BETHESDA -- Ten years ago, Deborah McHaffie could not have dreamed she would hold a one-stroke lead going into the second round of the $1 million Mazda LPGA Championship at Bethesda Country Club. She couldn't have dreamed of it, because 10 years ago, McHaffie did not even know how to play the game.
McHaffie, 33, who shot a 5-under-par 66 yesterday, did not start playing golf until 1981, when she played one round in Hawaii and "got hooked."
Even last year, when McHaffie was in her fourth year on the tour, she probably would have had trouble picturing herself in this year's leader's spot. That is because she played in only 19 events in 1990 before doctors discovered a tumor in her sinus cavity after the Dinah Shore tournament. She has since had surgery to remove the tumor.
"I'm just starting to feel healthy again. Physically I feel great. Emotionally, I'm getting better," said McHaffie, who also had to deal with the stress accompanying her mother's illness last year.
Her performance in recent years also did not bode well for McHaffie, whose highest finish has been fourth, which she achieved twice.
"The last month, I have been struggling. I missed the last three out of four cuts. Last week [at the McDonald's Championship in Wilmington, Del.], I missed the cut by one," McHaffie said. "I felt like my patience was worn down.
"I've been frustrated. But this is a big tournament and I decided I might as well give it all I've got. If you're going to have one good tournament, this is the one you want to have it in. I'm going home to Las Vegas next week and taking the week off."
The statuesque blonde, whose unconventional attire is reminiscent of another athlete from Vegas toiling away in Wimbledon, England this week, might have to make arrangements to cart home the hardware that goes along with the winner's check -- one of the convertibles planted strategically throughout the grounds of the club.
For now, though, she is just going to try to maintain the momentum from yesterday's career low round that has put her in the leader's position, one stroke ahead of Barb Mucha, Colleen Walker and Deb Richard.
"Momentum is incredible in this game," McHaffie said. "If it's bad momentum it is just as powerful as good momentum. I just have to accept whatever happens -- good or bad."
Much of what happened yesterday was good. After birdieing her first three holes, McHaffie never looked back. She parred the next three, and then birdied three of the next five. The only blemish on her scorecard was a bogey on the par-4 seventh hole.
"Usually when I shoot under-par rounds they are 70 or 69, usually because I'll throw in a lot of bogeys. The key for me today was to play really smart and try to keep my bogeys to a minimum. I probably hit 15 greens today," McHaffie said.
Those greens were a subject of discussion among many of the golfers yesterday, and, for the most part, the players were pleased.
"The greens are improved to previous years. They've dried them out and the ball is rolling really well," McHaffie said.
According to Richard, the greens have even dried out since the beginning of the week, after a weekend of rain last week.
This year's championship has already shown a marked contrast to last year's, when only nine players were under par after the first round. Twenty-six players came into today's action under par.
"Maybe the players are getting more comfortable with knowing how to play the golf course," Richard said. "The first year, when I came here back when it was the Washington Open, I hit drivers everywhere, and I didn't play that great out here. I think you learn how to play a golf course. I think you adjust to a golf course. We didn't pull a driver out all day today.
"I think the conditions are going to change as the week goes on and the weather gets hotter," Richard continued. "I think you're going to see fewer and fewer rounds under par as the tournament goes on."
Last year, in the tournament won by Beth Daniel, only two players finished under par.
"To shoot a score like this is kind of like stealing something from the course," McHaffie said.
If McHaffie's next rounds are anything like her first, she just might steal the tournament.