Lauri Merten, 1993
Going into the final round of the 1993 Women's Open, the tournament seemed to be in the hands of Sweden's Helen Alfredsson, who led by 2 shots. No one was noticing U.S. veteran Lauri Merten, 5 shots off the lead.
Merten had won twice on tour: in her rookie year, 1983, and in 1984. At age 33 in 1993, she seemed to lack faith in herself as a competitor, even though she'd finished second in the LPGA Championship the previous month.
As Alfredsson melted down in the final round, Merten heated up, though she found trouble at No. 16. A thunderstorm the night before had hit the Crooked Stick course in Carmel, Ind., and Merten's ball was in the muddy, brittle grass by a lake, about 70 feet from the hole.
"It was probably one of the hardest holes on the golf course," Merten recalled. "I think I hit a 5-iron into the hole, and it might have gone into the water. But there was some dirt on the grass from all the rain, and luckily the ball stuck there."
Now, she was facing a difficult chip that, played poorly, might have dropped her from contention.
Instead, her 9-iron chip went in for an astonishing birdie, tying her for the lead.
"All these goosebumps were popping out on my body," Merten said. "But I tried to stay very subdued and not get nervous. Then I walked to the back of the green, and my boyfriend at the time said to me, 'Oh, my gosh, you can win this thing.' I said to myself, 'Don't think about it being the U.S. Open. Just pretend it's the Indianapolis Open.' "
She held on while Alfredsson faltered, winning by 1 stoke. It was Merten's last LPGA victory.
Less than four years later, Merten decided she'd had enough of competitive golf and retired in early 1997. It turned out she was near the end of what had been nearly five decades of American domination at the Women's Open. From the tournament's start in 1946 to 1994, American players won it all but five times. In the past 18 years, Americans have won the title just six times.
"My thought [on 16] was 'just hit a decent shot.' But it was actually a pretty damn good shot."
Merten, feeling stressed just before the Women's Open, had gone into a store and seen a bronze sculpture of kids playing in a treehouse.
"I said, 'Wow, they look like they are having more fun than I am,' " Merten said. "I decided if I won the U.S. Open, I'd buy it. So Monday, I went back and got it."