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Since 1985 Open, she has new priorities

The phone rang at the Guadagnino household in Boca Raton, Fla., recently and when Kathy answered, the voice on the other end of the line said, "Happy anniversary."

"Anniversary? What anniversary?" she said.

"The 25th anniversary."

The caller was Scotty Thompson, who caddied for Guadagnino - then known as Kathy Baker - when she won the U.S. Women's Open 25 years ago at Baltusrol in New Jersey. She beat the best to claim the biggest title in women's golf.

When I reached her by phone recently to talk about that, she said, "That seems like 100 years ago. It seems like a different life."

In many ways, it was.

Kathy Baker spent part of her youth living at River Hills Plantation in Lake Wylie, and attending Charlotte Latin. Even then, her golf talent was far above most her age.

She had an outstanding amateur career, including the 1982 individual NCAA championship playing for the team champion, Tulsa.

She was winless during her first two years on the LPGA Tour, but she was having a good season in 1985, and then, for one memorable week, she put it all together and won the Open. She etched her name on a trophy that includes those of legends like Patty Berg, Babe Zaharias, Betsy Rawls, Mickey Wright, Betsy King and Annika Sorenstam.

Twenty-five years have passed, and the championship is a cherished but distant memory. Her life is jam-packed with matters of family and religious faith.

She and her husband Joe, an ordained minister, have three children - Nikki, 20, Megan, 18, and Joey, 14. All three have enjoyed playing sports, but none has taken a lot of interest in golf.

Guadagnino also is a minister at the nondenominational Solid Rock Christian Church, where she plays the keyboard and does "whatever needs to be done." She also teaches golf at The Club at Boca Pointe.

"I wear five or six hats," she said.

Another Women's Open will begin Thursday at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club. Kathy never goes to tournaments and rarely watches golf on television, but she'll watch some this week. And as a kind of celebration, the family will watch a tape of her Open win.

They'll see Kathy Baker when she was 24, already with five top-10 finishes that year, battling Judy Clark in what turned out to be a two-person shootout after favorite Lopez fell behind early. Baker shot a closing 70 for a 72-hole score of 280, the second-lowest total in Open history at the time. Clark shot 72 for a 283 total.

After the Open, Guadagnino won one more tour title, the San Jose Classic in 1988. She played until the late '90's, her schedule diminishing as her faith and her family took on more importance. She said she decided maybe she should spend more time at home, thanks to a reality check from Sorenstam.

Because of her pared golf schedule and her responsibilities at home, Guadagnino had played little leading up to the 1999 Sara Lee Classic in Nashville, Tenn.

During the opening round, she made 18 pars. "I was pretty happy with myself," she said, "until Annika posted a 61. That was my reality check."

Today, she rarely plays golf.

"I miss the people I played golf with," she said, "but I don't miss the travel."

Any regrets?

"No. I feel I've had the best of both worlds. I got to do a lot of traveling but it felt so good to get my feet planted on the ground. It's all about priorities. My priorities changed, and the kids needed me."