It's Friday night at the Javelina Cantina, a Tex-Mex saloon in Tucson, Ariz., and the standing-room-only crowd is ringing in the weekend with pitchers of beer and all-you-can-eat fajitas. Fresh off the golf course, Nancy Lopez and Lorie Kane fit right in. Sitting with a group of players and caddies, the two touring pros have grasped the spirit - and spirits - of the evening as the house sound system pounds out a steady diet of '70s dance tunes. Lopez, a Hall of Famer and all-round great gal, is full of energy and ready to party. "This place needs a dance floor," she pronounces, hoisting an enormous margarita.
Kane, no wallflower, concurs. Having just made the cut at the Welch's/Circle K Championship - she shot a cool 4-under-par 68 on a blustery day at Randolph Park Golf Club - she is in an upbeat mood. And when she hears the first strains of Earth, Wind and Fire's September, she sets down her beer, starts snapping her fingers and sings right along. Sitting nearby, her caddy, Danny Sharp, hides behind his beer in mock embarrassment, but the ebullient Kane is not easily shamed. "I was watching a TV show the other night, and there was this woman who said you need a theme song to get yourself going when you're feeling low," Kane explains. "Well, this has always been my song."
So that's how she does it - people have been wondering. The 33-year-old Kane can play, no question, but ability alone is no guarantee at the top levels of professional golf, a lonely and anxiety-ridden profession that has extinguished the fire in countless bright talents. Yet the engaging Prince Edward Islander - who did not attend a U.S. college on a golf scholarship and did not qualify for the Ladies Professional Golf Association Tour until her 30s - looked comfortably at home the moment she set foot on the big circuit full time last year. More impressive, she has been competitive nearly every week - she won $425,964 (U.S.) in her first full season, a record total for Canadian pros and good enough for eleventh place overall. The earnings impressed sportswriters, who voted Kane the top female athlete in Canada in 1997, and this year she is on pace to make even more. Going into last week's tournament in Warren, Ohio, she was the leading Canadian on the Tour with nine top 10 finishes and stood eighth overall on the money list with $372,337.
As a result of that - and after winning last week's CPGA women's championship in Copetown, Ont. - Kane is getting the star treatment heading into the du Maurier Classic this week in Windsor, Ont., the last of women's golf's "majors" in 1998. No home-country player has won the event since Jocelyne Bourassa did it in 1973, and Kane is not alone in vying to end that streak - there are 15 other Canadians in the field, several of them serious contenders. Gail Graham, 34, of Osoyoos, B.C., and Dawn Coe-Jones, 37, of Lake Cowichan, B.C., have two and three LPGA victories, respectively. And Prince Rupert, B.C.'s Lisa Walters, 37, is again playing her best golf after recovering from a back injury. In June, she blew away the field at the Oldsmobile Classic in East Lansing, Mich., and captured her third Tour title with a stunning 23-under-par 265, tying the LPGA record for lowest score in a 72-hole tournament. But the Canadians will face a field that includes 49 of the 50 top-ranked players on the Tour, including Swedish stars Annika Sorenstam and Liselotte Neumann, American Donna Andrews, Australian star Karrie Webb and Korean Se Ri Pak, a 20-year-old rookie who has stunned the golf world by winning three times, including the McDonald's LPGA championship and the U.S. Open.
Kane is no overnight sensation. Without a U.S. college scholarship offer after finishing high school, the Charlottetown native attended Acadia University in Wolfville, N.S., and played as an amateur for Canada in international competitions. She turned pro at 29 and honed her game on Canada's domestic circuit, the du Maurier series, before qualifying for full-time play on the LPGA Tour at 31. That is late by most standards, but she prefers to look at the bright side. "There's no question my age and experience helped me when I first got out here," she explains over breakfast at her Tucson hotel. "I don't know that I would have been ready when I was straight out of school."
