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On the confusing trail of a golf interview, ultimately with Sandra Post

This story will eventually cover an interview I had recently with Sandra Post , a 16-year veteran of the women's professional golf tour and the only two-time winner of the California-based, Nabisco-Dinah Shore Invitational.

But if you decide to read much further, you're probably going to ask yourself: ''What's the matter with this guy? Why doesn't he stay with his subject instead of taking us on a field trip around Robin Hood's barn?''

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What happened is that I decided to go unconventional in the hope that you might be more interested in how an interview develops sometimes in the unpredictable world of newspaper journalism.

First came a glossy invitation through the mail to have lunch (along with a lot of other people) with Dinah Shore on the day she would officially announce the dates of her 1983 Women's Invitational Golf Tournament. For the record, it's March 28 through April 3 at the Mission Hills Country Club, near Palm Springs, Calif. The hard news was that the women would be playing for a total of $400,000 , the largest purse in LPGA history.

All I needed to take advantage of this invitation was to confirm my acceptance by phone and if I wanted, arrangements could be made for me to interview Sally Little, the defending champion. Or I could have the option of talking with several other members of the women's pro tour who would be at the luncheon.

Sally Little would be fine, except Sally suddenly became Sandra Palmer when it was discovered that she wouldn't be flying into LA on the day of the announcement after all. No problem. I still had 24 hours in which to gather background information on Palmer and put together a list of questions.

The publicity man who arranged for my interview with Sandra Palmer greeted me warmly in the foyer of one of LA's finest restaurants. ''Sandra is right over here,'' he said. ''Sandra Post, I'd like you to meet a writer from The Christian Science Monitor.''

Actually I handled that part of it fairly well. My problems began when we went to another part of the restaurant that had early caveman lighting and I immediately placed my notebook in a puddle of water that still remained on the table. Since that spiral notebook was folded over and also contained the fruits of two previous interviews, I grabbed madly for it. In so doing I knocked several pieces of glassware to the floor. Fortunately the floor was carpeted.

''Sandra,'' I said, ''I'm going to level with you. What we have here right now is a happy mistake. I came here expecting to interview Sandra Palmer and she is the lady I researched and frankly I don't know that much about you. But I'd like to go ahead with this if you don't mind and I do have some general questions about golf that I'm sure you can answer.''

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''Of course,'' Miss Post replied, ''except that I don't know why anyone would want to interview me right now since I'm coming off the worst year of my life.''

Maybe so, but her name was very familiar even if her record wasn't. A little research would later turn up this career nutshell:

A native of Oakville, Ontario, Sandra joined the tour in 1968, when, at 19, she was named Rookie of the Year primarily on the strength of her playoff victory over Kathy Whitworth in the LPGA championship. Although she didn't win another tournament until a decade later, she gradually emerged as a consistently high finisher and in 1979 was the tour's second leading money winner.

Not knowing all this at the time of our interview, I launched forth as best I could. ''Maybe you could begin by talking about the mental as well as the physical side of tournament golf,'' I suggested.

''Once you've established the fact that you can play golf well enough to make a living at it, I think the big thing is maintaining your desire,'' Sandra Post explained. ''When you're on the road ten months of the year and never able to put down any roots, the glamor part goes very quickly. I mean, it's a grind.''

''The public doesn't think you're human, because all they ever see is the fun side of golf - the way it's shown on television,'' Sandra continued. ''But it's work when you're out there early in the morning practicing or trying to get a flight from one big city to another or dealing with personal problems.

''I've always found the best way to play the pro tour successfully is to take advantage of your assets. What I mean is that if you're an outgoing person with a lot of energy and drive, someone who is used to making quick decisions, then you should definitely bring those same qualities to your golf game. On the other hand, if you're very methodical about what you do and feel more comfortable slowing things up, then that's the way you should play.''

Asked if professional golfers need different instructors at different stages of their careers to keep their games sharp and avoid slumps, Post replied:

''Sometimes to handle specialized problems, you need to change teachers for a while. It's like everything else. One expert will tell you do something one way and another expert will tell you just the opposite. So how do you know which to believe? Well, it isn't a case of believing; it's a case of finding out what works for you.

''We're all built differently physically, so what might help a tall person isn't necessarily going to produce the same results with someone who is a lot shorter, especially when it comes to swinging the club. Often the taller you are the more problems you have with club control. But as I said before, you're making a big mistake in golf if you try to be anyone except yourself.''

Luncheon that day was chicken a la something-or-other; former New York Giants running back Frank Gifford was master of ceremonies; and Dinah easily preserved her reputation as one of the 10 best dressed women in the United States.

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