Ever since Patty Berg had won the first staging of the event in 1946, the US Women’s Open had always been dominated by its home-based players. But one of its favourites, Nancy Lopez, had never managed to capture the biggest jewel in the women’s game despite having three other Majors and 48 LPGA Tour wins to her name.
Standing in her way in 1997 was England’s Alison Nicholas who was hoping to make it three successive European victories, following on from the back-to-back triumphs of Annika Sorenstam.
In her own words Alison recalls a very special week for her and British golf.
I liked the course at Pumpkin Ridge, it was a difficult course and I had to divide the greens up into areas we could play to and parts where we weren’t even going to contemplate. They were that fast and slopey that you couldn’t get up and down from certain areas so my caddy Mark Fulcher, who now caddies for Justin Rose, and I looked at that quite carefully.
There was also some water so there was a lot to think about and the pins could be tucked away by the water so we didn’t even think of attacking those flags.
If I did miss the greens I would have a chance of getting up and down.
It was usually the toughest set- up of the year and the rough would be horrendous. If you miss a fairway it would be a chip out. The courses have now been lengthened but the greens were always fast and tricky.
I was a medium to long hitter but that week I hit it about 280 yards on some drives which wasn’t too bad for a little ‘un. I was striking it very well that week but I had worked on it for two years by then and I had said to my coach that I wanted to win a US Major which meant hitting it further and hitting it higher. I also didn’t three-putt the whole week.
The final round
It was tough sleeping on a three-shot lead. I did sleep, but you want to get on with it and try and win. You have got all morning to think about it but you tend to get used to it as a tournament player. I knew I was playing against Nancy Lopez and she was the darling of American golf so that was always going to be a difficult thing.
I made a mental note of pretending that they were actually cheering for me so when I went up to every green I would put my hand up to acknowledge them. The other mental note was to enjoy the day as you might never get the chance again. She played her own game, we wished each other well and after that we didn’t talk.
I hit it to about 12 feet and nudged it up close. She then missed her putt The last hole
I hit the middle of the fairway as did Nancy. I couldn’t get up so I just laid up to a perfect distance, she tried to go for the green in two and hit it in the rough on the right. She had maybe a 30-yard chip and it just ran on a little.
I didn’t know this at the time but Johnny Miller had said in commentary that nobody had holed a putt from above the hole.
I hit a sand wedge to the right as there was a swale to the left and I could have been there all day, I hit it to about 12 feet and nudged it up close. She then missed her putt.
Afterwards she was in tears so I just thanked her and said she was a legend. I think I actually said sorry. It affected her for a long time.
We get on very well and she has mentioned a few times that I beat her but I tell her it doesn’t define you as a person and what’s gone is gone and that she still won so many tournaments.
The biggest Major
It has more history than the others and it was always the biggest event. You get looked after well, the crowds are amazing and it is unlike any other tournament though – in essence, it is 72 holes of strokeplay and people can try too hard and get too technical with their coaches.
There is a balance and your preparations have to be done early on. For me course management is crucial particularly around the greens.
It put the pressure on as I thought I should win every week and it took me a couple of years to win again.
My expectations were too much and you see the same today, every week is a new week and it is a level playing field. I was a bit harsh on myself.