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Becky Iverson: Pride of the U.P.

By Dennis Grall

GLADSTONE -- Some doors have opened, but otherwise Becky Iverson's life has not changed much since she became a winner on the LPGA Tour.

The Gladstone native enlarged her shrinking check book when she won the Friendly's Classic July 30, 1995. But the $75,000 prize was not as important as it was healthy to her bank account, which had dipped to $13 earlier that week.

"I don't feel any better than I did before (the victory)," the former Michigan State University golfer said while visiting at home during the holidays. "I'm pretty realistic about my game. I know it is not as good as some other people out there."

She earned $105,285 in her sophomore year on tour, finishing 56th on the money list. But she only made the cut in 10 of her 24 tournaments.

One of a record 11 first-time winners on the tour last season, Iverson, 27, is not worried if or when another title comes her way.

"Even if it was a fluke, it doesn't bother me. I don't care, because I still get all of the benefits," she said.

Those benefits include automatic spots in the most prestigious stops on the 1996 Tour -- the Tournament of Champions, the Dinah Shore, the U.S. Open and the LPGA.

But most importantly, the victory provides a three-year Tour exemption. That run of five years grants her a lifetime "A" Tour card.

"I'll never have to go back to the mini tour," she said. "That minor little detail is probably the best (benefit)."

The victory, achieved with a 12-under 276 total at the Crestview Country Club in Agawam, Mass. and a two-stroke margin over Kelly Robbins and Helen Alfredsson, had some side affects as well.

"I feel more responsibility now that I've won," she said. "Before my dad took care of everything. Now I take care of the bills, my taxes, budget my money and have many more decisions.

"And people expect me to play better. But I don't expect myself to play better."

After finally cracking the winner's circle, she missed the cut at Stratton Mountain, Vt. the next week and then took a couple weeks off. "I was so mentally exhausted," Iverson said, "plus I wanted to get home before the check came so my dad wouldn't take it all."

Her father, Ken (and mother Marie) has not only provided financial support as she makes her way up the ladder but also serves as caddy at some stops. He is especially adept at reading greens.

"I made four of six cuts with him as my caddy," she said. "I'm just glad we get along on a golf course. We fight a little, but we usually get along."

Her biggest problem is trusting anyone to get the right putting line.

"It is hard for me to trust somebody to line me up because if I miss the putt, then I think it is their fault," she said.

She has difficulty lining up the ball and putter. "I constantly aim six inches to the left," she said. "My right eye is over the ball rather than my left eye."

Iverson used a new putter style at the Friendly's Classic, and it provided much-needed confidence. The Master Roll Orbit onset putter, a prototype built by Tom Kleinfelter of Maple City, Mich. has the shaft stuck into the back of the head like a wedge and helps her get the proper line. "Ever since I won I've used the same putter. That in itself is an amazing feat for me to use a putter that long," she said. "I putt better and it rolls better." She has also changed clubs for the 1996 season, switching to Callaway Big Bertha graphite irons and woods. She used them in Japan at the Queens Cup and noticed more consistent distances, which should help tuck her approach shots closer.

"I had a too-stiff shaft," she said, noting her chipping was particularly erratic before the change. "I had a lot of problems with my 9-iron. One shot would go 120 yards, then one would go 135 yards right out of the blue."

The new clubs should help steady her game, as will a shift in her home base. She will operate out of Daytona Beach, Fla. after moving from the Orlando area.

"They have such a great practice facility," she said of the LPGA's home complex. "It has everything I need to work on my game."

She will also continue a fitness program designed for rehabilitation from injuries to her knee (muscle tear) and wrist (tendonitis).

The physical ailments prevented Iverson from playing well until mid-July, and then occasional mis-hits at key junctures would affect the final placement at several tournaments.

"I was playing decent and a little more competitively," she said of finishing 11th and 14th in two late outings.

"You're going to hit a bad shot once in a while. There are only so many things you can control in golf," she said. "Even when you're playing super, you're only going to hit seven to 10 shots the way I want."

That simplistic, yet realistic approach also comes through when she talks about setting goals.

"I really don't want to think about goals and that kind of stuff," she said. "That only puts pressure on yourself, and then if the goals don't go right, you put more pressure on.

"All I can do is practice and go play golf. In a big tournament, if I put pressure on myself to play good, I'll just drive myself crazy.

"My only goal this year is to go back and play for pride and forget about the money a little bit. That is the worst thing to think about."

The Friendly's Classic victory was probably a result of her anemic check book balance, Iverson said.

"I had absolutely no money (she did have some credit cards), and I didn't play a practice round because I knew I wouldn't play good," she said.

But she turned it around that week, tapping the potential shown in winning the Michigan Amateur and the Upper Peninsula Women's Golf Championship. She had a career-best 63 in the second round and closed out with a 2-under-70.

She also received a Waterford crystal bowl for winning that title. It is worth about $3,000, just less than the $4,000 check she earned in her first victory on the mini-tour at the Salisbury, N.C. Classic in 1994.

She also received 12 bottles of Korbel champagne, one bottle for each stroke under par.

The family toasted her triumph on Thanksgiving Day with that gift.

"The only bad thing about winning that tournament is my dad wasn't there," Iverson said. "I remember when he started playing golf and I was about eight years old, he told me that I was going to play on the LPGA Tour, and I never believed him.

"Financially he supported me the whole time, but emotionally he has always been there to kind of kick my butt when I wasn't working hard enough or I didn't feel like doing it or I was playing bad. He was always there saying, 'come on, you're good enough.' "

Winning the Friendly's Classic showed that Becky Iverson is good enough. Now she can only keep trying to open new doors.

Dennis Grall is sports editor of the Escanaba Daily Press.Some doors have opened, but otherwise Becky Iverson's life has not changed much since she became a winner on the LPGA Tour.

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