It's a life of road trips in Broncos and Blazers and doing laundry at midnight before the tour leaves town. It's figuring out what's cheaper, renting a car or buying a Super Saver, and knowing that either will put a considerable dent in the budget. It's trying to understand how a swing that looks no different than the superstars' consistently produces 75s and 76s, not 68s.
It's the life of an LPGA golfer who doesn't have the name -- or, as of yet, the golf game -- of a Bradley, King, Sheehan or Lopez.
Inside the LPGA press guide, there are 219 names, with accompanying photos and biographies. Who would figure there were that many? Every week in the newspaper, there are dozens of players who miss the cut at the weekly tour stop and move right on to the next. On the LPGA money list right now, there are 193 names. The No. 1 player, Patty Sheehan, has made $455,474, not counting yesterday's rain-delayed finish in Youngstown, Ohio. The 193rd player, Jackie Bertsch, has made $304, but has played only seven events.
Who is the LPGA? Is it the women even the most casual sports fan knows, the names who play the Skins Game on TV and always appear at the top of the leader board? Or is it the players at the other end of the spectrum, the women who dream of someday winning just one tournament, the youngsters just starting out and the veterans just playing it out?
For every millionaire on the LPGA Tour, handfuls of players are scraping the bottom of the barrel. Their stories are not of clothing contracts or corporate pro-ams or mints on the pillow. Their stories are of survival.
A woman named Terri Lyn Carter sits at No. 119 on the money list, having earned $11,971 this year, before taxes and expenses. It's not very much, but it's more than she'd made her entire career. Bouncing on and off the tour, playing a total of three years, she earned $10,667 before the 1990 season. That's for a career. And she's 32 years old.
"What keeps me coming back are the possibilities," said Carter, a burly, effervescent woman from Arizona who took up golf seriously in 1983, when she was nearly 25. "Everybody knows what keeps Pat Bradley coming back, because Pat makes millions of dollars. For the player who struggles, who goes year-to-year, it's the possibilities. I can see so many possibilities. I can see making $200,000 a year. I can see putting three or four great rounds together some weekend. The possibilities keep you coming back. One week can be your week, and it only takes one."
She pays her caddie $275 a week, plus 5 percent of her earnings. Then, with gas for the red Blazer and food, even if she stays with a family who volunteers to house her for the week, as quite a few players do, she has next to nothing left at the end.
"I'm real lucky," she said. "My father takes care of all the bills I can't pay. I don't have to pay him back."
Carter grew up working on cars at her father's GM dealership in Safford, Ariz., before going to college to become a teacher. Somewhere along the line, she ended up working road construction, building a four-lane highway. When the road was finished, she turned to golf.
She has had to qualify for the tour three times because she didn't do well enough to stay there. If she doesn't finish in the top 90 on the money list by the end of the year, she will have to go back to the qualifying school in the fall. There will be about 100 women there, the survivors of regional tournaments around the country. About 25 will receive their LPGA cards for 1991.
Odds are, if Carter doesn't make the top 90, she'll go back and try again -- for the fourth time.
"You really have to think about how many people would give their eyeteeth to be where I am right now," she said. "You've got to take advantage of what you have. It's not going to last forever. There's going to come a day when I'm going to say I don't enjoy this anymore and I'm going to go home. But as long as I'm out here, you can be sure that I love it."
Lori Garbacz, who will turn 32 next month, won her first tournament last year, the Circle K LPGA Tucson Open. She earned $45,000 that day, more money than she had earned in five of her 10 years on the tour to that point. Thirty players were waiting for her to finish her round. When she did, they threw Gatorade on her.
Last fall, a hotel window fell on Garbacz's right hand, breaking her middle and ring fingers. She has had foot problems. And now, the next year after she earned $138,124, she is struggling, having won just $7,395 (No. 133 on the list) in 1990.
"It's my worst year ever," said Garbacz, who is moving from Florida to Washington. "I just feel like I can't get it back. In the space of one year, I've gone from achieving something that I wanted to do for 11 years and then all of a sudden, I'm doing worse than I ever did."
Lynn Adams, who turns 40 next month, won the ComBanks Orlando Classic in 1983 and had earnings over $60,000 in 1988 and 1989, but had a hysterectomy last year and still is trying to get her game back. She has earned $13,314 this year, 115th on the money list.
"I try to put it all in perspective," said Adams, who lives in Kingsville, Tex. "I wake up in the morning and I'm breathing. Okay, so I'm not 100 percent, but my attitude's good. Mine is still a learning process."
Many times, a player's personal life intrudes on her golf career. "There are a very few fortunate people who are so talented out here that those problems don't weigh on them . . . ," Garbacz said. Nancy Lopez has "gone through a divorce, had children, she's always handling things. It's a psychologically demanding lifestyle."
So why do it?
"You just keep going because it's such an enjoyable thing to do, to hit that perfect golf shot," Garbacz said. "When you get into competition, when you're playing well, there's nothing quite like it. Everybody's paying attention to you, you've got the gallery, they're clapping for you, you're confident, you're hitting good shots, you're getting paid well, you're doing something you love. It's a real high. And when you don't play well, it's gone and you're chasing after it all over again."