Amy Alcott has a knack for living out her fantasies. When she was a girl of 9 or 10, living in Brentwood, she would stand over a putt on her front-yard course and fantasize that it was for the U.S. Open championship.
"If I knocked the ball in the cup (really an old soup can), she said, "I'd let out a yelp and scream, 'I did it! I'm the Open champion!' "
In the summer of 1983, on a sweltering day in Nashville, Tenn., with the temperature hovering around 115 degrees, she actually did knock in a putt that won the Open. It was the biggest moment of a memorable professional career that began in 1975, when she was 18.
Traveling up to 30 weeks a year on the Ladies Professional Golf Assn. tour means eating out a lot. Alcott is a fast food devotee, and the more she watched short order cooks whip up quick sandwiches, the more she realized she'd like to work the noon shift. Another fantasy was born.
At the end of the 1983 season, burned out from a long season that seemed unproductive--even though she was the LPGA's eighth-leading money winner--Alcott decided she wanted another job. She had frequented the Butterfly Bakery and Deli in Westwood because, she says, "They have the best crumbcake in Los Angeles," and one day she asked owner Liz Brooks if she could work the front counter.
"She put an apron and a chef's hat on me right then and there and before you knew it, I was making sandwiches for the lunch-hour crowd," she said. "I loved it. The more pressure there was, the more excited I got. It was great therapy for me, too. I found out how other people face pressure. Making a tuna salad sandwich in a rush didn't affect me as much as facing a four-footer (putt) on the last hole, but it's plenty tough."
Another fantasy lived out.
When golfers drop in to the bakery from nearby courses, like Hillcrest or Rancho or her old stomping grounds at Riviera, their jaws drop when they see a 29-year-old millionaire golfer with one hand in the mayonnaise jar and the other writing up an order.
"A few friends said they didn't think I should do it, because it might look like I needed the money," Alcott said, laughing. She won $261,836 last season with her golf clubs.
"But I really look forward to coming in here when I'm not out on the tour," she said of the bakery. "It's a great relaxation for me. Some of the (golf tour) girls like to sit in the sun, on the beach or by the pool, but after a couple of hours, that drives me nuts. I've got to be doing something."
The morning after she had won the Circle K Tucson Open last month, Alcott was waiting at the door when the bakery opened.
"I'm so pumped up," she said. "I've got to wind down and this is the best way I know."
True to a chef's tradition, Alcott has designed a sandwich of her own, the Alcott Hole in One, which is now a Butterfly Bakery specialty.
"It has a fried egg in a croissant, with Swiss cheese, tomato, Dijon mustard and alfalfa sprouts," she said. "It reminds me of my father (Eugene, a dentist, who died in 1981). He was quite a handball player, and when I was very little he played every Saturday morning on the courts at Venice Beach. He'd take me down there with my dog and sit me up at a little stand and buy me a fried egg sandwich and an orange drink. I'll never forget those memories."
Another of Alcott's ambitions is to design golf courses from a woman's perspective.
"There are more than 5 million women playing golf, and I don't think they are taken into account by the men who design courses," she said. "Most architects think all they need do is drop a couple of tee markers up front of the men and let the women hit from there. I think the woman's point of view deserves to be an integral part of course design."
She is getting her first opportunity as a representative of the Princeville resort in Kauai, Hawaii, where a new course is being built. Alcott is being consulted on its design.
In a manner of speaking, she has been designing courses since the day she found some old clubs in the family garage and whacked her first ball in the front yard. She was 9.
"I was too young to get on a public course, and my parents didn't play, so I dug some holes and used soup cans for cups," she said. "I even had my dad build me a sand trap. I played out there all the time. I called it the Alcott Country Club.
"I used real balls, not those sissy plastic balls, so there were a few broken windows. Finally my dad hung heavy nets around the house to protect it. It looked like the house was camouflaged. You'd think my mother would have been upset at all the fuss I caused, but the truth is she was happy because it meant less banged-up arms and legs. I was a tomboy, and until I discovered golf one day watching TV, I was more interested in football and baseball than anything else.
"Looking back, I guess I've thought about hole layout and course design ever since. When I get to a course I've never seen, I study it to see if I can understand the architect's idea in designing each hole. To tell the truth, I've laid out about 50 or so courses in my mind already."
From her front-yard course in Brentwood, the next step for Alcott was the well-chronicled story of how she hit balls at Walter Keller's indoor driving range in West Los Angeles after her mother had seen a newspaper advertisement. There, she stood in front of a mirror and hit balls by the hour, day after day, month after month, until she was about 10 1/2 and played in her first tournament.
