BETHESDA -- At first, it was just a smile that spread wide across the face of Betsy King as she walked off the 18th tee at the Mazda LPGA Championship yesterday. But, with 10 months of frustration about to end, King no longer could contain her emotions as she broke into a slow trot along the right fairway, accommodating every outstretched hand offered by the gallery.
"I didn't think about [doing] it until I got over the crest of the hill," said King, not known for displaying her emotions. "I thought I had to do something."
In four days at the Bethesda Country Club, King had done enough, shooting a 17-under 267 -- the lowest four-round score in LPGA Tour history -- in a romp to her first LPGA Championship.
Hall of Famer JoAnne Carner, 53, played well, finishing at 6-under 278, but was 11 strokes behind King, who won her fifth major. King's margin was the largest in the event's 38-year history, bettering Patty Sheehan's 10-stroke win in 1984.
Carner, Liselotte Neumann and Karen Noble tied for second. Carner shot a 71 yesterday, Neumann 69 and Noble 65.
"I said [Saturday] that she tried to lap us, and she did," said Carner, who played with King during the third round. "It's unusual for someone to play a difficult golf course for four rounds like that. It's unbelievable."
This is the third year the tournament has been played on this challenging, 6,245-yard, par-71 course, with Meg Mallon's 10-under 274 last year being the best previous score. But, by shooting a 66 in her final round, King became the first LPGA player to record four sub-70 rounds in a major championship.
"This is probably the best four rounds of golf that I ever played," said King, who won $150,000. "I never envisioned anyone shooting 17-under on this golf course. How can you play 72 holes here with two bogeys?"
The bigger question is, how was King able to rebound from the worst slump of her career in such spectacular fashion?
King's previous victory came last July in the JAL Big Apple Classic in New York. But, after watching a tape of that performance, King was unhappy with her play. When her teacher, Ed Oldfield, couldn't come up with the answers to correct her swing, King cut him loose after an 11-year partnership.
Since the split, King, 36, had failed to win a tournament, with her best efforts being ninth-place finishes. As she sat dejected just over a month ago in an Atlanta hotel room, on the verge of missing the cut in the Sega Women's Championship in Stockbridge, Ga., she finally had had enough of the frustration.
"I didn't feel quite right, and I called Ed from Atlanta," King said. "I had so many changes going on that I needed to get back to something that I knew. I felt a little bit lost. He was very gracious."
Soon, King was on a flight to Chicago to see Oldfield, and that weekend the pair had two 90-minute practice sessions on one of the city's public courses.
"He told me a couple of things, and it made a big difference," King said. "I guess I needed the reassurance. I wasn't that bad off."
The changes didn't pay immediate dividends for King, but proved worthy over the past week. A first-round score of 3-under 68 gave King a share of the lead with three others, and, after the second round, she had a three-shot lead over Carner. After shooting a 4-under 67 Saturday to take a five-shot lead into the final round, the only question was whether King would have any difficulty staying focused with such a big margin.
"You tend to relax [with such a big lead] but Betsy never did," Carner said. "When she birdied [the first hole], I said to my caddy, 'We can catch her -- she's liable to relax.' "
But King was playing with her own personal challenge, having read before teeing off yesterday that no woman golfer had shot four sub-70 rounds in a major.
"I used that as a goal, and when I started with two birdies, I said, 'I have a chance,' " King said. "Then I was playing so well that I said, 'It would be great to play another round without bogey.' "
And she did just that, capping the round with a 14-foot birdie putt.
The winner ...
Betsy King.. .. .. .. 68-66-67-66--267
... and others
Karen Noble.. .. .. 73-70-70-65--278
L'lotte Neumann.. ..71-68-70-69--278
JoAnne Carner.. .. .71-66-70-71--278