A year ago, Sherri Steinhauer had serious doubts about her future as a professional golfer.
She was 40 and in the throes of her worst season since she was a rookie in 1986. She was on the way to a 119th-place finish on the LPGA money list. She had been without victory since 1999, when she won the JAL Big Apple Classic and the Weetabix Women’s British Open.
“I wouldn’t say I was contemplating quitting, but sometimes those thoughts creep into your mind,” Steinhauer said. “It was a pure feeling of disaster last year. I was wondering if I was ever going to come through it.”
Thanks to some back-to-basics coaching from her father and deadly putting with a broom-handle flat stick, Steinhauer came through like a champ May 23 by scoring a two-shot victory over Grace Park at the Sybase Classic.
Her rounds of 67-70-66-69 at Wykagyl Country Club left her at 12 under par and included a 38-hole stretch without a bogey.
“When the week started, I said my goal is to get it to 12 under,” she said. “I didn’t know if it was going to be enough (to win), but after the year I had, I said I’ll be happy if I finish at 12. Unbelievable, it was enough.”
But Becky Morgan, 29, a two-time Curtis Cup player from Wales, put up a Sunday challenge. She birdied three of the first four holes to take a three-shot lead over Steinhauer and go four ahead of Park.
“I think it’s actually tougher to get off to that kind of a start and then maintain it,” Steinhauer said. “I was just plugging along kind of quietly. And I kind of like that position.”
The only birdie left for Morgan was at No. 6, and it was sandwiched between two bogeys. Then three poor shots at the ninth led to a double-bogey 6. “That dented the confidence a little bit and I just couldn’t get it back,” Morgan said.
Park couldn’t sustain her charge, either. After making birdie at No. 6 to go 10 under, she managed only even par the rest of the way. “I missed (the fairway at) 10, 11 and 12, and those are good birdie opportunity holes,” said Park. “I just blew it right there.”
Steinhauer, meanwhile, hadn’t made a bogey since her 13th hole of Round 2. She opened the final round with nine pars on the front side, then took the lead for good, at 11 under, with a 15-foot birdie at the par-4 10th.
Steinhauer said she solved last year’s problem of “never feeling comfortable over the ball” by getting feedback from her father, Fritz Steinhauer, over the winter in Phoenix.
“I went out to the range with my dad every afternoon,” she said. “He’s not a teacher, but he’s been watching me play all my life.”
They worked primarily on set-up, as well as recalling lessons she learned from her professional instructor, the famed Manuel de la Torre of Milwaukee Country Club.
“With Sherri, everything (about her swing) is very simple,” said Audrey Gerdes, Steinhauer’s caddie for six of the last eight years. “Just the basic stuff has always worked for her.”
And then there’s the broom-handle putter, a Ping B90 that Steinhauer started using two years ago. Her problems in 2003 were “completely ball-striking,” she said. “If I hadn’t have had the long putter, I probably would be retired.”