Amid so many grim-faced competitors, Kane stands out. She strides to the first tee every week looking like a sweepstakes winner arriving to collect her cheque. She doesn't smile so much as beam. Says it's a dream to be playing at the highest level of women's golf. Happy as a Bedeque clam. "I get to travel the world, and I'm growing, as a player and a person, with every new tournament we play and every new city we visit," she says. "I love it." A sunny disposition won't put the ball in the hole, but veterans insist that attitude is everything over the long haul - the competition is so intense that contenders can turn into also-rans in less time than it takes to say "three-putt." So it isn't a coincidence that the forthright Kane has gone from amateur to contender in such a short time, or that - and this is no mean feat - she has gone from Who's That? to Who's Who on the Tour's social scene. "You can't not like Lorie," explains Walters. "She won't let you."
Behind the smile, though, is one tough Islander. She was, at one time, a better basketball player than a golfer, and a decent synchronized swimmer, too. "I'm lucky to have played other sports," she says. "I mean, in basketball, you never died, never gave up." Her toughest confrontation, however, occurred away from the field of play when, in 1992, she took on the Canadian Ladies Golf Association. Despite meeting all the original qualifications, she was passed over for a place on the country's team at the world amateur team championships that summer in Vancouver because the CLGA changed its criteria. When her appeals failed, she and her sister Mary-Lynn, a Charlottetown lawyer, challenged the CLGA in court and won not only the suit but also a berth on the team. After the highly publicized legal battle, however, Kane faced crushing pressure when she finally teed up, and finished 24th. "My tee shot at the first hole, that was the hardest shot I ever hit," she says. "I could barely breathe."
Kane first learned the game from her father, Jack, a top local amateur who once coached the University of Prince Edward Island football team. He says his daughter got her competitiveness from him, but, happily, not all of his temper. "Lorie has always been able to control her temper on the course," he says. "She has the desire to win, but she's like her mother - she likes people." Kane goes outside the family for career advice, though. Her high-school basketball coach, Dave MacNeill, continues to be her mentor, the man she calls when she needs a little motivation. And on the course, she trusts Sharp, a former pro whose own playing career was cut short when he broke both his legs in a car accident. Sharp is unflappable, understands Kane's game as well as she does, and knows when she should take risks or play safe. "It's important for her just to get herself ready to play each shot," says the 39-year-old native of Hamilton. "I take care of the rest."
Money is the most obvious measure of Kane's progress, but inside the ropes, she has impressed her peers by avoiding the roller-coaster ride of hot and cold weeks that plagues even the most-seasoned pros. Still, she has not yet won an LPGA title, and victories, more than money, are the measure of golfing greatness. She would dearly love to give the du Maurier trophy a Canadian address for a year. "That is our national championship," she says. "Ask any of the Canadian girls - the du Maurier is the one tournament we all want to win."
Celebrity has been great, both for endorsements - she has deals with Deloitte Consulting, Bell Mobility and Canadian Airlines, among others - and for generating a following. But even she wonders at how quickly she rose from obscurity. "When they awarded me the Canadian female athlete of the year," she recalls, "I looked at what the other women had done and said, 'Wow!' I mean, that kayaker [triple world champion Caroline Brunet] was incredible."
Back in Tucson, eating her blueberry pancakes, she watches a nearby table where fellow golfer Nancy Ramsbottom is trying to have breakfast with her 18-month-old daughter, Abby. The toddler is alternately eating her cereal and flinging bits of it around the room. "I don't know how they do it," Kane says of the touring moms. "I can barely get myself out of bed in the morning, let alone organize a little person. And when you have an early tee time - how do they do that?"
Someday, she says, she would like a family, too, although she knows touring life does not mix well with relationships and children, not to mention being home in Prince Edward Island. The downside to being a late starter on the Tour, she says, is that she is establishing her career at a time when she faces biological priorities as well. "My time will come when I decide if it's time to have a family," she says. "For now, this is what I do." And she does it well.
Maclean's August 3, 1998