BETHESDA -- The three women stood on the tee overlooking the 72nd hole and each, in turn, took a deep breath. Forget the previous 71 holes of the Mazda LPGA Championship at the Bethesda Country Club, it was now down to this 379-yard, par-4 for Pat Bradley, Ayako Okamoto and Meg Mallon.
Bradley, on her way to the Hall of Fame, belted her drive long and true down the middle of the fairway. Okamoto was nearly as long, just as true. In the middle of Mallon's downswing, a car horn sounded off in the distance and she flinched. Her drive ended up in the right rough.
"Maybe it was to my advantage hitting the second shot first," said Mallon, who went on to hit the ball dead to the stick and drop the birdie putt for the victory, only her second on tour and in a "major" no less.
A couple of weeks before and no more than two miles away as the crow flies, another fantastic finish had been played out before the multitudes at Avenel. At 3 o'clock on a Sunday afternoon, the haves, Greg Norman and Hal Sutton, were square with the have-nots, Billy Andrade and Jeff Sluman, at 19-under-par.
It was the kids, carrying one tour victory between them, who pulled away and finished the 72 holes tied at 22-under. "Best friends, that was a tough situation for us to face going into a playoff," Andrade recalled.
Billy hit first to the par-3 17th hole and the ball stopped six feet from the cup. The pressure on, Sluman aimed dead for the pin, but it came up short. And wet. It was Andrade's first tour victory.
Beginning tomorrow, Mallon and 143 others will be teeing it up starting at 7:30 a.m. with $1 million on the line. The field, naturally, is as good as it comes: Hall of Famers Bradley, JoAnne Carner and Nancy Lopez. Past champions Beth Daniel, Patty Sheehan, Sherri Turner, Jane Geddes, Jan Stephenson and Sally Little together with Mallon, Bradley, Carner and Lopez. The leaders of the pack this year, Danielle Ammaccapane, Dottie Mochrie and Dana Lofland. In other words, everybody who is anybody.
Then, in two weeks, the Kemper Open at Avenel, the men whacking it around for $1.1 million. Of course, a stellar field is lined up behind Andrade. And, like Mallon, he's ready for them.
"I'm sure Meg went through just about everything I went through after winning here, seeing as how our seasons [and careers] were so similar," said Andrade. Similar, almost carbon copies:
Mallon went on to win the Women's Open, the Daiko World Championship and pocket $634,000. Andrade won the very next week, at Westchester, N.Y., had a couple other top-five finishes and hauled $616,000 to the bank.
"I bet we both wish we knew then what we know now," said Andrade at media day Monday. "I went home to Rhode Island to celebrate the two victories and, unfortunately, the U.S. Open was the following week. I guess I miscalculated where Minnesota was and how long it would take me to get there.
"As soon as I arrived, I had virtually no time to myself for practice. I was exhausted from all that had happened in the previous 2 1/2 weeks. At the Open, I birdied six of the first 10 holes, but I knew I was going to hit the wall. I had a couple of 8s on the back nine. Adios!"
The crowded run of success Mallon enjoyed in the second half of 1991 also did a number on her free time. She calls them "big-girl decisions" she has to make these days: "So many people approach you. Outings, charities, clinics, business opportunities. The hardest part of all this is saying no."
Andrade, on the other hand, was only too happy to stop off at Avenel on his way home from the Atlanta tour stop over the weekend. "Media days," he said, "I love them. I'd like to do one every week. And this course, it's heaven.
"Actually, I didn't think too much of Avenel until last year because I had never done very well here. The course has matured well, and you get a different feel for a place once you win. There's no real positive reinforcement until you win. Then, when it happens, you're real confident coming back.
"Before, you wonder if you will ever win. Then it happens and you know you can do it. It's all part of a mental process, building toward a goal. It took me 3 1/2 years to get to the point where you think you can win. Now, you have to keep working to be better and better."
Mallon learned the latter lesson earlier this year. "I started out the season defending at the Oldsmobile LPGA Classic, and walked away two days later missing the cut. Like they say, this game has a way of humbling you."
On hand at Avenel was Redskins quarterback Mark Rypien, TC scratch golfer who got one of the exemptions handed out by the Kemper committee into the tourney field. Andrade, 5 feet 8 and 155 pounds, sized up the huge 6-4, 235-pound passer and wished him good luck.
"But I have to tell you," he added, "this might be a little different than what you're used to. I imagine at the Super Bowl everybody's all pumped up at the start of the game just like golfers are on the first tee of a golf tournament. Maybe you got rid of your jitters by taking the first snap and handing off to a running back. Mark, there's no one to hand off to on that first tee."