Betsy King says it doesn't get any better for her than when she's out on the practice range working on something. "Coming up with a shot is a thrill," she says, "particularly when you're able to then go out and pull it off in a tournament."
The last time she was in these parts, Betsy came up with enough shots to last most golfers two lifetimes. Her scorecards read 68-66-67-66 and we're not talking the inaugural Skunk Hollow Invitational here. It was the $1 million LPGA Championship, a major, and King will be back at Bethesda Country Club June 7-13 defending that title.
Her 11-stroke victory was not only a record in the 38-year history of the LPGA, the four rounds in the 60s marked the first time it had been done in a major championship by male or female.
So, after years of brilliant play which, statistically, was topped by her six tour wins in 1989, what criterion does King use in determining if she has had a good year?
"Simple," she says. "All I'm looking for is to be better at the end of the year than I was at the beginning. Out here, it all comes down to consistency and how many tournaments you're competitive in.
"I try to play in about 30 tourneys a year and being competitive in 50 percent of them [meaning a top 10 finish] is a good number."
After a second-place in Sunday's Lady Keystone Open in Hershey, Pa., King hits the stops in Corning, N.Y., and East Lansing, Mich., before heading back to Washington.
"That means I'll be playing in seven straight tournaments," she says. "A lot of the players say that's too long a stretch and they'd get too tired, but I feel better if I play more. One thing, playing six days a week, including tournaments and practice, keeps your short game sharp."
So far this season, Betsy has had three second-place finishes and three other top 10 finishes in a dozen starts. She has passed the $4 million mark in career winnings, only the second woman to do that, but says, "I really haven't played well in the big-money tournaments."
Maybe the reason for this is the locale of the Nabisco Dinah
Shore and Centel Classic events: California and Florida. "I've found the pattern of your game is pretty well dictated by where you grew up and learned to play," she says.
"Being from Pennsylvania, I became used to playing on softer ground, so you have to get the ball up. Notice sometime, the gals from Texas all play the ball low to keep it under the wind, which is so prevalent down there. Also, I'm used to shooting at small greens, like a lot of the greens here."
Before last year's test on the picturesque 6,261-yard, par-71 Bethesda course, it appeared as if the LPGA was going to be overrun by the young stock on tour, a bunch of twentysomethings consistently winning the early events.
"Starting out here," King recalled, "I said somebody over 30 was going to win the tournament and, after a few days, I changed that to read someone over 35. I was prophetic because I was 36 when I won. Bethesda is a course for shotmakers, and experience is most important, too."
King, with 28 career wins including five major championships, qualifies on both counts. But she takes nothing for granted: "One of the great things about golf is you can get out of it what you want. It's always possible to get better. I'm not too sure that's the case with a lot of 9-to-5 jobs."
* Every spring, it seems, a great hue and cry arises from the city to our south about the lack of name golfers competing in the Kemper Open. Annually, it's not who's hot and has a good chance of bringing the TPC course at Avenel to its knees, but where the top money-winners on the PGA Tour are vacationing this week.
Each May, almost without fail, crowds flock to Avenel, the prize money of the tournament goes up, charities benefit greatly and some very interesting golf takes place. For instance, Grant Waite's making a brilliant up-and-down bunker shot to hold off U.S. Open champion Tom Kite for his first tour victory Sunday was a terrific story.
The same holds true in the cases of recent victors Bill Glasson, back from an almost terrifying series of injuries; Billy Andrade, shooting an impossible 22-under-par for his first tour win, etc.
The fact is, since the tournament crossed Persimmon Road from Congressional in 1987, a lot of the players have decided they're not going to like Avenel, no matter what happens, and they're going to find a convenient excuse to bypass the Kemper. So be it. The tourney will still be as good as just about any other on the tour short of the majors.