Coveted Kraft splash can be traced to Alcott
Wednesday, March 7, 2012
RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. -- There is a wet-headed tradition at the Kraft Nabisco Championship at Mission Hills Country Club.
The winner gets an elegant trophy, a big fat check, and a dunking in the pond that surrounds the 18th green.
Amy Alcott started this baptism in 1988 after her second victory in the event. She took her caddie, Bill Kurre, by the arm, and the two jumped in. “It was just me being me,” said Alcott.
Meet the team: Gil Hanse and Amy Alcott
Who are the newly appointed Olympic course designers, Gil Hanse and Amy Alcott? Individuals who have contributed a lot to the game, from breathtaking golf courses to a very famous major "splash."
In 1991, when Alcott won for a third time, she leapfrogged into the pond with tournament host Dinah Shore.
This was far from a spontaneous celebration.
“My mother had died,” Alcott recounted, “and Dinah knew how important my mom was to me. We were talking a few months before the tournament, and we had a little cry together.
“Dinah said, ‘I want you to win it for your mom. And win it for me, because I’ll go in with you.’ ”
And that’s exactly what happened. Alcott had all kinds of time to plan this feat of synchronized diving, because she built a seven-stroke lead after 71 holes. Walking up the 72nd fairway, she saw Dinah behind the green and turned to Kurre.
“I told him, ‘Dinah has black pants on, which means she wants to go in.’
“And he said, ‘Kid, you can’t be thinking of that. We still have one more hole to play.’ ”
But Alcott was thinking of nothing else. She was the first major championship winner in history who desperately wanted to go into the water on the final hole.
“That event was like destiny, a moment frozen in time,” Alcott reflected. “All the stars were lined up – the death of my mom, the kind of golf I played, Dinah and the water.”
Amy Alcott is 49, a preposterous age for a kid.
“I have to be honest with you,” she said, surveying the Dinah Shore Tournament Course at Mission Hills and confirming she would play once again in the event March 24-27.
“I don’t think of myself as a senior. I still consider myself a kid, so being almost 50 seems kind of weird.”
Shore, the late singer and entertainer, founded the Colgate-Dinah Shore Winners Circle Golf Championship that later became the Kraft Nabisco. After her death from ovarian cancer in 1994, the tournament course was renamed in her honor but her name disappeared from the event’s title.
Today Shore and Alcott are in the World Golf Hall of Fame. In 1991, Shore said of Alcott, “Amy is synonymous with this golf tournament, and I can’t tell you how happy I am that she has won it again. We’re both excited like little kids.”
Many of the great golfers have their trademarks. There is Tiger Woods’ fist pump, Phil Mickelson’s self-conscious grin, Annika Sorenstam’s killer instinct, Michelle Wie’s stone-faced confidence.
If Raymond Floyd had “the stare” on the men’s tour, Alcott had it on the women’s tour. The eyes were on fire, the face locked on victory as if it were a prey to be hunted down.
When Alcott was good, she was very good.
At the 1980 U.S. Women’s Open, she stampeded to a nine-shot triumph. Before leading Dinah to water in 1991, she birdied the final hole to win by eight.
She won on the LPGA the day after she turned 19. She won when she was 35. Altogether she claimed 29 titles, including five majors.
To call Alcott a trendsetter would be an understatement. She went directly from high school to professional golf, and she talked candidly about her goals.
“When they wrote about me as a young pro,” Alcott said, “the stories always said something like, ‘She wants to set the world on fire. She wants to be the best woman golfer of all time.’
“Finally somebody said to me, ‘It’s OK to think those things, Amy, but you should keep them to yourself.’ Back then, you were cocky, brash and arrogant if you talked like that. Now you are just considered confident.”
When Alcott was really a kid – at 8 years old – she discovered golf on television.
“I watched all the TV golf shows,” she said. “I was fascinated by the golf swing, by the dance.”
Although neither of her parents played golf, they encouraged her to pursue the game. They arranged lessons with legendary pro Walter Keller. Her father, Eugene, an orthodontist, built a green and a bunker in the front yard of their Brentwood, Calif., home. He erected a hitting net in the back yard.
“I had membership cards made up that said Alcott Golf & Country Club,” she said. “I remember somebody going up to my father and saying, ‘Gene, Amy’s just signed up Dr. Hart and he’s going to get a bill at the end of the month.’ I was quite an entrepreneur.”
Now, as an entrepreneur, Alcott recently collaborated with golf course architect Casey O’Callaghan on a new course at Indian Canyons Golf Resort in Palm Springs, Calif.
“I loved it,” she said. “This is something I want to do more of.”
And then there’s the new radio show, Golf Chix, featuring Alcott and friends and debuting March 26 in southern California. The host station is KPSI in Palm Springs.
As she reflects on life and golf, it’s clear the kid has grown up.
“Dinah was so much a part of my career,” she said. “My advice to people is always the same: Fill your life up with friends, and always take time to be with them. Otherwise life goes by very quickly and you end up talking to your trophies.”