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Sheehan, Patty (b. 1956)  
 
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Patty Sheehan has had a long and illustrious career in golf. Her prowess as a professional player earned her a place in the Hall of Fame, and she continues to excel on the Ladies' Professional Golf Association's Legends tour.

Patricia Leslie Sheehan comes from a family of athletes. Her father, Bobo Sheehan, coached skiing and assisted in golf, baseball, and football at Middlebury College in Vermont. Patty Sheehan, born in Middlebury on October 27, 1956, was determined to be as good at sports as her three bothers, and she achieved considerable success, especially in skiing. At the age of thirteen she held the top national ranking in her age group.

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Sheehan had also been honing her golf skills, and when the family moved to Reno, Nevada, she competed on her high school team. Her performance earned her an athletic scholarship to the University of Nevada-Reno, which she attended for three years before transferring to San Jose State University in California. During her collegiate career she won the Nevada State Amateur Championship from 1975 through 1978 and the California Women's Amateur title in 1977 and 1978. She was named national champion of the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women in 1979.

For the excellence of her amateur career, Sheehan was inducted into the National High School Hall of Fame (2005) and the Collegiate Golf Hall of Fame (1990).

Sheehan qualified for the Ladies' Professional Golf Association's (LPGA) tour in 1980. She performed well in her first year as a pro, claiming her first victory in the final event of the season and earning Rookie of the Year honors in 1981.

Sheehan continued to excel on the course, making the cut to play in the final rounds in the vast majority of cases, achieving many top-ten finishes, and steadily adding to her tally of victories.

In 1989, however, Sheehan suffered a reverse when she lost her house and almost all of her possessions in the October 1989 San Francisco earthquake.

Despite the trauma of the earthquake, she soldiered on in the LPGA tour, making all the cuts in 1990, when she also had 16 top tens and 5 wins; nevertheless, her year was marred when she blew an 11-stroke lead in the final round of the U.S. Open in Atlanta in July, losing by one stroke to Betsy King.

"After these mini-catastrophes," said Sheehan of the loss of her home and her meltdown in Atlanta, "I had to overcome a lot of psychological hurdles—bad memories and bad thoughts."

In 1992 she "eliminate[ed] the demons" from Atlanta with a come-from-behind charge and a play-off victory in the U.S. Open. "It was such a great comeback from 1990, and emotionally it healed so many wounds. It was the most significant win of my career because I overcame so much doubt," she said of her first triumph in the prestigious tournament.

She repeated as U.S. Open champion in 1994. In the meanwhile, having notched her thirtieth victory on the LPGA tour, she earned induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1993.

On the eve of the 1995 LPGA Championships, CBS golf analyst Ben Wright provoked a storm of outrage and indignation when he was quoted as saying, "Lesbians in the sport hurt women's golf. When it gets to the corporate level, that's not going to fly. They're going to a butch game and that furthers the bad image of the game."

He also complained that lesbianism "is not reticent. It's paraded. There's a defiance in them in the last decade." He compounded the offense by opining that "women are handicapped by having boobs" because, he claimed, they interfere with the women's ability to execute golf swings properly.

Wright flatly denied having made the statements, yet paradoxically he eventually apologized for "insensitive remarks." CBS initially supported him but later dropped him from the broadcast team.

Asked for her reaction to the brouhaha, Sheehan was circumspect, stating, "Lesbianism is an issue, but not the main issue. The main issue is growth." Focusing on the matter of sponsorship, she noted, "We've made great strides. Corporations are now coming to us."

Only three years later, Sheehan came out publicly as a lesbian. In a column in the March 27, 1998 edition of Golf World magazine, Sheehan revealed that she and her manager, Rebecca Gaston, had been partners for twelve years and had recently adopted a daughter. "After years of believing we would make ideal parents—and having many of our friends and family tell us the same thing—it's been wonderful to finally take on this new challenge," she declared.

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Patty Sheehan. Photograph by Ted Van Pelt.
  
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