BUENA PARK — He walked 18 holes in cowboy boots, a pair of Wrangler jeans and a western shirt, and he saw trouble in the fields. Jack Tatum, proprietor of the Tatum cattle and horse ranch, was watching one of his best calf-ropers have a very bad day.
Tani Tatum, the boss' daughter, led the Los Coyotes LPGA Classic after one round and was a stroke off the lead after two. But Saturday afternoon, she couldn't have putted into a bucket.
"She's my daughter," Jack Tatum said, a cigarette in one hand and a beer can in the other. "But I ain't claimin' her right now."
Tani Tatum finished with a 79. The leader, Jan Stephenson, is 11 strokes away, at nine under entering the final round today.
"She better get tough, or I'll make her saddle up," Jack Tatum said as his daughter fought her way up the back nine. "Day after tomorrow, she could be workin' cattle."
Tani Tatum, 32, who learned to play golf on the nine-hole course her family built in the middle of an alfalfa field near Bishop, shot a 68 in a tournament this season, then turned around the next day and turned in an 86.
After her 66 Thursday at Los Coyotes, she held fairly steady Friday with a 73. But it was like riding a bronco. Sooner or later, she was going to get thrown. The difference is, this time she's getting right back on.
"I walked off and said, 'Well, you beat 86 by seven shots,' " she said. "This is not the end. After the 86, I thought life had ended. I'm still in there. If I fix everything up, I can make a decent check."
Tatum was in the next-to-last group to tee off Saturday, just ahead of Betsy King and Hollis Stacy, who shared the lead after two rounds. Tatum three-putted the first green for a bogey.
"I didn't work on my putting (Friday) night," she said. "I made a mistake. It was brutal. I putted just awful."
Her day took a nasty turn on No. 4.
"She hit it up in a damn palm tree," Jack Tatum said. "It stayed there."
Tani Tatum wasn't pleased to have hit the tree. But she thought the ball would come down, same as it would from the cottonwoods they have out in Bishop.
"All these guys were looking all around," she said. "A couple were looking up. I walked up and said, 'Where is it?' They said, 'Uh, it never came down.' "
Some industrious person found a ball in the tree, which would have allowed Tatum to take an unplayable lie and go from there--if it had been Tatum's ball.
"It was the wrong ball," she said. "Everybody knew it was stuck up there, but you have to find the ball, and we didn't have a monkey handy."
So instead, she counted it as a lost ball and hiked back to repeat the shot--waving King and Stacy to play through. Tatum did manage to make five on the par-four hole.
"One of the best bogeys I've ever made," she said. "I knocked it to about 10 feet and then made the putt to save bogey."
The day didn't get much better. She bogeyed 5, double-bogeyed 7, bogeyed 8 and made the turn with a 41. She won't blame a palm tree for her round.
"That's a good excuse, but I got over the tree experience," she said. "It's one of those things."
The real trouble was with her game. Her putter wasn't good for much Saturday, and her irons were straying right.
"When a three-footer's a heart-pounder, that puts a lot of pressure on the rest of your game," she said.
She had a birdie and two pars to start the back nine.
But three consecutive bogeys--she hit another tree on 14, but this ball came down--pretty much finished off her hopes of recovering, at least for Saturday. But there's always today.
"She got a little nervous," Jack Tatum said. "But she's a tough little cowboy."