Mother Nature Messes With Women's Open Champion Mallon
May 19, 2005
By David Shefter, USGA
Cherry Hills Village, Colo. - Nothing kills a rally like a good, old-fashioned hurricane.
How about two of them?
|Mallon en route to carding a final-round 6-under 65 during last year's U.S. Women's Open. (USGA Photo Archives)|
Last fall, Meg Mallon was blown away by two women. No, it wasn't the Swedish tsunami - a.k.a. Annika Sorenstam - or any other LPGA Tour brethren who supplied the damage, although Sorenstam has applied plenty of carnage to her fellow professionals on the golf course.
This was more of a Mother Nature version otherwise known in the meteorological field as Frances and Jeanne. They ripped through south Florida last September tearing off roofs, flooding homes and scattering enough debris to turn the Sunshine Stateinto a war zone.
The home of the 1991 and 2004 U.S. Women's Open champion wasn't spared. Just as Mallon was enjoying the greatest season of her professional career - three victories in a five-week span and a record $1,358,623 in earnings - her pristine world was rocked.
Suddenly golf didn't seem so important.
"Perspective knocked on my door," said the 42-year-old Ocean Ridge, Fla., resident. "Forget about winning three tournaments or whatever, this is reality. Basically, that five-week period was my year [on the golf course]. After that, it was not anything about golf."
The cleanup was extensive. Frances forced Mallon to evacuate and she headed north to her sister's home in Birmingham, Ala. She was in northern California playing in the Longs Drugs Challenge when Jeanne slammed into shoreline. On top of that, the remnants of Ivan, which punished Florida's panhandle a few weeks later, dumped 11 additional inches of rain on an already saturated southeast Florida coastline.
For 10 days, Mallon was without electricity. The temperature inside her home was 87 degrees, making ordinary daily routines like sleeping difficult. Getting around town was challenging since traffic lights were out, debris was scattered everywhere and gas station lines looked like a southern California freeway during rush hour. Supermarkets ran on generators and the shelves were virtually devoid of everything but bread and other non-perishable items.
"You listened to the radio every morning to find out where you could go get ice so you could pack meat," said Mallon at media day for the 2005 U.S. Women's Open at Cherry Hills Country Club on May 16. "It was like a Third-World country for that short period of time. It was miserable."
Needless to say, Mallon's golf game suffered. Her first order of business was to totally renovate her home. Her fruitful year on tour certainly aided in the reconstruction as she replaced carpeting and bought all new appliances. But in the process of cleaning up, she injured her back and was forced to withdraw from two no-cut events: the Tournament of Champions and the Wendy's Three-Tour Challenge, a post-season competition involving players from the LPGA, PGA and Champions tours.
She did manage a tie for seventh at the season-ending ADT Championship in Florida despite playing in some discomfort.
But her start to the 2005 campaign has been painful. Right from the outset, Mallon admitted to struggling with her driver and then her confidence. Through six events, she has yet to post a top-20 finish and has earned $48,556. Her stroke average of 72.9 is two shots higher than 2004 when she averaged 70.8 and finished fourth on the money list. She ranked in the top 10 in rounds under par (48 of 78), greens hit (72.6 percent) and top-10 finishes (eight of 21 events).
Some of the 2005 struggles can be traced back to Frances and Jeanne. Even though Mallon realized her mid-summer hot streak would eventually come to an end, the circumstances of last autumn certainly aided in breaking whatever momentum she was carrying into the last few tournaments of the season.
"I worked on my house all winter," said the affable Mallon. "Golf took a backseat. At least everyone was OK. It was more of annoyance. And you had to take care of it because nobody else was going to do it. It's your place and your stuff."
With the hurricanes clearly in her rear-view mirror and the biggest stretch of her '05 season now firmly in the present, Mallon might be finally seeing some positive light to her golf game. She fired rounds of 70 and 69 to close the Chick-Fil-A Charity Championship in Atlanta on May 15 to tie for 31st.
And following the media day festivities at historic Cherry Hills, which is hosting its first USGA women's championship, Mallon was headed to a lesson with longtime teacher Mike McGetrick, who is based in the Denver area. McGetrick also works with Hall of Famers Beth Daniel and Juli Inkster (two-time Women's Open champion) and Wendy Ward.
"Mike is waiting in the wings to give me an emergency lesson," said Mallon. "I'm so thankful he is here."
