Editor’s note: Pops and Sunshine is the story of a young player on the Duramed Futures Tour and her dream and struggle to earn her way onto the LPGA Tour. Following is an excerpt.
By Dave Andrews
Special to ARMCHAIR GOLF
LISA PLAYED AS WELL as she had the first day. She birdied the very first hole, rolling in a 20-foot putt. She birdied the fourth hole with another long putt. She bogeyed the sixth hole, after pushing her tee shot into a fairway bunker. But she birdied the very next hole, number seven, curling in a 30-foot breaking putt from the fringe of the green. She felt comfortable. The nerves of the second day’s round had disappeared. The “yips” were gone on the green. She trusted the lines Dave gave her. Her putting stroke was smooth. It was all working for her on the front side.
The problem was that Shelly was playing just as well. She matched Lisa’s birdie on the first hole. She birdied the third hole, to extend her lead to four shots. After Lisa birdied the seventh hole, Shelly matched her on the eighth. She chipped in from 20 yards off the green.
Lori Roberts was one over par after seven holes, dropping her five strokes behind Lisa, a full nine shots behind Shelly. No one else in the field had made a charge.
It had become a two-woman match at that point. Shelly was in command and she knew it. Everyone knew it. The big crowd around the ninth green applauded the threesome as they walked up the ninth fairway.
Shelly smiled. The leader board by the clubhouse showed her at 8 under par. Lisa was 4 under par. She was trailing Shelly by four shots with ten holes left to finish.
“Damn, the kid’s playing tough, but it’s not enough,” Tinker said, walking up the side of the fairway with Rob and Russ.
They had watched Shelly match her shot-for-shot on the first eight holes. They had all played enough golf to know that time was starting to run out.
“Did you slip that extra club in Shelly’s bag?” Russ asked Tinker, trying to break the somber mood.
“I wish I had now,” he said. But he wasn’t in a joking mood.
Rob said nothing. He looked at Lisa walking up the middle of the fairway, approaching the ninth green. She still had her head up. She even smiled at the crowd when they applauded the golfers.
“Look at her,” he said. “She’s got a lot of class.”
“She’s a peach, Robbie,” Tinker said. “She’s a real sweetheart. You’re a lucky guy.”
Rob looked up towards the green. He spotted John and Ted Bradley standing in the big crowd. He pointed them out to Tinker.
“That’s Ted Bradley up there,” Rob said. “Looks like I got him here for nothing. Damn it!”
Lisa got a break at that moment. Shelly bladed a chip shot, running the ball 50 feet past the pin, to the back edge of green. She would have to make that putt to save her par. She could be facing her first bogey of the front side.
Lisa was comfortably on the green, about 25 feet from the hole. She had a chance at another birdie. A two-stroke swing on this hole would make a huge difference going to the back nine. It would reduce Shelly’s lead to just two strokes.
“OK. Now we’re talkin,’” Tinker said, punching Rob in the shoulder. “It’s about time.” He turned to Russ. “They have paramedics out here? I think I might have a stroke.”
Russ laughed. “You old buzzard. Be quiet.”
Rob left them and walked around to the back of the green. He made his way through the crowd to John and Ted Bradley. He tapped John on the shoulder.
“This could be big,” he whispered.
Shelly and Lance were only a few feet in front of them, lining up her long putt. Lisa and Dave were behind her ball, reading her line.
“Hey, Robbie. She’s going to need some breaks,” John said quietly.
Ted Bradley leaned over. “Hi, Rob,” he whispered.
“I think I might have gotten you up here for nothing,” Rob whispered back.
“Let’s see what happens,” Bradley said.
Shelly got into position over her putt. She stroked the ball.
Rob was standing right behind her. He could tell when it was five feet from the cup that it was going to fall in. He put his hand over his eyes.
The roar of the crowd told him what he already knew was going to happen. Shelly had made an incredible putt, saving her par. The gallery applauded as she walked to the hole and picked her ball out of the cup. She smiled as she walked over to Lance. He patted her on the back as he took the putter from her. Dave had grimaced when Shelly’s putt dropped in the hole. Lisa’s expression hadn’t change. She walked up to her mark and replaced her ball on the ground.
“I think it’s straight,” she whispered to Dave. She was crouched behind her ball. Dave was standing over her.
