GLENDALE — First came the rain, drenching Oakmont Country Club, and a wind so cold that the women could barely feel the golf clubs in their hands.
Then came the worms.
"There were worms all over the place," said Shelley Hamlin, a veteran on the professional tour. "That's why my putts didn't drop. The worms kept getting in the way."
The 1986 GNA-Glendale Federal Classic was otherwise not an affair to remember, cut short after 54 holes and five rain-soaked days. But it was, in many ways, symbolic of the stormy history between the LPGA and this venerable course.
From 1985 through 1987, the women came to Oakmont hoping for a wintertime dose of Southern California sun. Instead, they got consecutive tournaments marred by rain, fog and hail.
Still, Oakmont ranked as one of the most beautiful and challenging stops on the tour. Amy Alcott called it "the best-kept secret in Los Angeles." So tour officials were both startled and disappointed when, prior to 1988, a faction of the club's membership succeeded in discontinuing the tournament.
Now, a decade later, the LPGA returns to Glendale. It seems only fitting that the $650,000 Los Angeles Women's Championship this week comes during one of the wettest and windiest seasons in recent memory.
The 54-hole tournament will run Friday through next Sunday and feature a field of 144 players, including Annika Sorenstam, Emilee Klein and Kelly Robbins.
They will test themselves against a 6,276-yard course that winds along the foot of the Verdugo hills. The narrow and often slanted fairways can send dead-center drives into stands of eucalyptus and pine. The small greens are wrought with subtle breaks.
The first time the LPGA played here, members confided to the pros that "all the putts break toward Glendale," which prompted Alcott to ask: "Where the hell is Glendale?"
Oakmont was built in 1929 and was host to two PGA tournaments in its early days. Ben Hogan shot a final-round 64 to win here in 1948. But it was another 37 years before the pros would return, and only then by circuitous route.
A Seattle company called Great Northern Annuity had begun to market its tax-deferred annuities in Southern California in 1985 and executives figured that a golf tournament might be just the thing to stir up publicity. One of those executives, Don Andersen, knew the area.
"I had been the sports information director at USC," Andersen said. "I knew some USC people at Oakmont. Good connections, right?"
The tournament was set for March, in the middle of tax season, when GNA did much of its business. Andersen researched 10 years' worth of weather reports and figured there was only a one-in-four chance of rain.
Unfortunately, he failed to research the chance of snow.
Two days before the tournament, a slushy layer of white covered the fairways. It quickly melted, but the opening round was delayed for 35 minutes because of dense fog. Jan Stephenson ended up winning the soggy event with a two-over par 290, the highest winning score on the tour that year. A precedent had been set.
The following year, 1986, the rain played havoc. Several players said the wet and chilly conditions were the worst they had ever experienced.
Chris Johnson, the eventual winner, sloshed her way through 8 1/2 holes Thursday, 27 1/2 holes Friday, 12 1/2 holes Saturday and none on Sunday before finishing with 5 1/2 holes on Monday.
"It played fairly long because the fairways were spongy," she recalled. "You just put on your rainsuit and went out and got wet."
In 1987, rain again disrupted the early rounds. Said Val Skinner, a top-10 money winner who was still relatively new on the tour: "That golf course is plenty tough without bad weather."
But an even bigger storm was brewing on the horizon. In July, the club held a private meeting to discuss extending the tournament's contract. Tour officials and many members considered the vote a mere formality.
"In those days, we didn't vote by mail. You had to come to the meeting," said Al Merkel, a longtime member. "We had a bunch of old codgers who didn't want to give up their club for a week. All the naysayers got out to vote and the rest of us sat on our thumbs."
With less than half the membership in attendance, the naysayers won by a 117-113 margin. City officials got into the act, expressing their dismay, but no new vote was called.
The following March brought blue skies and afternoon temperatures in the mid-70s.
Howling winds kicked up on a Monday night last month, blowing gusts of up to 77 mph. When Andersen arrived at Oakmont the next morning, he found the course littered with fallen trees.
"It made me sick to my stomach," he said.
Andersen and the LPGA were back in Glendale. A Japanese-based promoter had obtained the rights to hold a tournament in Los Angeles and tour officials made no secret of their desire to return to Oakmont. They suggested that the promoter contact Andersen, who was quickly hired to lead the effort.