Forging A Historic Championship Round
Weather also played a critical role in Mallon's U.S. Women's Open education. Fifteen years ago, Mallon found herself paired with Patty Sheehan and Jane Geddes for the final two rounds of the U.S. Women's Open at Atlanta Athletic Club. Because of inclement weather earlier in the week, the competitors were forced to play 36 holes on Sunday. During the third round, Sheehan built a 10-stroke advantage and looked like she would run away with her first Women's Open title.
|Mallon had gone 13 years between Open victories, the longest in the championship's history. Hollis Stacy had held the record, at six years. (John Mummert/USGA)|
But the long day and hot conditions drained Sheehan. Her game slowly started to deteriorate, and by day's end Betsy King had snuck in for an improbable one-stroke victory. That day became forever lodged in the memory bank of Mallon, who would go on to win her first Women's Open the next year at historic Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas.
"I learned so much from that because you never know," said Mallon. "You should always just hang in there. That was a tough situation [Sheehan] was put in . [but] Patty came back and won two Opens after that."
Four years later at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colo., Mallon discovered what it was like to lose a final-round lead. Her second Women's Open title was within her grasp. She owned a three-stroke lead after 54 holes, but a disastrous triple-bogey 6 at the shortest hole on the course, the 139-yard par-3 fourth, brought her back to the pack. She would play par golf into the clubhouse only to be beaten at the finish line by a fledgling Swedish pro. That victory by Annika Sorenstam became the first of her now 60 career wins.
"I definitely kick-started someone's career," joked Mallon. "I had a birdie putt to tie her at 18, but missed it."
In 2001 at The Merit Club in Libertyville, Ill., Mallon was tied with Karrie Webb going into the final nine holes. But she had four three-putts down the stretch and Webb posted the first of her back-to-back Women's Open titles.
"Karrie went out and won that one for sure," said Mallon. "She played great golf."
That brings us to the final day of the 2004 Women's Open at The Orchards Golf Club in South Hadley, Mass. As the last round commenced, Mallon trailed 54-hole leader Jennifer Rosales of the Philippinesby three strokes. Also lurking were Kelly Robbins, the runner-up to Hilary Lunke in the playoff at Pumpkin Ridge in 2003, and the world's No. 1 player in Sorenstam, both of whom were in the penultimate pairing.
Mallon had seen this situation before. All the pressure was on the young Rosales, whose only professional victory had come earlier in the year in Atlanta.
Mallon had a certain calmness that morning, although former USGA president Judy Bell provided a little pressure. "She told me we're in Massachusetts, it's the Fourth of July and an American is going to win the championship. I looked at the tee sheets and I think I was the only American (along with Robbins) playing in the final groups. I said, 'I think she must be talking about me.' "
Being a native of Massachusetts didn't hurt, either. Mallon was born in Boston, but had moved to Michigan just before her first birthday. However, her five older siblings - she is the youngest of six children - had all grown up in Boston and four of the five were in the gallery. Mallon knew this could work two ways: the cheers could be added pressure or she could embrace the enthusiasm of the fans.
"I just got the mental mind-set that I am going to have fun with these guys today," said Mallon. "I wanted to enjoy the heck out of every minute and every hole that I played."
The sense that something special might occur over the Donald Ross layout took place at the fourth hole when Mallon holed an improbable 54-footer for birdie. After eight holes, Mallon had erased all of Rosales' lead, which after an opening-hole birdie had surged to four strokes. Both stood at 6 under par. At the par-5 ninth, Mallon birdied to take the lead for good, even though Sorenstam carded a final-round 67, including birdies at 17 and 18.
Mallon's day was punctuated at the par-4 15th when she left her third shot short in the fringe. What seemed like a sure bogey became a miraculous par when she holed the 30-footer. Needless to say, the fans went wild and the energy definitely was felt by the competitors, especially Mallon. It was the kind of atmosphere players at the highest levels thrive on.
"I was feeding off the competitiveness of not only Jen, but Annika and Kelly [Robbins, who shot a 69]," said Mallon. "I was just so into the moment and trying to win. Just to have another opportunity like that and take advantage of it.
"I found my putter [that week]. I had been playing well through most of the beginning of the year, but my putting was just not good. I made a little setup change. I changed my grip and that seemed to click in and I could see the line."
Mallon's final-round 65 was the best by a champion in the annals of the Women's Open. And her 13-year span between victories also is the largest in the championship's history. Mallon would go on to win the Canadian Open the following week and then end the five-week stretch with another win at the Jamie Farr Classic in Toledo, Ohio.
"When you putt well in a U.S. Open and play the next week you feel like you can make anything," said Mallon. "It's just fun to putt well."
Indeed it was a memorable week in Massachusetts for Mallon. One of the state's native daughters had come back to claim the Women's Open. And the weather, for the most part, was perfect. No hurricanes or tsunamis.
Only Mallon's performance blew everyone away.
David Shefter is a staff writer for the USGA. E-mail him with questions or comments at email@example.com.