The sound of the words "one million dollars" can stir many emotions, and "excited" seemed to be the key word yesterday as the world's top women golfers descended on Bethesda Country Club in preparation for the LPGA's richest tournament ever, the $1 million LPGA Championship, which starts Thursday.
"It's exciting, one million dollars," said Hall of Famer Kathy Whitworth, one of 144 golfers in the event. Whitworth, who joined the tour in 1959, put this week's hefty purse in perspective. Her first of 88 official victories was in Baltimore in 1961.
"I think first prize was a thousand dollars," said Whitworth yesterday. The winner at Bethesda Sunday will earn $150,000. The purse and first prize are double that of last year's LPGA Championship at Kings Island, Ohio, won by Nancy Lopez.
"One million. That was almost prize money for the year back then," said Whitworth, a native of Jal, N.M., now living in Dallas.
"We're excited about playing this golf course," said three-time U.S. Open champion Hollis Stacy, who finished Sunday in the Phar-Mor Youngstown Classic tournament. Other big names -- eventual winner Beth Daniel, Patty Sheehan, Lopez and Betsy King -- had to stay in Vienna, Ohio, an extra day to complete the rain-delayed event.
"I am tremendously impressed with the organization of this tournament," said LPGA Commissioner Bill Blue, inspecting the premises yesterday. "It has a first-class look. We put bleachering in and roped it off. We'll be able to put 20,000 to 25,000 people per day to watch the players.
"The rough is going to be a significant factor. Iron placement to the pins is going to be the key to winning this tournament."
Jenny Lidback, a second-year pro from Houston, is excited about the purse and the course. "Everybody is looking forward to this week. Anyone who is in the race for the title, believe me, their hearts will be pumping.
"It could move you up a lot on the money list. It's a great golf course. I'm glad we're having a major here. I played here last year for the first time and was impressed."
Stacy added: "We're being treated like champions. We've got special attention." Stacy also said the huge purse and that it is a major championship will show. "I think you'll see some nerves out here," she said.
Lidback concurred: "Probably people will take a little bit longer on their putts or whatever."
"You've got to hit every shot in the bag," said tour veteran Dale Eggeling. "You have to be very disciplined to play this golf course. If you hit the ball in the wrong spots with the rough so long . . . I'm ready."
Eggeling, 36, of Tampa, teamed with Rep. Larry Combest (R-Tex.), Rep. Norm Lent (R-N.Y.), Jeff Fritzlen and Eugene Gould for net 56 to win yesterday's International Celebrity Pro-Am.
Last year, Eggeling had an experience she'll never forget in the Greater Washington Open at this course. She suffered from heat prostration in 99-degree weather and was rushed to Suburban Hospital after completing her first round.
"I've never felt like that in my life," said Eggeling, winner of the 1990 Boston Five Classic. "I was in outer space. I felt like my body was there but I wasn't. I was drinking a lot of liquids but there wasn't a drop of sweat on me."
She said she only had a protein milkshake that morning and nothing else to eat. She was treated at the hospital and released.
"Since then I have learned I need to eat, drink plenty of liquids and stay in the shade," said Eggeling, who has won $111,000 this season. She is hoping for four rounds here instead of an 80 and an ambulance ride.
Rockville native Michelle Mackall, who has struggled with only $2,000 in earnings in her rookie year on the LPGA Tour, is in the LPGA Championship field.
"I'm just looking to play a couple of solid rounds," said Mackall, 30, of Orlando, Fla., who learned golf at the two Washingtonian Country Club courses that no longer exist. "It would do my confidence a world of good."
Mackall won the Middle Atlantic Women's Amateur in 1985, turned pro in 1986 and won about $20,000 playing mini-tour events last year, including a win in the Crystal River Futures Classic.