Dottie Mochrie doesn't have to answer the endless questions anymore, to herself or anybody else. She doesn't have to go to sleep at night thinking about birdie putts that stopped inches short of the cup, or about championships that kept slipping away.
Winning cures a lot of problems on the Ladies Professional Golf Association Tour. Mochrie went nearly two years between victories before winning this year's Nabisco Dinah Shore, and then went only two weeks before winning again at the Sega Women's Championship.
"It took a lot of the pressure off," Mochrie, 26, said recently. "After winning Dinah, people couldn't ask me, 'When are you going to win again?' Or, 'When are you going to win a major?' Now, they're going to ask me, 'Are you ready to assume the No. 1 position?' "
Mochrie certainly appears ready, coming into this week's $1 million Mazda LPGA Championship at Bethesda Country Club on a roll. Recently displaced as the No. 1 player on this year's money list -- Danielle Ammaccapane took over two weeks ago on the strength of a $180,000 victory in the Centel Classic -- Mochrie again has trained her sights on the top spot.
"I'm so focused my eyes are burning," said Mochrie.
Mochrie's rise to the top has not quite been meteoric, or unexpected. Since an impressive rookie year in 1988, which included a third-place tie in the U.S. Women's Open at Baltimore Country Club, Mochrie has been considered one of the tour's steadily improving players and, now, one of its potential stars.
"She's obviously a pretty competitive player," said Betsy King, who has known Mochrie since she helped recruit her to Furman back in the early 1980s. "She has an all-around game and she knows how to win."
Mochrie's long stretch without a victory did have its financial rewards. She was, perhaps, the tour's most consistent player last year, with two seconds and 13 top-10 finishes converting into a career-high $477,767. Along with the money came more than her share of frustration.
There were times when Mochrie's emotions would bubble to the surface, and she would curse her bad shots as much as her bad luck. Her angst only made an already sensitive stomach condition worsen with each passing week. Many of her fellow players said Mochrie was headed for early burnout.
"She's a good player. She's really competitive. But no matter how good you are, it's hard to be intense and play for a long time," King said of Mochrie.
"When I first came out here, I was hellbent on winning, and my attitude was who cares [about anybody else?]," said Mochrie, an All-American at Furman. "When I won a couple of tournaments early in my career, I figured that was the approach to take. But my whole focus has changed."
It was the attitude Mochrie carried with her to the golf course from the time she was 11 years old. When she was 13, Mochrie (then Dottie Pepper) told her father that she wanted to get a golf scholarship to college. As a senior at Saratoga Springs (N.Y.) High School, she missed the prom to play in an LPGA
"I don't think there's a goal that she's set that she hasn't met," said her father, Don Pepper, a former pro baseball player stuck for years behind Norm Cash in the Detroit Tigers organization before finally making it up briefly in 1968.
Mochrie's approach to golf won her a lot of tournaments as an amateur and one each in her first two years on the LPGA Tour. But it never won her a lot of friends. She alienated a number of players on the tour.
While Meg Mallon was the player many of her peers rooted for when she got into contention, the opposite held true for Mochrie. It's not clear whether Mochrie has changed to be more widely accepted, or because she was destined for more serious health problems. But she definitely has toned down her act.
"I think I'm still intense, but it's been channeled more positively," said Mochrie. "In the past, I felt like my eyes were burning out. I was looking at nothing else but golf. But now I'm trying to enjoy myself more, to maintain a healthy marriage. I want to play well, but I'm not thinking about being Player of the Year."
Mochrie and others, including her father, credit her husband-teacher- caddie Doug for the recent mellowing. A former club pro who met his future wife when she was a teen-ager and he was giving her lessons, Doug Mochrie is as laid-back as Dottie is tightly wound.
But Doug Mochrie doesn't take credit for his wife's resurgence. He'll leave the psychoanalysis to the couch rather than the course.
"People are trying to make up a story, but the difference is that her game has gotten better," he said. "Any time you play better, there's less chance for you to get upset."
The issue now is whether Mochrie can reclaim her No. 1 ranking, and whether she is ready to take her place among the game's very best players. It seems only a matter of time, and a few big putts, before both happen.
Mazda LPGA Championship
Site: Bethesda Country Club, Bethesda, Thursday through Sunday.
TV: Saturday and Sunday, 1-3 p.m.,Channel 4
Field: 144 players, including defending champion Meg Mallon, three-time champion Nancy Lopez, two-time winner Beth Daniel, all-time LPGA money leader Pat Bradley, as well as Tina Barrett of Baltimore.
Parking: Across from Walter Johnson High School, at the corner of Rock Spring Drive and Rockledge Drive. Shuttle service available to golf course. Parking is $5, with proceeds going to Children's Hospital.
Tickets: Season clubhouse, $100; season grounds, $75; book of 10, good any day grounds vouchers, $125; daily clubhouse, $15 today and tomorrow, $25 Thursday and Friday, $30 Saturday and Sunday; grounds only, $10 today and tomorrow, $15 Thursday and Friday, $20 Saturday and Sunday. For further information, call (800) 395-4465.