she unloaded a bomb on a level hole, without the aid of any wind, that was measured off at an incredible 317 yards. The next day, on the same hole, she crushed one 314 yards.

Some, but not many, of the male pros on the PGA Tour can match that. None of the women on the LPGA tour could even come close.

"Those drives were the hardest I can possibly swing, and I hit both of them right on the screws," Shipman said. "I know I can hit a ball that far when I swing out of my shoes like that."

Unfortunately for Shipman, swinging out of one's shoes has a tendency to result in the ball landing out of bounds. She's learning to schedule fewer such missile launches in an effort to gain more control and consistency. This year, she said, her drives have averaged about 250 yards, and although she finished with a 4-over-par 76 in Thursday's opening round of the GNA, she enters today's round just five shots behind the leaders on the brutally tough Oakmont course.

But even as she learns to control her swing a bit, she still can't control her urge to take a sucker's money.

"I have friends who set it up, making some bets with local guys that this girl can beat them. I get them to give me about five strokes a side, and I go along for about the first 13 holes, easing up on the drives, laying up in front of the greens and kind of scratching my way to pars and bogeys.

"But then for the final five holes, I turn it on and play my best. I usually win, and I don't feel too bad about it because those guys can afford it and that's how they spend their lives, doing that stuff to other people. They lie about their handicaps and then sandbag people for money.

"I love taking their money. These guys often have real bad ego problems."

Shipman, 22, plays out of Dallas but grew up in Sayre, Pa. It was there, at a local course at age 8, that she learned that in order to play golf she had to swing the clubs roughly the way you'd expect a lowland gorilla to swing.

"There weren't any other girls, and the only way the guys would let me play golf with them was if I could hit the ball as far as they did," Shipman said. "So I did. I just swung at everything as hard as I possibly could. And they let me play."

That method is not the most ideal way to introduce the game of golf. It is akin to teaching your 5-year-old daughter to ride a bicycle by lifting her onto a 10-speed and pushing her down Topanga Canyon.

"I was pretty wild at first," Shipman said. "The ball just went everywhere."

Eventually, the ball started going toward the green, even though she continued to swing at it with all the finesse of the ski jumper who leads off ABC's Wide World of Sports each Saturday.

She refined her crashing style of play enough to win two national amateur tournaments and help her Texas team to the Southwest Conference championship in 1984.

And while she is working hard on cutting down the intensity of her swing, she still unloads a grunting, groaning monster-shot every so often. On sunny days, she wears baggy, colorful Bermuda shorts with the name "Frankenstein" on the back.

It is the name of the manufacturer, but most people who have watched her uncork a big drive figure it's Shipman's nickname.

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