There was a fringe benefit to following Nancy Lopez through the first two rounds of the U.S. Women's Open here this week as she played in a threesome with Sandra Palmer and Sally Little.
Domingo Lopez, Nancy's father, watched his daughter hit every shot both days and, occasionally, found time to offer a word of unsolicited advice on Little's putting. More often than not the blond from South Africa would be short with her first attempt on the greens, prompting Domingo to shout encouragement as the ball began to stop inches below the hole.
"Get legs . . . get legs," Senor Lopez exclaimed, repeatedly, and his comment invariably brought forth a chuckle from the male chauvnists reporting the tournament because, obviously, the best pins in women's golf aren't the flagstaffs on the greens, but Little's.
The ancient advice still applies: if you can't be good, be pretty. How else can one explain the fact that Laura Baugh, who was yet to win a professional event, makes most of the TV commercials while the young, colorful Hollis STacy bravely defends her Open title.
"Glamour never hurt anyone out here and it was really helpful to all of us, back in the '50s, after Babe (Didrickson Zaharias) died, when Marlene (Bauer Hagge) came along," Patty Berg recalled yesterday. Bauer, a pin-up type, captured eight tournaments in 1957.
"The Babe was so popular," Berg explained. "She was a super player but, even more, she was such a super athlete, the best I guess we'll ever see. It was that great natural ability that was so important to her in golf, because she really got a very late start in this game."
Zaharias won three Opens, in 1948, 1950 and 1954 after Berg had taken the first, in 1946.
"I beat Betty James when it was match play," Babe informed. "Two years later," Babe and her husband George and Fred Corcoran and I sort of organized the Ladies PGA. Corcoran was the tournament director. I remember Babe and me were able to get Wilson (Sporting Goods) to sponsor us, and before long other companies were doing the same thing for other players."
Berg is a delight. Built along the lines of an offensive guard - she still plays golf, at 60, as agressively. the scores of 83 and 85 she posted over the first two rounds weren't good enough to make the cut, but no one had more fun or displayed more determination than the gray-haired lady who kept banging the ball 200 yards off the tee and challenging every flag.
"I love it," she said. "I get almost as big a kick out of watching today's girls as I did playing when I was a contender They're so good. When I started, you had to do it on your own and it was 23 or 24 before you were ready. These days, with junior high programs, college, park boards and YWCAs, girls have had eight years of pressure golf before they get out of here, and there's no-substitute for starting young.
"We know so much more about the game now than we did then. The equipment has changed. So have the balls. More important, we know so much about the muscles, as they apply to the golf swing. Our food is better. We have better nutrition, and vitamins, athletes are stronger in everything. I did a 'Sports Legends' show for television once, with Reggie Jackson. I have to wonder if there were many baseball players like him in the old days."
Certainly there haven't been many Patty Bergs, in any era. She beat cancer a few years ago, and once again is busy as ever, giving clinics and exhibitions.
"I just completed a swing of the Pacific Northern Californiia. Oregon, Washington and Montana. Tuesday I go to St. Louis. Maybe, next year, I'll cut down a little, but not now, not with Nancy generating so much interest in the game. She's going to be great for the tour, and she's a really nice girl."
And just how good is Lopez?
"Very, very good. It's difficult to compare top players of different times. But there a lot of outstanding young players out here now. Hollis Stacy won an Open at 23 last year, Pat Bradley is excellent. Beth Daniel has a beautiful swing. But then, just about all the top young ones have good patterns."
"And they're dedicated. They have to be, to make a living. The money the tournaments offer is so much better - I got $100 for my first win, something like $5,000 for my Open - but everything is so keen these days. The scoring average gets lower and lower. Everyone's dedicated. That wasn't always the case."
Berg hasn't changed her mind about two veterans, however.
"Kathy Whitworth was the greatest competitor I ever saw," she declared, "and Mickey Wright had the finest golf swing any of us are ever going to see, and that covers a lot of territory."