Nanci Bowen: My dramatic 1995 Kraft Championship win
ONLY four players have made the Kraft Nabisco their first LPGA win – Helen Alfredsson (1993), Morgan Pressel (2007) and Stacy Lewis (2011) are the latest, Nanci Bowen was the first.
Bowen was 27 when she landed the then-titled Nabisco Dinah Shore, she had been on tour for four years and had already been back to Q School. She had never played Mission Hills before and had LPGA Hall of Famer and everyone’s favourite Nancy Lopez and the current LPGA champion Laura Davies in the leading group behind.
Going into Sunday she was four adrift of Tammie Green, a Major winner and part of the previous year’s winning Solheim Cup team.
By all accounts this was the most exciting finish in the championship’s history. Lopez had a three-shot lead with five holes to play but bogeyed four of them, the last of which came after a visit to the water at the 72nd hole.
Green, needing a birdie, saw her escape from sand plug in the face en route to a seven while Davies, requiring an eagle to tie, carried the water but could only make a par five. Moments before Bowen, who had dug in relentlessly all week, also made a minor mess of the last. Funny things happen at the 18th at Mission Hills, always have and always will. Finding the right rough and a tree before finally the fairway and green the Georgia native had already done the really hard work. The victory was worth $127,500, about the same amount she had made in three full LPGA seasons.
What did you make of the course when you first saw it?
I loved it, it was my kind of course as it was difficult and you weren’t penalised for hitting a good shot. Everything just fell into place that week, on the greens everything breaks towards the city of Indio and, once you knew where that was, that was OK. That took a bit of getting used to and I just went with it. It was my caddy’s first time there as well so it was new to both of us.
How tough was the opening day – you opened with a 69 when only three players broke 70 in the wind?
It was extremely windy and was like a three-club wind, it was so bad that I didn’t even practise after the round. I had finished third at a tournament in New York the year before to get into the tournament and my whole goal was to just make the cut and try and stay on the leaderboard. I wasn’t a leaderboard watcher but I knew I wasn’t in the lead when I teed off on the second day.
I never fell out of the top five after each round so I hung in there pretty good all week.
What were your nerves like throughout the week?
Of course I was nervous but I didn’t have any trouble sleeping as I was so mentally exhausted at the end of every day. I just went to the course and tried to play my own game and not pay attention to what everyone was doing. I was working with a sports psychologist and that also really helped to put together a plan.
Was it a relief not to be in a final group that included Laura Davies and Nancy Lopez?
It was interesting as we heard quite a bit of noise early on the last day so I just assumed they were playing great. I was four shots back going into the last round and, as time went on, I made some birdies coming down the stretch and all of a sudden I was leading.
I didn’t think I was close after the birdie at the 15th but the 17th is like a stadium par 3 and they didn’t stop clapping and screaming so I knew I was up there.
Somebody yelled out that I was leading coming off the 17th, I didn’t want to know that, so it was an interesting position to be in and made slightly easier not being in the last group.
So you are now leading a Major with one hole to play, what was that like?
At the 18th it kind of changed, I was like ‘oh god, I wish I didn’t know’. Now it had become a kind of outcome way of thinking rather than the process. I didn’t hit a good tee shot, I had to punch out and then hit a 3-iron but I did make a four-foot putt for bogey. I knew the group behind had to then birdie to catch me.
I watched them come in but it was all so surreal and I didn’t really know what was happening and where everybody stood.
Nancy hit it in the water so I knew she was out, Laura Davies needed an eagle and hit the green in two but had an impossible chip shot.
When did it actually sink in that you had won a Major?
It didn’t hit me for quite a long time, you go through the process and the handing over of the trophy but it didn’t hit me for quite a while. I think I was more nervous at the next tournament two weeks later as I didn’t want people to think it was a fluke and fortunately I finished third. I was on a roll for a while.
When did you speak to Lopez?
We all had a hug and I actually ran into Nancy at the airport the following morning.
How impressive was your celebratory jump into Poppie’s Pond?
The jump wasn’t yet a tradition but they had a robe which was good as the water was pretty gross. I didn’t do a complete dive as it was too shallow but I did go in the pond.
How much did it change your life?
For the rest of that year I felt like I was under more pressure and there were more eyes looking at me. For me I felt like I had proved myself and that I belonged out there, that is always in the back of your mind and it was a real confidence booster. Nobody can ever take winning a Major away from you.
Why do you think you didn’t contend more?
In 1996 I didn’t play well, maybe I had more expectations of myself. In 1997 I had two runners-up and four top 10s and that was actually a more consistent year than in 1995.
Do you think you got enough credit for the win in 1995?
It was fine, nobody expected me to do anything that week. At that point Annika Sorenstam was coming on the scene and won the US Open that year so she was obviously playing well and the focus really shifted to her and did so for so many years. The competition was fierce and you had to be playing really great golf to get noticed and I wasn’t able to do that as often as I would have liked.
Do you still go back?
No, I retired in 2005 and am still a member of the LPGA but I don’t keep up with it like I used to and it is definitely a different tour to when I was playing. I am now eligible to play on the Legends Tour which I may do but I spend most of my time teaching. I really enjoy that and I don’t miss all the travelling!
Read and interview with last year’s Kraft Championship winner, Karin Sjodin HERE