“It’s dead straight,” he said confidently. “Put it in the middle of the cup.”
Tinker was still shaking his head over Shelly’s 50-foot putt to save par.
“Man, the kid can’t get a break, Russ,” he whispered.
Russ just shook his head. “Damn!” he said softly.
Lisa stood over her putt. She set her feet. She gave the line one last look. She stroked the ball. This time Dave knew it was in when it was five feet from the hole. He smiled as he watched it roll to the heart of the cup. He started toward the hole to replace the pin. The crowd roared when her ball dropped out of sight. Lisa pumped her fist and walked up to remove her ball from the cup.
Rob pumped his fist. “Yes!” he yelled amid the noise of the cheers and applause.
Ted Bradley smiled at his reaction. “That just showed me something, Robbie,” he said. “A lot of players would have had the wind taken out of their sails after Shelly’s bomb went in. She’s got guts.”
Rob grinned. “She’s incredible,” he said.
Lisa’s birdie had moved her to three strokes behind Shelly. There were nine holes left to play. The threesome made their way through the big crowd, on their way over to the tenth tee. Shelly and Lisa accepted the congratulations of several spectators. On the cart path, Lisa saw the little girl who had looked up at her in the Pro Shop the first day she had arrived at the course. She stopped and crouched down. Dave had to stop short behind Lisa. He almost tripped over her.
“Hi, Angie,” Lisa said, smiling. “Having fun today?”
The little girl beamed up at her. “I’m going to be a golfer,” she said. She was wearing another cute little outfit.
Lisa laughed. She was surprised she had remembered the little girl’s name.
“I’ll bet you’re going to be a real good golfer,” she said, patting her on the head.
The little girl’s mother was impressed. “That’s so nice of you,” she said, smiling warmly. “I hope you win today.”
Lisa stood up. “Thanks a lot. We’ll try.” She started for the tenth tee. Dave grinned at the mother and shrugged his shoulders. The mother laughed. “Good luck,” she yelled after him as he followed Lisa to the tee.
Dave caught up to Lisa in a few steps. “Who was the little girl?” he asked her, grinning. “I almost killed you when you stopped like that.”
“I saw her in the Pro Shop that morning when I first got here, right before I met you,” she said. “I thought it might have been a lucky omen, seeing her like that just then.”
Dave shook his head. “Amazing,” he thought.
Mary Stewart walked back to the satellite truck. Mitch was inside with Sally. They were logging shots of the tapes the camera crew had shot on the front side.
“We got both of those putts on 9,” Mitch said when he saw Mary walk in. “I’ll get the times codes if you want to use them in the piece.”
“I’ve got a feeling there’s going to be some bigger shots on the back nine. Can the crew follow them the whole way?” she asked.
Mitch nodded. “No problem.”
There was a short backup on the tenth tee. The group in front of them was playing slowly on that hole. Lisa had the honors, with her birdie. She was waggling her driver, staying loose. She still felt good and figured she would go down fighting, at least. Shelly was a few feet away. Lance was down at the ball washer next to the tee.
Shelly looked at Lisa. “Don’t think that birdie back there is going to help you, Nelson,” she said, just loud enough for Lisa to hear. “You haven’t got what it takes.”
Lisa looked at the big crowd gathering beside the tee. She smiled and walked over to Shelly.
“Listen, Steele,” she said, still with the smile on her face. “You’re probably going to win today, and you’re probably going on to the big tour next year.” Lisa’s smile disappeared. “But if you give me one more smart-ass comment out here today, I’ll smash this driver right over your damn head.” She smiled again, but her eyes were flashing. “And don’t think I won’t do it.” She stared hard into Shelly’s eyes, then she turned and walked back to the tee box.
Shelly was lost for words. People in the crowd who may have been watching probably thought they were sharing some pleasant small talk.
Dave was close enough to hear every word. “Wow!” he said quietly to himself. He never expected that display from the shy polite young woman he had come to know. He chuckled quietly as Lisa took more practice swings, trying to stay loose.
The tour official who was following their group nodded at Lisa. The tenth fairway was open. There were nine holes left.
Dave Andrews is the author of Pops and Sunshine, and a freelance golf writer and member of the Golf Writers Association of America. He spent 30 years in the television news industry.