"I'll never forget driving all the way out to San Bernardino with my mother," she recalled. "I had never played on a full-sized course before, much less in a tournament, but Walter (Keller) said I was ready, that I had to start sometime and somewhere.
"When we got to the Arrowhead Country Club, I found that Beverly Klass was entered. She was 10, too, but she'd already played in some professional tournaments and had regained her amateur status. I thought I was really in over my head, but I was determined to do my best and I finished second behind Beverly. I don't know if I've ever been as proud as I was of that second-place trophy."
Keller remains Alcott's only mentor.
"I still go to Walter when I have some problem with my swing," she said. "He's nearly 75, but as far as I'm concerned, he's not getting older, only better. I have a lot of admiration for him."
Golfers' paths sometimes take strange directions, often intertwining after long intervals. Last October, 18 years after their first meeting, Alcott and Klass battled down the stretch in the final round of the San Jose tournament. Alcott won by two strokes for her fourth victory of 1984.
Klass recalled their earlier acquaintence.
"After we'd played in a couple of tournaments, Amy invited me over to her house to play," she said.
"I thought that was great. I lived in Tarzana and I thought she had a course where we could play nine holes, but when I got there she had a chipping course all laid out in her yard. We had to practice chipping from the ivy, then from another place and so on around the course. It wasn't exactly what I had in mind."
Apparently Alcott's method was productive, however. Since turning pro, she has won 22 tournaments and more than $1 million. Klass turned pro--for the second time--at 19, but she is still looking for her first LPGA win.
"Mark my word, Beverly Klass will win very soon," Alcott says of her old friend.
When Alcott won the Orange Blossom tournament at St. Petersburg, Fla., in 1975, it was only her third event as a professional. She turned 19 Feb. 22, the day before she beat Sandra Post by a shot. No other woman ever won a tournament so quickly. Juli Inkster won her fifth pro tournament in 1983.
"I'm still in awe of myself when I think about that," Alcott said. "At the time, I figured it was my due. I announced when I turned pro that I was coming out to win. A lot of players didn't like that kind of talk from a teen-ager, but I really believed it. Now it seems more like a dream."
Jan Stephenson, who last Sunday beat Alcott by a stroke in the GNA tournament at Glendale's Oakmont Country Club, remembers Alcott's first season.
"She was only 18 when she came out, but she was so mature," Stephenson said. "When we heard her talk and watched her play, we thought she was 30."
At the time, Mickey Wright, then the winningest woman golfer in history, said: "Amy Alcott is the finest young golfer to come out on the tour in 15 years."
Amy's cocksure attitude aroused resentment among the players, however. They called her brash, arrogant, cocky--and worse. But the tour caddies called her Super Rookie .
"I liked that," Alcott recalled. "It made me feel like I belonged. I always got along with the caddies. Maybe it's because I hung around the caddie shack at Riviera so much I felt like one of them."
Her winning so quickly should not have surprised the professionals. A year earlier, as an amateur, she had served them warning, much as 17-year-old Pearl Sinn of Bellflower did in the GNA when Sinn held her own with the pros.
"I remember when I was 17," Alcott said. "When I graduated from Pali (Pacific Palisades High School), I asked my parents if I could play in a couple of LPGA tournaments in Portland and Sacramento, where I'd been given exemptions as the national junior champion.
"I shot a 70 in the final round at Portland and was low amateur. I tied for 26th. I went to Sacramento and shot a 69 in my first round at Cameron Park. I had an 80 the second day, but I knew I'd found my niche. How I played in those two tournaments helped me decide between going to college or turning pro. When I got home I told my mother I had only one way to go. I wanted to get on with it."
Lea Alcott, Amy's mother, did not argue. "When Amy told me she wanted to go on the tour, I knew she was ready," Lea Alcott said. "I had spent nine years teaching her how to pack, how to live on the road, how to get things ready before she left for a course. I had as much confidence in her as she had in herself."
When Amy was between 10 and 18, Lea Alcott spent her summers driving her daughter to tournaments, where she would drop her off at the clubhouse, tell her, "Have a nice walk in the park, Dear," and pick her up when the day was done.
"Mom didn't even care what I shot," Alcott said. "Oh, of course, she wanted me to play well but her main concern was that I enjoyed myself. That I enjoyed doing what I wanted to do. Once in a while, when she'd want to watch me, she'd stay behind the trees hoping I wouldn't know she was there. She never wanted any spotlight or to be a bother. She's never changed. She doesn't know any more about golf than she did when I started hacking balls around the yard."
Lea Alcott lives in Carmel now, but she still has the same attitude. After watching Amy win a tournament last year on TV, she sent a telegram that read: "You had a lovely walk in the park."
