Sheehan lays Open demons to rest


OAKMONT, Pa. -- Patty Sheehan has finally exorcised her golf demons and put to rest snide comments about her ability to win the U.S. Women's Open golf championship.

Sheehan, second on three previous occasions, birdied the first hole and never trailed in shooting 35-3772 and beating Juli Inkster (37-3774) by two strokes in their 18-hole playoff for the title at Oakmont Country Club yesterday.

"U.S. Open champion! I never thought I'd hear it," Sheehan said.

In her past were two notable Open failures -- at Indianwood Country Club in 1989, when she entered the last round tied for the lead and shot 79, and in Atlanta in 1990, when she led by seven with nine holes to go and lost by one.

Saturday night, again tied going to a final round, she talked about it. "The golf demons have been playing havoc with me at night. I really haven't been sleeping well."

This one was won and lost on the famed Oakmont greens, although a week of rainy weather reduced their feared bite to a nip. Still, the speed was consistent throughout, and on this day, Sheehan's putting was superb.

She one-putted six times on the back side, once for birdie and five times for par on distances up to 18 feet. Her foe called an 18-footer at the 10th "unbelievable."

Inkster, meanwhile, had a pair of three-putt bogeys. For her round, there was one birdie -- her first in 26 holes -- at the 17th.

"I get in positions like this and it seems like the putter lets me down," said Inkster, 32. "I don't know whether I try too hard or think too much over them."

She had lost another major title on a playoff in March, when Dottie Mochrie beat her with a par on the first extra hole of the Nabisco Dinah Shore.

"I'm disappointed because I did play so well. I hit my irons better than I have all week, played all the shots I wanted to, and if I make the putts, it's a different game."

Both athletes finished physically and emotionally drained.

"This was the hardest tournament I've ever played, the most grueling eight days I've ever experienced," said Sheehan, 35, a 13-year pro. "I can't put into words how happy I am I got this Open monkey off my back.

Composed all week, remarkable in itself in the face of questions about past failures, she finally broke down, sobbing briefly before regaining her composure.

"In 1990, they were tears of sadness; now they are tears of joy."

Out-driven off the tee, Sheehan made up for it with her putting. She hit only nine greens (one on the back nine) but ended with 29 putts for the round. Inkster missed only three greens but used 36 putts.

Holding a two-shot lead, Sheehan birdied the 13th from 10 feet, and when Inkster missed from two feet at the 14th, the lead was four. It went to five on an Inkster three-putt bogey at the 16th.

Where Sheehan had birdied the 17th and 18th holes Sunday to force the playoff, this time she bogeyed both of them and didn't really care.

"I relaxed, and it kind of got sloppy," she said.

The day started that way for her, too, as she left her clubs in the home in which she was staying.

"They were by one door, and I left by another," she said. It took her 25 minutes to get to the course the first time, 20 minutes back to get the clubs and 17 to return.

In the end, it was the 29th career title for her, the oldest Open champion since JoAnne Carner (37 when she won in 1976), and with two different majors, is one win shy of qualifying for the LPGA Hall of Fame.

"Now that I've won an Open, it makes my career more satisfying," the champion said.

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