Jerilyn Britz, for the last six years, was just another hardly identifiable face and another difficult-to-remember name.
For the last six years, Britz was just another body to fill a field on the LPGA tour.
Not that it will change so dramatically now. Not that her mailbox will be cluttered with offers, or that her picture will be plastered on program covers from green to shining green, or that her life will be a short, straight putt.
It has, however, all changed for Britz. Partly, it will be the way she looks at herself, the way she feels the next time victory is within her grasp. Partly, it will be the way she is perceived by others, the attention she receives from those outside the yellow ropes, the respect she gets from those inside.
Today is different for Britz, today more than yesterday or the day before or any day in the last six years. She is the United States Women's Open champion. "She is," Jane Blalock said yesterday, "an inspiration." Britz finished 69 - 284.
That she won on the last hole at Brooklawn Country Club with a two-footer for par, Debbie Massey three-putting for a double-bogey 6, is merely a footnote to her story. That she won by two shots, over Massey and Sandra Palmer, hardly matters to anyone but the USGA record-keeper. That Britz finally won is what counts.
"This is a very exciting for me; this is what I've been working for a long time," Britz said an hour after it had ended."To happen at the Open is an extra thrill."
It happened the way Britz thought it would last week at Harbor Trees Golf Club in Noblesville, Ind. There, Britz had a one-stroke lead with two holes to play. There, Britz put two shots over greens, bogeyed both holes, then watched Hollis Stacy win the Mayflower Classic in a playoff.
It happened the way Britz thought it might last month at the LPGA Championship in Kings Island, Ohio. There, Britz led after two rounds, shared the lead with Donna Caponi Young going into Sunday, then watched Young win the tournament.
Today there was Massey, with a double bogey on No. 6 and then, again, on No. 7, falling out of the lead and seemingly out of contention. Sally Little now led, with birdies on Nos. 2 and 4. Britz could only wait, and hope, that the leader would make some mistakes. She would, with bogeys on Nos. 9, 12 and 13.
There was Britz, going three over par after six holes, getting back a stroke on No. 7, going into the eighth looking for another birdie. On No. 8, which starts out down at the bottom of the hill, then rises sharply to an elevated green 433 yards away, Britz hit her first two shots just where she wanted, the drive riding the crest of the hill, placing the next shot short of the green.
"I was licking my chops," Britz said. And shanking her pitch, dead right into the bunker. The pin was tucked on the right side, just above where Britz stood. Her shot from the sand came to rest 30 feet from the cup. "I needed it," Britz said. She got it. "It turned her around," Massey said of the long putt.
There was Palmer, keeping a stroke or two behind the leaders for most of the round, getting a birdie on No. 15, putting her drive on the next hole under some trees. "After that, I needed some miracles," she said.
Massey was the only one making miracles. After the double-double disaster through the first nine holes ("I thought I was playing in a Tuesday ladies' day tournament," she said), Massey starting making a run. A birdie, from six feet, at No. 12; another at 15; and 16, and 17. "I tried to sink them all," she said.
Coming to the 18th tee, for the 72nd hole of the USGA Women's Open title, Britz and Massey were dead even.
Neither was thinking about coming back for one more day, for another 18 holes, for a playoff. "It passed through my head," Britz said. Massey was not thinking about anything but her next shot. "I was so locked in," she said, "that a bomb could have gone off."
Perhaps one did, from the look of things when Massey reached her drive on the left side of the fairway. It was not a divot into which her shot had landed. "It was a hole," she said. "Made by a burrowing elephant, tusks and all." She should have left it there, dead and buried, for what resulted was the luck Palmer had talked about, the luck needed to win an Open. Massey got her ball within 10 yards of the green. Britz was 12 feet from the cup after a fine second shot.
"There would have been more pressure on me had Debbie got her ball on the green," Britz said. Or had Massey been able to put her chip closer to the hole. Or had Massey made the first putt. "If she had made the putt," Britz said. "I would have been a lot more nervous."
Massey missed twice, first from 10 feet, then from two. Britz missed once. It hardly mattered. She was the Open champion. She was, at 36, the oldest woman to win an Open. She had, with a four-day total of 284, the modern record. CAPTION: Picture, Jerilyn Britz