"She's the one taking a walk in the park now," Amy said. "She walks four miles every day around the Carmel Valley Country Club course. She never plays golf, she just walks."
Alcott lives in a small home in Pacific Palisades. She moved there in December from a seaside condominium in Santa Monica.
"I had an apartment overlooking the ocean, but after being on tour for months, staying in hotel rooms, it began to look like another Ramada Inn," she said. "I put a down payment on the house in June and then went to a tournament in Hershey, Pa., and won $30,000.
"Maybe it was because I needed the money for the house, but the final round was one of the best I've ever played. I started six back. I mean, I teed off at 9:30 in the morning and the leaders didn't go until noon. I almost holed out a 5-iron for eagle on the first hole and ended up with a 65 on one of the best courses the women play. The whole $30,000 went for the house."
The women of the LPGA have their own Big Four tournaments--the U.S. Open, LPGA championship, Nabisco Dinah Shore (comparable to the men's Masters) and the du Maurier, a Canadian tournament that serves as the women's counterpart of the British Open.
No one has ever won all four. Alcott, who needs only the LPGA to be the first to complete a slam, is one of three who have only one to go. Sandra Haynie and Jan Stephenson need only to win Dinah Shore's tournament to be the first to sweep the four majors. Stephenson will get her chance this week when Dinah plays host to her 14th annual tournament at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage.
Alcott scored her first victory in a major tournament in the 1979 Peter Jackson event (now the du Maurier). Then followed the 1980 U.S. Open, where she won by a record nine strokes over Hollis Stacy. That, like the Klass rivalry, settled an old account for Alcott.
Alcott and Stacy had met in the final of the 1971 U.S. Junior Girls' championship at Augusta (Ga.) Country Club. Alcott was 15, Stacy 17 and already a two-time U.S. junior champion. The match went to the 19th hole before Stacy prevailed. Both were four under par for the round.
A year later, when she was 16, Alcott was medalist but Nancy Lopez came out of Roswell, N.M., to win the championship. In 1973 Alcott turned the tables. Lopez was medalist, but Alcott won the championship, defeating Mary Lawrence, 6 and 5, at the Somerset Hills course in Bernardsville, N.J.
Alcott won her third major in the 1983 Dinah Shore tournament as 40-m.p.h. winds raked the flat Mission Hill course.
"I won the Open in the worst heat I ever saw, and I won the Dinah Shore in a terrible wind," she said. "I wonder what's in store for me at the LPGA?"
This year's LPGA will be played at Jack Nicklaus' course at Kings Island, Ohio, in May.
"If I were Jack Nicklaus, I guess I'd want the LPGA championship more than anything else to fill out my (majors) dance card, but I'd rather win the Open again," Alcott said. "I'd also like to win Dinah's tournament again, because in many people's minds that is the tournament that lifted woman's golf to the plateau we enjoy today. It brought the big money, the television exposure and the publicity. For a traditionalist, though, I rate the Open No. 1."
Between tournaments, promotional appearances, working in the bakery and puttering around her new house, Alcott also conducts her own charity tournament for multiple sclerosis, helps coach the UCLA women's golf team, promotes junior golf and serves on the President's Council Against Drug Abuse.
She received the first Samaritan Award, an honor given to a player who exemplifies the qualities of a good Samaritan. She was selected for her work with the Multiple Sclerosis Society. Her sixth MS pro-am, with 20 women professionals, will be played in September at Riviera.
"One thing I thoroughly enjoy is helping coach the UCLA girls," she said. "You know, I never went to college, and it's great for me to be around them. It's funny how naive they are about golf. Like, they ask me things like, 'Do you ever get nervous over a three-foot putt?' or 'How do you feel after snap-hooking a drive out of bounds?'
"I feel the same damn way they do, but they like to hear it from me. I think it's wonderful having all these young girls playing golf in college. When I graduated from high school, the only scholarship offer I had was from Dartmouth to play on the men's team. There wasn't any women's golf in college. That shows how far we've come in 10 years, but we have a good ways yet to go."
Alcott has one more fantasy, too. She wants to be a judge at the Westminster dog show in New York.
"I love dogs," she said. "When I get to a town, I check the newspapers to see if there's a dog show that week. If there is, I go. I'd love to be a judge. I don't know, though, maybe I'd be partial to Scottish terriers because I have one I'm crazy about. Everybody knows when I've been at Riviera with Mac, because he leaves chewed golf balls all over the place."
Judge at the country's No. 1 dog show? Don't bet against her. So far, she's 2 for 2 at living her fantasies.