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The woman of Hootie's dreams?
by Jacob Jordan

LAKE CITY, S.C. (AP) ? Darla Moore may just be the woman Hootie Johnson is looking for if Augusta National Golf Club decides to admit women.

Moore is a multimillionaire financier with rich Southern roots and close ties to Johnson, the chairman of Augusta National.

The 48-year-old Moore grew up in Lake City, a rural town of 6,478 people about 160 miles northeast of the famed home of the Masters, and has returned here to make a home. Her name has been floated as a possible candidate to become the first female member of the golf club along with more recognizable figures such as golf great Nancy Lopez and Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

"Everybody wants to talk about Augusta," Moore said Monday. "I think we have a whole lot more to worry about than this issue. We've got an unstable economy. We're getting ready to go to war. It's not on my radar screen. We need to talk about something a little more important than golf."

Moore has made a name for herself as executive vice president of Rainwater Inc., one of the largest private investment firms in the United States.

After graduating from the University of South Carolina, she made millions in the bankruptcy division of Chemical Bank in the 1980s. She was called "the toughest babe in business" by Fortune magazine in 1997, the first time that publication had profiled a woman for a cover story.

She married billionaire Richard Rainwater in 1991 and joined his business a short time later. She eventually took over much of Rainwater Inc. and continues to manage the assets of the company that controls her husband's vast holdings, which Fortune estimated at $2 billion in June 2001.

In 1998, Moore broke a gender barrier when she donated $25 million to her alma mater and it responded by becoming the first comprehensive university to name its business school after a woman.

Augusta has been under pressure from the National Council of Women's Organizations to allow female members. The council's chairwoman, Martha Burk, said her group is "not in the least concerned" about who the first woman may be.

She said she doesn't know Moore, but "she sounds like she fits the profile of their membership."

Moore and Johnson, also a South Carolina graduate and banker, have known each other for years and worked on the university's $300 million capital campaign in the late 1990s. Johnson is said to have been instrumental in getting Moore's name on the business school.

Johnson, 69, has said Augusta National won't be "bullied" into admitting women.

Moore commented on Johnson's demeanor during the university's fund-raiser. "He actually is quite progressive," she told The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer in 1998. "Don't tell anybody I said he was progressive."

Gene Moore laughs when asked how he would feel about his daughter becoming Augusta National's first female member.

"Darla kids Hootie about it," says Gene Moore. "She's low-key on that. She's too much of a friend to Hootie."

Friends say Darla Moore doesn't play much golf. Her husband, however, "plays golf every day that he can play," Gene Moore said.

A 74-year-old farmer, former teacher and high school football coach, Moore said his daughter is very motivated, excelling in high school basketball.

"I did not have to put that innate tenacity, drive in her," he said. "Whatever she participated in, she wanted to be the best."

Friends say she's spending more time in South Carolina these days.

"She could live anywhere in the world, and I think it's a real credit to her that she's decided to come back to Lake City and spend a lot of time in South Carolina to try and make a difference," said Mack Whittle, chairman of the University of South Carolina board of trustees. Moore was appointed to the board in 1999.

Although she's not an avid golfer, her father says she spends much of her time working in the yard of her simple, one-story home.

"Darla can shift gears from speaking the Wall Street language - within five minutes she can convert into a flower-plant horticulturist and gardener," he said.

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