For Patty Sheehan, tears of joy

Patty Sheehan -- 1992, 1994

At one point, Patty Sheehan thought she might be too old to win the tournament she valued most.

"It's weird how you can win so many tournaments, and the one you want so badly, you don't get," Sheehan said. "I don't know if I got in my own way, but I feel very lucky that I was able to do it. And to win it twice is huge."

Sheehan won the U.S. Open in 1992 at age 35 and again in '94 after finishing runner-up three times in frustrating fashion.

At the '90 Open at the Atlanta Athletic Club, she relinquished a 12-stroke lead early in the third round and lost to Betsy King by one stroke. The year before, Sheehan went into the last round tied for the lead only to shoot a 79 and end up in a tie for 17th place.

"It made me more determined to win it, because I knew I had the capabilities to win an Open," Sheehan said.

In '92, Sheehan's longtime caddie Carl Laib provided her with a comprehensive game plan after spending a week at the famed Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club before she arrived.

"My whole mindset was different in '92," Sheehan recalled. "The rough was really thick, awful, so my main focus was to keep the ball in the fairway.

"I didn't hit a lot of drivers on this extremely long course because I wanted to keep the ball in the short grass. Because I did that, I was able to hit a lot of greens. But just because you hit the green at Oakmont doesn't mean anything, because the greens are enormous. But I'd rather be putting than chipping."

Sheehan birdied 17 and 18 on Sunday, as she and close friend and former college teammate Juli Inkster both shot 69s to finish regulation tied for the lead at 280, forcing an 18-hole playoff on Monday.

"It was a real grind having to go back out there and play Monday after four days," said Inkster, who had won three majors going into the tournament but was also shooting for her first Open title. "And I didn't play as well as I had been playing. [Sheehan] birdied those last two holes [Sunday] ... so all that is going through your mind and you're replaying what could have gone differently."

Sheehan was outdriven off the tee Monday, but she made up for it on the greens, one-putting six times on the back nine, once for birdie -- an 18-footer on the 10th hole. She bogeyed 17 and 18 but never trailed, as Inkster had two three-putt bogeys.

Both were physically drained and emotional afterward, Sheehan calling it "grueling, the toughest tournament ever" and Inkster labeling it the biggest disappointment of her career.

The win for Sheehan was her third major title and 29th tour victory, leaving her one short of the total needed to earn a berth in the LPGA Hall of Fame.

In remarks afterward, she called the Open "a major monkey off my back" and referred to 1990. "Two years ago, it was tears of sadness. Now it's tears of joy," she said.

"It was certainly one of the biggest moments [of my career]. Not only for the win, but because I was marching toward the Hall of Fame and I needed two different majors to get in at that point along with 30 tournament wins, so that was a huge hurdle to get under my belt."

Sheehan realized her Hall of Fame dream the following year, lessening the pressure, she said, going into the '94 Open at Indianwood Golf and Country Club in Lake Orion, Michigan.

She also got a little luck, averting another Monday playoff when Tammie Green barely missed a 10-foot birdie putt Sunday on 18. Sheehan knocked in a 4-footer for par to finish at 7-under 277, making her the 10th repeat champ in Women's Open history.

"I think as I grew older and had more experience playing the Open, I learned patience was so important," she said. "I was thinking that at some point in time I was going to be too old to win the Open. That's why I think winning in '92 was so important. I didn't have to think about winning the Open anymore. I was able to relax and make it a little easier on myself."

Sheehan said she is looking forward to watching the Open this year, more so than ever before.

And for an American to win again, Sheehan said, would be that much more special.

"The U.S. Open holds so much history for us Americans, it means so much more to us than anybody who comes from outside the U.S.," she said. "It's just one of those patriotic feelings that we want to win our own Open.''