BETHESDA -- Few golf courses have played so integral a part in a player's career as Bethesda Country Club has for Beth Daniel. For one week in each of the previous two years, it has become Beth's Country Club.
It was here, at the 1989 Greater Washington Open, that Daniel ended a four-year non-winning streak. It was also here, at last year's LPGA Championship, that Daniel won her first major title since turning pro in 1979.
"I don't know if I particularly fit the course, or if it fits me, but it's obviously been very much to my liking," Daniel, 34, said yesterday. "The years I've played here, I had a lot of success. I've always liked traditional golf courses."
Patty Sheehan put it even more succinctly. "She's madly in love with this place," said Sheehan.
Daniel hopes that the love affair, as well as her winning streak on the tree-lined, dog-legged 6,246-yardcourse, continues this week when she attempts her own three-peat. The $1 million Mazda LPGA Championship will begin today.
pair of victories this season, including a four-shot win Sunday at the McDonald's Championship outside Wilmington, Del., gives Daniel alucky 13 in the past 22 months and has made her the most dominant player in golf.
"She has no weakness," said Hall of Famer JoAnne Carner. "She canwin any week she plays."
It was nearly that way when Daniel first came out on tour. But after going from Rookie of the Year in 1979 to Player of the Year in 1980, finishing as the LPGA's top money-winner in 1980 and 1981, Daniel began to watch her game and her body fall apart. She slid to 29th by 1987.
First there were putting problems, then back problems and finally a bout with mononucleosis that put her off the tour for
three months in 1988. Eight second-place finishes between 1986 and 1988 did little to quell Daniel's frustrations.
"It was very frustrating," she said yesterday. "Here you'r knocking on the door, beating 143 players, but you're not beating the 144th. To someone used to winning, finishing in the top 30 on the money list isn't much fun."
The victory here two years ago was the start to an incredible stretch that has yet to end. She won three additional tournaments in 1989, seven last year and, after taking off the first two weeks of this season, won the Phar-Mor at Inverrary before the McDonald's victory.
If the Greater Washington victory revived her career and rejuvenated her confidence, Daniel's win here last year took her off the top of another, unwanted list: the best LPGA player not to have won a major.
"Winning this tournament, my first major, was the highlight of my career," said Daniel, who set an LPGA record with $863,578 last year and is second behind Pat Bradley for season and career earnings. "The feeling I had coming down the stretch, when you're fighting your emotions, to be able to battle myself and win on a very difficult golf course, was very gratifying."
It is a course that favors long hitters who are also deft putters, but perhaps the biggest premium is on ball placement.
"You have to be able to hit long irons," said Bradley. "And Beth is probably one of the best long-iron players who has ever played."
Daniel won last year's LPGA Championship by taking the lea from Rosie Jones with a string of birdies early in the final round, then held on when Jones barely missed a 35-foot putt for birdie on the last hole. Daniel watched nervously from a television tower above the 18th green as the putt rimmed out.
"I thought she made the putt," Daniel said yesterday. "On hindsight, I wouldn't do that [sit in the TV booth] again. Mentally, I wouldn't have been able to make a turnaround for the playoff."
Mentally, Daniel is a much stronger player than she was during her wonder years on tour. Though still prone to tossing a club or an epithet around -- she was fined this year in Hawaii for the former -- Daniel's emotions seem to be more under control.
Asked to compare her game now with what it was a decade ago, Daniel said: "Mentally, I'm a lot better than I was. My ability to come back during the course of a round is better. Ball-striking-wise, I'm not that sure. My brain has gotten a little better. Maybe."
And maybe, just maybe, she is ready to rename Bethesda Country Club for the third straight year. Just call it Beth's Country Club.
Where: Bethesda Country Club
When: Today through Sunday
Who: 144 of the world's top female players, including defending champion Beth Daniel, all-time money winner Pat Bradley and Patty Sheehan.
Purse: $1 million total, $150,000 to the winner TV: NBC (channels 2, 4), 1 p.m., Saturday and Sunday
Directions: Parking at public lot on Rock Spring Drive, across the street from Walter Johnson High School. Take 495 to Exit 36 (Old Georgetown Road), go north five lights, turn left onto Rock Spring Drive. Follow signs.
Tickets: Season clubhouse, $100; season grounds, $75; book of 10, grounds only, $125. Daily clubhouse: Today and tomorrow, $25; Saturday and Sunday, $30. Daily grounds: Today and tomorrow, $15; Saturday and Sunday, $20.
Beth Daniel's career record, with earnings, earnings rank and tournament victories:
Year... Money... ... Pos.. ... .. Wins
1979...$97,027.. ...10.. .. .. .. 1
1980...$231,000.. .. 1.. .. .. .. 4
1981.. $206,977.. ...1 ... .. ... 2
1982.. $223,634.. .. 5.. .. .. .. 5
$167,403.. ...6.. .. .. .. 1
1984.. $94,284.. ... 16.. .. .. ..0
1985.. $177,235.. ...8.. .. .. .. 1
1986.. 103,547.. ... 21.. .. .. ..0
1987.. $83,308.. ... 29.. .. .. ..0
1988.. $140,635.. .. 17.. .. .. ..0
1989.. $540,851.. .. 2.. .. .. .. 4
$863,578.. .. 1.. .. .. .. 7
$352,448.. .. 2.. .. .. .. 2
Totals $3,281,927.. .. .. .. ....27