Fortune Smiles Back at Mallon

In any list of LPGA golfers, you get the usual complement of tomboys, chorus girls, debutantes, schoolteachers, prom queens and just plain athletes. A Jan Stephenson looks like a refugee from a Vegas revue, Pat Bradley as if she had just graded a midyear exam. An Annika Sorenstam looks as if she could go 10 with Oscar De La Hoya.

But they have one thing in common. All golfers do. They look grim, determined. They gnash their teeth over a poor shot, mutter under their breath and have the vocabulary of a ferry-boat captain when a putt lips out or a drive hits water.

Some of them look as if they came by motorcycle, still others as if they arrived in the company jet. Some of them hit the ball off their tee as far as John Daly, others as straight as Nick Faldo. They are as relentless and focused as Ben Hogan ever was and out of sight of the public may throw as many clubs as far as Tommy Bolt did.

Then, there is Meg Mallon. She looks as if she had come to the course bearing a plate of homemade fudge or a box of fresh-baked oatmeal cookies, and came with them balanced on her own bike. She has this friendly freckled face with an almost permanent smile. She looks like everybody's favorite aunt or cousin, as likable as a morning sun.

You'll have no trouble recognizing Meg Mallon out there. She's the one who looks as if she's having fun, as if she were playing for a dollar Nassau instead of Nabisco's million in the Dinah Shore tournament at Mission Hills this week.

Mallon would have trouble looking sad even if somebody stole her clubs. She is as indefatigably cheerful as a guy selling insurance. If a putt lips out, Mallon looks on the good side--her direction was good, she just has to work on the speed a little.

She grins all the time, laughs a lot, acts as if somebody just told her the funniest joke she's ever heard. I once saw her break into a smile when a putt she missed would have tied her for the lead. She wouldn't blame the caddie if he overclubbed her by two. In pro-ams, she has lunch with the guys she plays with. Most pros don't even bother to learn their names.

A golf course is not a lathe or a drill press or an afternoon in a sweatshop to Mallon, it's a day at the beach. The ball's in the rough? Pish. It's sitting up nicely. It plopped in the trap? Shucks. Next time, she'll allow for the wind. You learn something every shot.

Pollyanna? Or can she play? Oh, my, yes. She's not a female Tiger Woods, but don't count her out.

Mallon has won eight tournaments on the LPGA Tour, but two of them were "majors." In 1991, she won the U.S. Women's Open--at Colonial, no less, one of Hogan's Alleys. That same year, she won the LPGA Championship. Both times, she edged Pat Bradley, one of the game's Hall of Famers with 31 victories, including six majors.

Mallon is 11th on the all-time money list in the women's game with $3,046,591 earned to date, $97,782 of it this year.

She takes the position she is lucky to be getting paid all that money for something she'd pay to be doing.

It's a requited love. Mallon is not exactly a lucky player, but tour players tell you of the number of times her shots took good bounces when they could have toppled into disaster instead.

Most golfers only remember the unlucky ones, but Mallon figures golf doesn't owe her a thing.

She wasn't pushed into the game, she sort of fell into it. There was no stage-mother aspect to it. To be sure, her father, a Ford Motor Co. executive in Michigan, got her golf lessons but he got them for all of his six children. Meg was happily slapping the ball with cut-off sticks one day, when she heard the pro suddenly call out to some members near where she was hitting, "Hey! Come here and watch this little girl's swing!"

It was her first intimation she had special talent. She went to Ohio State as a walk-on but made the golf team. At 17, she was Michigan state amateur champion.

Even then, she took on the tour only as a lark. But when she got her tour card and then lost it, she suddenly realized how much the game meant to her. She took it seriously.

Only, she doesn't let her face know it. Or her manner. It's not brain surgery when Mallon gets a club in her hands, it's recreation.

Doesn't mean she won't make a two on the 18th hole. Or eagle No. 10 over the water. She is fifth in greens in regulation this year and ninth in the player-of-the-year standings.

She can win her third major at the Dinah Shore this week. If she does, she'll be the one grinning. If she doesn't, she'll be the one grinning.

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