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MONEY TO BURN : Alice Miller Is Searching for Another Windfall in the Desert

Times Staff Writer

Burnout is the buzz word for athletes and coaches who feel pressured by success.

Alice Miller experienced so much success--and so much pressure--playing golf last year that she suffered burnout, twice.

She won nearly $350,000 in the first half of 1985, then burned out. Toward the end of the year, she won another $400,000 and suffered her second burnout.

Consequently, as she prepares to defend her championship today in the $430,000 Nabisco Dinah Shore tournament, she is in a slump. In six Ladies Professional Golf Assn. tournaments this season, she has won only $6,458, has not been in contention and stands 69th on the money list.

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“My game has always been one of peaks and valleys, so I don’t panic too much when I’m in a slump,” the Marysville, Calif., native said Wednesday after being nearly blown away by 35-m.p.h. winds that gusted during the pro-am.

“I didn’t expect to start out fast like I did last year. I played a lot--and won a lot of money--after our season ended, so when it came time to start this season, I had lost my motivation.”

It was at Mission Hills that Miller began her first hot streak. Starting with the Dinah Shore, the former Arizona State player won four tournaments before the end of June. When she won the Mayflower tournament at the Country Club of Indianapolis for her fourth victory, her 1985 earnings soared beyond $300,000, an LPGA record--and the season was little more than half gone.

The second half, however, was virtually unproductive.

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From a position as No. 1 in nearly every category on the tour, Miller’s second-half slump dropped her to third in money winnings behind Nancy Lopez and Pat Bradley at season’s end.

“When things fell apart, I didn’t have the energy to combat it,” she said. “I had so much attention, from the media and friends and relatives and fans, that I was exhausted. Everyone wanted a little piece of my time, and it ended up hurting my game and my concentration.”

Once the LPGA season ended, Miller went on another money-making spree.

She and partner Craig Stadler split $105,000 as the big winners in a mixed-partners skins game in Sacramento, and then she and Don January split $500,000 by winning the LPGA-Seniors partner event in Jamaica.

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Miller sank a clutch 12-foot birdie putt on the second extra hole in what amounted to a winner-take-all finish.

“All year long, I had looked forward to playing with Don January because I wanted some of his laid-back manner of playing to rub off on me,” Miller said. “Then, to have that putt to win, it was wonderful. I’ve always dreamed of having a putt on the last hole to win it all--or lose it all. I’d always wondered if I’d choke. It was a great feeling to watch it fall in.”

The off-season earnings, while not officially on the LPGA books, sent her year’s income to the $750,000 mark.

“When you do that, it’s hard to keep motivated,” she said. “You start thinking, ‘Hey, why not take six months off and have a good time?’ Then I took two weeks off to nurse my sick dog. I lost weight and two weeks of practice, so I didn’t feel much like playing early in the year.

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“Coming here to Mission Hills should give me a lift. It’s always a nice feeling to play where you’ve played well. Last year, the conditions were ideal, and I tied the course record. If it’s windy like it was today, no one will come close to that.”

Miller shot a 13-under-par 275 last year, beating Jan Stephenson by three strokes.

“I’ve been playing well enough to feel I may be on the verge of making a strong showing,” she said. “But I’m approaching the tournament sort of neutral-like. I’m not on a wave of high hopes like I was at this time last year, but I have to think I might have a good strong showing. I’ve just got to be patient.

“My biggest problem so far has been my putting. When you take 35 or 36 putts a round, like I’ve been doing, you can’t expect much. That’s not my style. I’m used to maybe 30 or 31. This week, I might get my touch back because I like these greens. They’re very fast, the way I like them.”

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After collecting her $55,000 from Dinah Shore last year, Miller splurged on a 35-foot motorhome. “It has more gadgets and conveniences than my condo in Phoenix,” she said.

“I drive it every chance I get from tournament to tournament. It’s my favorite toy. I like sleeping in the same bed every night.”

The winner’s purse this week will buy a lot of toys. It is an LPGA-record $75,000. There will be 101 professionals and 5 amateurs teeing off in the 72-hole tournament.


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