Twenty years ago, at the 1994 Winter Olym- pics in Lillehammer, Norway, the story going in was the rivalry between figure skaters Nancy Kerrigan, a Boston-area princess
with a dazzling smile, and Tonya Harding, a truck-driving,
pool-shooting, chain-smoking toughie from Portland, Ore.,
accused of being part of a conspiracy to whack Kerrigan
on the knee with a lead pipe. The showdown was a dream
from tabloid heaven.
Come the night of the gold medal matchup, Harding was
an emotional and technical mess, washing out. When Kerrigan skated the performance of her life, the gold was all
but assured and justice had seemingly been served. Then
magic happened. A 16-year-old orphan from the Ukraine,
Oksana Baiul, was nearly perfect, outperforming Kerrigan.
Ultimately, the best story won. And when the world learned
about Oksana, they fell in love with her.
The same may have happened last week in the Ricoh
Women’s British Open at Royal Birkdale in Southport,
England. Americans were trying to win the first three LPGA
majors for the first time since 1999, when Dottie Pepper took
the Kraft Nabisco and Juli Inkster the LPGA Championship
and U.S. Women’s Open. No one thought that person would
be Mo Martin—not even Martin. But, oh, did she win hearts.
The candidates for the Yanks at Birkdale were among
the biggest names in the sport. Lexi Thompson had won the
Kraft Nabisco and Michelle Wie the U.S. Women’s Open.
Also among the favorites were defending Ricoh champion
and Rolex Rankings No. 1 Stacy Lewis, Paula Creamer, Cristie Kerr, Angela Stanford and Jessica Korda.
And among the non-American contenders were Lydia Ko,
Inbee Park, Suzann Pettersen, Karrie Webb, So Yeon Ryu and
Shanshan Feng. An extremely difficult Birkdale, with narrow
fairways that played like lumpy bowling alleys, small greens
and lush, thick rough, gave up birdies grudgingly, sending Wie
and Kerr home early as the former missed the cut and the latter pulled out with a bad back after an 81 in the first round.
But the stage was set nonetheless. Going into Sunday’s final round, No. 1 Lewis, No. 3 Park, No. 4 Pettersen, No. 8 Ryu
and No. 9 Feng were in the last six groups. But in the seventh
was the No. 99 player in the world: Martin. And after a gritty
72—including an eagle on the final hole—the 31-year-old,
who was a college walk-on at UCLA and didn’t get her LPGA
card until she was 29 after six years on the Symetra Tour,
took home the trophy. Ultimately, the best story won.
“It’s still soaking in, along with the champagne on my
jacket,” Martin said. “This is just unbelievable. It’s literally a
dream come true.”