BOSTON — Golfer Patty Sheehan arrives at this week's Nabisco Dinah Shore Tournament as the defending champion, a status she earned the hard way - two-putting from 120 feet on the final hole to hold off three rivals in last year's event.
The elation of holding yourself together to actually win the tournament and the relief of it is pretty intense," she says. "Wins like that linger with me for a long time.... I still feel it and kind of live off of it."
Reached by phone at her Reno, Nev., home, she elaborated on the significance of the Shore tournament begun 26 years ago.
Sheehan calls the Dinah Shore, played annually at the Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif., and the US Open the two "biggest" tournaments for women.
"The Dinah Shore was really the first tournament that I paid attention to in women's golf," she recalls. "It was very glamorous, with all these celebrities and great women players, and it always looked so nice and sunny in Palm Springs."
The toasty, postcard setting was especially appealing to Sheehan, who typically found herself in a cold clime. She grew up in Middlebury, Vt., and was a top-ranked junior skier at age 13.
That was before her golf talents kicked in and she headed west to play collegiately at the University of Nevada and San Jose State University.
After winning the 1980 college championship, she turned pro and began an illustrious career.
Until last year, however, Sheehan had never won the Shore event, which is widely regarded as the female "Masters" with its select field.
Nonetheless, her place in golf history was already secure. In 1993, she qualified for the Ladies Professional Golf Association Hall of Fame with her 30th career victory. Although never the LPGA's top annual money-winner, she has finished second on five occasions.
For a veteran, Sheehan says winning the first major tournament of the 1996 LPGA tour was something of a mixed blessing. "It got me so much of what I wanted that I didn't need to do a lot after that," she observes. "I said, 'I guess I can kind of take the rest of the year off. I didn't used to be like that.' "
Her twofold Shore victory, she says, took away her motivation to win another major as well as her drive to get on the US Solheim Cup team (winning conferred automatic team membership in the biennial US-versus Europe shootout).
Last September, Sheehan helped the Americans regain the Cup, completing what she describes as a "pretty decent, not too spectacular" 17th season.
The dramatic desert triumph was clearly the highlight, yet it set the stage for a somewhat awkward post-victory celebration. Sheehan was reluctant to uphold a tournament tradition that calls for the winner to plunge into a lake bordering the 18th green.
"The crowd kept chanting, 'into the water, into the water,' " she recalls. "I kept saying 'no.' But the sponsors were holding up this beautiful robe with 'Dinah Shore winner' on it and I knew what they wanted. With some trepidation I went in. I didn't dive, I didn't jump, I very discreetly walked in."
Besides her accomplishments in golf, Sheehan has gained a reputation as a giving person. In 1987 she was one of eight athletes featured on Sports Illustrated's annual "Sportsman of the Year" cover for her work with troubled teenage girls. On two occasions, she has been honored with good samaritan type awards.
Another pursuit is an unusual form of art that she "discovered" 11 years ago. She and artist Don Kettleborough have collaborated to produce paintings that utilize her golf swing and Kettleborough's fine arts background. Sheehan splatters paints on a canvas using various clubs, then lets Kettleborough "make it look like something."
They have shown their artwork in a Naples, Fla., gallery. "I use a couple of clubs," Sheehan says. "I'm not painting from a full bag, you could say."
This fun sideline grew out of a visit to the new Palm Springs home of fellow golfer Jane Geddes. They went into the bare-dirt backyard to try out some sand wedges.
When Sheehan noticed the patterns the dirt had left on the house's stucco walls, she was inspired to try the same thing with paint, mostly acrylics. She went home and experimented with the concept. "I absolutely destroyed my garage," she says, but a new art form was born.