Nancy Lopez, 21, a rookie, reached a pinnacle of golf history yesterday by becoming the first LPGA player to win five straight tournaments.
With an 18th-hole double bogey from the previous day fresh on her mind, Lopez shot a four-under-par 69 for a dramatic two-stroke victory over Jane Blalock and Debbie Massey in the Rochester Classic.
Lopez had trailed Blalock by three strokes going into the final round, but had told her caddy, Kim Jones, "I'm going to show 'em my wheels today. I'm gonna' move."
Lopez used a 30-foot birdie putt on 17 to move ahead of Blalock by a stroke. When she finished her round, Lopez sat on her golf bag with Jones and waited for Blalock, two three-some back, to come in.
Blalock missed a 10-foot birdie putt on 17, and needed to chip in for a birdie to tie Lopez and send the doings into sudden death. Lopez watched Blalock's long chip shot stop several feet away from the cup. She turned and hugged Jones.
He gave her a quick kiss, said "God Bless" and with that Lopez had:
Become the first woman to win five straight tournaments, breaking the record of four held by Mickey Wright (who did it twice), Kathy Whitworth and Shirley Englehorn. The pro golf record is 11 in a row by Byron Nelson in 1945.
Broke IGA player Jerry Pate's for money won by a rookie in a year. Pate won $153,102 in 1976. Lopez $11,250 first-prize boosts her $234 past that since she joined the LPGA last July.
Won her seventh tournament of 1978, the most in one season since Kathy Whitworth won seven in 1973. Blalock had started the day with a two-stroke lead over Alexandra Reinhardt, who finished fourth. Reinhardt shot a one-par 74 and dropped out of contention early when Lopez went on her front-nine tear.
Lopez had four birdies on the front nine to post a four-under-par 32. It gave her a one-stroke lead over Blalock, who had double bogeyed five and bogeyed six.
Lopez bogeyed the 13th to drop into a tie with Blalock and set up the final showdown with Masesey hot on their heels.
The critical 17th did not start out well for Lopez. She hit her second shot to the edge of a trap and her next shot stopped 30 feet from the pin. But Lopez made her long rutt for the bird and the lead.
"When she birdied 17," said Blalock, "I think I had just hit my tee shot on 16 behind a tree."
The pressure was all on Blalock on 18, and from the right side of the fairway she had a chance if she could get the ball on the green within birdie distance.
"I tried to hit my career shot," said Blalock. "What I hit was a very, very poor golf shot (way off on the right bunker). I gave it all I had."
Lopez birdied all but one of the par fives yesterday. She had three-days rounds total of 72, 73, 69 - 214.
"She's easy to caddy for because she's just about half a club short of a man's game," said Jones. "The par fives were just two short not to get birdies. They're perfect length for her.
"After three-putting for that double bogey on 18 yesterday, she wasn't about to putt bad today. She was a sound machine today."
Even though she outdrove the contenders, the raves were about her putting. She sank a 25-footer for a birdie on nine and made several pressure par putts.
"She's the best putter I've ever seen in my life," said Blalock.
"I have never, ever played with anyone who sank so many putts over 15 feet," said Massey, who played in Lopez' threesome and shot 70 for the second'best round of Tuesday. "She's magnificient. I've never seen anything like it. If her putting touch keeps up, ours is going to have to get a lot better. At this moment there's no one on the men's tour who is putting as well."
And there were compliments about her ability to withstand the pressure focused on her by an unusually large gallery.
"It's just tremendous, the pressure she's handled," said Blalock. "you don't have a clue what that's like. And neither do I."
Lopez admitted, "I feel relieved more than anything. I wanted to win it very badly. Boy, did I.
"I think this week was the most pressure I'll ever have. I really had to concentrate today. I kept taking big deep breaths. I felt the pressure."
One would never have known it to watch her play, to see her smile and shrug her shoulders after missing one birdie putt. Before the round, she wished her father, Domingo, a happy father's day. Afterwards, she dedicated the win to a local dentist, Jerry Mesolelle, whom she hit with a tee shot Friday.
"Thank you, Jerry, for being all right," she said. And to the crowd of 12,900 which had followed her and saluted her with cheers, standing ovations and whistles, "I love all of you very much."