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Patty Sheehan bids to repeat as Player of Year, LPGA champion

The early St. Patrick's Day card, featuring Snoopy and a green-clad Peanuts gang doing a frisky dance step, said, ``If your Irish heart is happy, let your Irish feet show it.'' Professional golfer Patty Sheehan, an early winner this season, came vibrantly to mind. Sheehan is a comely Irish lass with laughing blue eyes for whom every day is a holiday. She loves to dance and sing and play most any sport that happens by, from golf to tennis to softball to basketball to skiing to bowling, where she can roll a 200 game after a six-month layoff. Don't tell her that golfers aren't athletes!

She also supports, with money and more impressively her time, a California home for young runaway girls. She appreciates her talent and good fortune, and works overtime to share it with those less privileged.

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Her own upbringing in Vermont, where her father was head ski coach at Middlebury College for many years (he also coached the US Olympic Alpine ski team in 1956) was steeped in competition and family activities.

``We did a lot of things together,'' she says. ``I was always trying to be a better athlete than my three older brothers. I always wanted to be a football player, and played with the guys a lot when we were kids. I didn't grow enough, though.''

Sheehan is a lithe and feminine 5 ft. 4 in. and 125 pounds, which is proving quite big enough for golf. Her exciting victory over Nancy Lopez in the Sarasota Classic this winter was her 13th since she joined the LPGA Tour in 1980, out of San Jose State, and her career earnings could surpass the $1 million mark this year.

In 1984 she won four tournaments, including the prestigious LPGA Championship for an unprecedented second year in a row -- and by a record 10 strokes. She won the Vare Trophy for the low stroke average and Golf Digest's Performance Average Award, and the golf writers of the nation voted her their Player of the Year. She made $255,000 -- second only to Betsy King -- and led the tour with an income of $11,500 per tournament.

Sheehan is outstanding at setting high goals and reaching them. In 1981 her goals were to earn $100,000 and be rookie of the year; she did and was. In 1982 she wanted to win two tournaments and $200,000; she did. In 1983 she wanted to win the LPGA and be Player of the Year; again two-for-two. Last year she wanted to win the Vare Trophy and did.

And for 1985?

She aims to capture her first US Open, win the LPGA Championship a third straight time, and be Player of the Year. All bets are off.

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Actually, she began 1984 with no goals, having worn herself out playing a heavy 1983 schedule and doing promotional ventures off the course.

``It was a classic case of burnout,'' she reflects. ``I was overgolfed and overextended and losing my enthusiasm. I took five weeks off and regained my sense of self worth. I realized golf can consume you but shouldn't. I was feeling too much pressure as the No. 1 player, and I had to put that in perspective. I went back to my traditional values and began to relax and enjoy myself again.''

She came back to win the LPGA and the McDonald's Kid's Classic in successive weeks, which brought her a $500,000 bonus . . . the biggest payoff in the history of women's golf.

Her fellow pros were not amazed.

``She's the player to beat,'' says Lopez. ``She has the most complete game out here, from driving to putting. She's a wonderful athlete, she can hit any shot, and she can make a lot of birdies.''

Sheehan is extra long off the tee, consistently driving the ball 250 yards and beyond. Once she out-drove PGA champion Lee Trevino on two straight holes.

Sheehan's winnings go partly to Tigh Sheehan, her new five-bedroom home in California for young women who need help. She spends much of her free time there, commuting from her oceanside condominium in Los Gatos, counseling and encouraging, being sure no one's birthday is forgotten.

``I wanted to get involved with a charity and be able to see what was happening with the money,'' she says. ``You can mail a check to a national charity and never see the results. This way I get to know the kids and have a direct involvement with their lives. It reinvigorates me when I take time off from the tour.''

Her Irish heart is happy.

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