Meg Mallon's wins span decades

Star-Spangled Champions: Meg Mallon (2:01)

Dottie Pepper takes a look back at Meg Mallon's success at the U.S. Open in 1991 and 2004. (2:01)

Meg Mallon -- 1991, 2004

Meg Mallon got her second U.S. Women's Open victory at a tournament that started with an accidental theft by a nun and ended with fireworks.

"It's kind of a funny story," Mallon said.

Here's what happened. Mallon came into the 2004 event with an annoying problem: She kept missing short putts. And on her first hole at The Orchards in Massachusetts, she missed badly from just 2 feet.

"I thought, 'Oh, God, this is going to be a long week,'" Mallon said.

A few holes later, Mallon's shot went left off the fairway and landed not far from a concession stand. When she came up to find it, the ball was gone.

"Then one of the spectators said, 'Meg, I saw someone pick up your ball and walk away with it,' " Mallon said. "So the rules officials told me to drop it in the vicinity. Then I ended up making an unbelievable par, and it just sort of turned my whole day around."

It wasn't until after she finished her round that Mallon found out what had occurred with the "disappearing" ball.

"The woman who took my ball was a nun," Mallon said, laughing. "She was watching another group when she overheard some people talking about what happened. And she was like, 'Oh, my gosh, that was me!' She had just seen a ball sitting on the ground near a food stand and had put it in her pocket, not realizing it was in play. But, you know, it felt like that hole just changed everything for me."

Well, that's golf. Mallon got better as the tournament went on. She shot a final-round 65, holding off Annika Sorenstam by two strokes. Then as darkness fell at The Orchards, the skies lit up in pyrotechnic celebration. OK, not actually because of Mallon's victory ... that final-round Sunday was also the Fourth of July.

Still, you couldn't blame Mallon if she felt as if the fireworks were for her. She had set a record -- which still stands -- for the longest time between U.S. Women's Open victories. Her first had come 13 years earlier at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, when she was 28.

Mallon credited her 1991 championship to what she'd gleaned the previous year while playing in a final-round pairing with Patty Sheehan and Jane Geddes. In that 1990 U.S. Women's Open, Sheehan let a 10-shot lead get away on a grueling, 36-hole Sunday.

"I learned from that experience that you just never give up on the Open," Mallon said. "You never know what's going to happen. It's a battle; you have to just keep plugging away and hanging in there."

Mallon did that in 1991. She trailed entering the last day but posted a final-round 67 that gave her a two-shot victory.

"I had won the LPGA Championship two weeks prior to that; it had been my first major and second win overall of my career," Mallon said. "It was a big deal, but the U.S. Women's Open just blew me away. It's a whole different level and category itself as far as the attention, the recognition you get by winning it.

"It can't be oversaid that as a kid, you practice putts saying, 'This is to win the U.S Open.' Now, maybe the British Open might rival it a little for the European players. But the U.S. Open is still the pinnacle of women's golf."