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Strength fits longer women's course to tee


LAKE ORION, Mich. -- Bigger and stronger equal better and farther -- that is the newest equation in women's professional golf.

It will be particularly evident when 150 of the world's best players contest the 49th U.S. Women's Open championship this week at Indianwood Golf and Country Club.

Rains earlier in the week softened the 6,244-yard, par-71 Old Course, giving an added advantage to the longer hitters. The premium, however, will be on hitting fairways and greens.

When the event was here in 1989, Betsy King won by four shots with a 6-under-par 278. Only three others broke par.

This time, the course will play 155 yards longer, with the most noticeable change at the par-4 fourth hole, where an added 61 yards will make it play 377 yards.

Although there have been occasional surprise winners -- Janet Anderson, Kathy Guadagnino and defending champion Lauri Merton, for instance -- it is generally the established winners who usually are in the stretch run.

Put bigger, stronger, longer as identifying characteristics of the No. 1 woman player in the world and you get an obvious choice of Laura Davies, followed by the hottest tour player at the moment, Beth Daniel.

Davies won three times early in the season (and has had three seconds and a third in the United States, a second in Japan and a third in Belgium), and Daniel has won three of her past six starts, including last week's JAL Classic. Donna Andrews is another three-time winner this year, although a stress fracture in her back, likely the result of muscle fatigue, has had her on the sidelines four of the past six weeks.

King cited these three as obvious ones playing well coming in, but added there were a lot of others capable of winning.

"It is interesting to me to see the change in women's golf," she said yesterday. "In my mind, the biggest one has just been the power that has come into the game. The younger players are stronger and physically better.

"When I came on tour, Sandra Palmer [5 feet 2] and Judy Rankin [5-3] were winning. Now, the ones who are doing well are tall, strong, hit the ball farther without much effort."

Asked to rank Davies and Daniel, King said, "I've known Beth a long time, and I've always thought she had the best overall game out here. When she doesn't play well is when she fights the putter.

"Obviously, Laura physically has the most power of anyone out here, but I don't think she is as consistent as Beth. I don't think her swing is as technically sound [as Daniel's], but she is definitely the most exciting player to watch."

Earlier, Davies had talked of hitting 250-yard 2-iron shots, and, when she let out the driver, the distance was sometimes 300 yards. King said she had asked JoAnne Carner if Davies was the longest-hitting woman who had ever played the game, and Carner's response was a definite yes.

Consider these testimonials, and then listen to Davies. Asked if she was playing her best golf ever, she said: "Yes, unquestionably, yes. Definitely.

"It is feel and confidence and attitude. Right now, I think I have them all."

NOTES: There are three players for whom a victory here would mean entrance to the LPGA's Hall of Fame: Daniel (30 wins, needs a major), Amy Alcott and King, each needing a win of any kind.


Where: Indianwood Golf and Country Club, Lake Orion, Mich.

When: Today through Sunday

Purse: $850,000 ($155,000 to first)

Field: 150 (129 pros, 21 amateurs). Low 60 and ties or anyone within 10 strokes of the leader after 36 holes will play the final 36 holes.

TV: Today-tomorrow, ESPN, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, Ch. 13, 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Sunday, Ch. 13, 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.

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