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Golfer Hopes She’s Hit Turning Point

You can hire a caddie to carry your golf clubs, or you can adopt the Nancy Scranton approach and marry a caddie, but potential is a weight you bear alone.

For six years, Scranton heard all the cliches. Raw talent? Scranton was supposed to have more than she needed. All the tools? Scranton had them, too. Diamond in the rough? All Scranton had to do was stay the fairway.

But for six years, Scranton became a cliche. Can’t miss was replaced by near miss. Also-ran became her job description. She played 169 tournaments, she went 0 for 169.

“I’d been close,” Scranton says. “I had a lot of top 10s. But I was getting a lot of ‘When is she going to win?’ because I’d always been considered as someone who had a lot of potential. And that just adds to the pressure.”

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The knock on Scranton became lyrical: Never on a Sunday. For three rounds, everything was coming up in the 60s--and on the fourth day, she’d unearth a 76. Poway’s StoneRidge Country Club stonewalled her twice. In back-to-back years, Scranton took a lead into the final day there, only to spend Sunday stutter-stepping down the leader board.

“And the worst thing is that I did it in front of the same writers,” Scranton says. “Some of the questions I got the second year were really tough.”

Eventually, Scranton stopped reading the sports section and started to rationalize. “A lot of good players never win a tournament,” she said. “A lot of great players win maybe only one.”

Then 1991 began, ushering in season No. 7, and Scranton wasn’t even coming close anymore. She caught the flu and couldn’t drop it for months. In April, her onetime caddie, Gary Brown, became her onetime husband. A four-year marriage ended in divorce, and with it, Scranton feared she was losing her grip on her career. “I was having such a terrible year,” she says, “I was just playing to salvage what I could and start all over in 1992.”

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Vancouver shouldn’t have happened.

Vancouver couldn’t have happened.

But those final seven holes Scranton played on the Vancouver Golf Club course 12 days ago are in the book and forever etched in the memory of Debbie Massey, the tournament runner-up. In seven holes, Scranton gained seven strokes on Massey--trailing by four on No. 12 and leading by three after 18. Scranton birdied 12, 14, 17 and 18. She eagled 13. Massey said she felt as if she’d just been hit by a tornado. “The most magnificent seven holes of golf I’ve ever seen played,” Massey declared.

Ask Scranton about Vancouver and a look of sheer delight engulfs her face. “What do you want to know?” she says. “I love it.”

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Her first victory meant so much because “I had to win it. No one gave it to me. It was a major and all the top players were there. I had to beat the best and I did.”

This week, the women’s tour has moved down the coast, to Buena Park’s Los Coyotes Country Club for the MBS LPGA Classic, and Scranton hasn’t stopped hitting greens. Thursday, she was four under par after the front nine and four under for the day, giving her a share of the first-round lead with Deedee Lasker and Dottie Mochrie.

She also had a top 10 finish this month at Portland, Ore., giving rise to a flood of resurrection theories, the most popular being Scranton’s divorce.

She’s looser, the articles say.

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She’s found piece of mind.

A popular theory, except with Scranton.

“I have played steadily better,” Scranton acknowledged, “but the divorce is not the reason. I’ve been misquoted about it. The Tampa papers quoted me saying that the divorce helped my golf, but I never said that.

“I’m sure (marital problems) didn’t help, but I don’t I want to hurt him. I don’t like to focus on it. The divorce wasn’t easy. I don’t want to blame anything on it.”

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Brown caddied for Scranton during their first two years of marriage, testing the recipe for business mixed with pleasure. Nancy Lopez and Ray Knight tried the same arrangement before Lopez had to fire the caddie, which both considered preferable to the alternative.

“They have to let you be the boss,” Scranton says, “and I’m sure that’s tough. You try to keep all your arguments at the golf course, but you can’t. You may try, but you can’t. Things stick in your mind when you get home. . . .

“It was difficult. It’s nice that at least you get to see each other--there just needs to be something in between, somewhere. Either you see each other 24 hours a day or not at all.”

Scranton prefers the technical approach while attempting to explain her turnaround.

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In January, she began taking putting lessons from Fred Griffin and “my putting has definitely improved.” Traditionally, she claims, her game tends to warm with the weather. She also likes the lay of the “northern courses, the way they cut the grass, so the greens don’t have as much roll. I have a better record on these courses. Last year, I finished fourth (at Los Coyotes).”

Probe any deeper and Scranton can venture only one other guess.

“Maybe,” she suggests, “ I finally believe I have the potential.”


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