2006: A polished life - Carol Mann
Thursday, June 30, 2011
Carol Mann spends most of her time living and teaching at The Woodlands outside Houston. Her second home is somewhat typical for a golfer with so much zeal for the game.
It is situated in Florida, on an immaculate golf course just off bustling I-95, with ample space and various golf knickknacks adorning the walls.
Fortunately, at her second home, Mann doesn’t have to foot the monthly electric bill.
The 75,000-square-foot World Golf Hall of Fame, where she is both unofficial caretaker and matriarch, isn’t cheap to light.
Mann isn’t just another employee at the Hall; she’s a full-fledged member, having been inducted in 1977 after a sometimes brilliant 22-year LPGA career that delivered 38 victories, including the 1965 U.S. Women’s Open. She carries the informal
title of Hall of Fame “ambassador,” a paid position with varying duties she has performed for five years. She paces through the building as if she has an ownership stake, and rightly so. On Mann’s first day
in November 2001, one of her initial tasks was to run down to the local supermarket to buy silver polish. When she returned, she went to an out-of-the-way collections area, donned gloves and proceeded to shine the neglected U.S. Women’s Open trophy inductee Donna Caponi had donated.
“Because,” Mann explained matter of factly, “you cannot put a member’s trophy out there that is tarnished.”
At the Hall of Fame, one might say Mann has been polishing feverishly ever since.
Carol Mann, 65, has a commanding presence in the game, and it’s not simply because she stands 6 feet, 3 inches tall – or, as she sometimes will joke,
5 feet, 15 inches. Her golf pedigree is incredibly rounded, from a starry playing career to the LPGA presidency. She is a dedicated instructor who still fills many
a day with lessons, a former television broadcast personality and a savvy businesswoman who parlayed a chance
to do corporate hospitality for AT&T
into more than two decades of work on
the PGA Tour.
Her connections in the industry are endless. Her biggest asset is her name. She has delivered to the Hall a much-needed
E.F. Hutton-type presence that has helped bridge a chasm between a walled institution and the people whose golf exploits live on inside those walls.
When Carol Mann calls, members listen.
“She has become a very, very valuable resource to us,” says Jack Peter, chief operating officer of the Hall of Fame.
Some halls of fame are static exhibits to days long gone. The Golf Hall once fell into that trap, a neat but stale presentation of odd-looking balls and wooden-shafted implements with a little history sprinkled in. Mann’s helpful connection to fellow members has repositioned the Hall to not simply tell the history of golf, but to do so through the stories of its members, many of whom are living and breathing and still out there week after week chasing a little white ball.
And some of whom, such as Mann, still like to patrol the halls in the Hall.
“Carol has helped make it a Hall of Fame of people,” says Martin Davis, a longtime friend. “She knows the game so well and has incredible connections, not only in the women’s game, but the men’s game, too. She transcends. She brings the Hall great perspective, because she has such a good sense about history. So many people today think golf history started with Tiger.”
One of the Hall’s newer, more attractive features is a spacious locker room in which each member has a dedicated locker, each one’s contents sitting behind a sheet of Plexiglas. Some are far more stocked than others. Many of them have been filled as a direct result of Mann’s insistence that they be filled.
Take Greg Norman, for instance. In 2004, Norman visited the World Golf Village to present inductee Isao Aoki. During a quiet moment, Mann grabbed Norman’s arm, whisking him and Laura Norman to a back entrance into the locker room to show them his spartan locker. Inside it was a flight helmet Norman had given upon his induction (at the time he was inducted, members were asked to donate one ‘non golf’ item) and a bust some artist had done.
“Then I showed him my locker,” says Mann, “and Greg said, ‘Holy Cow!’ ”
Jack Peter picks up the story: “Fast forward four weeks, and Greg Norman is on the phone. He tells me, ‘I’m back in Florida, just got back from Australia, and I filled up my plane
with all this stuff. You’d better send somebody down here to get it.’ Greg’s locker now is
chock-full. It’s a pretty interesting story
of Carol’s effectiveness.”
It was largely Mann’s dogged determination that spawned the Hall’s lauded Ben Hogan exhibit to commemorate the 50-year anniversary of his Triple Crown in 1953. Mann and Andy Hunold, the Hall’s director of exhibits, visited the U.S. Golf Association in Far Hills, N.J., in fall 2002. Part of the mission was to sell the WGHOF as a trustworthy partner, not a competitor, in showcasing the game. And part of it was to ask the USGA if it could lend anything from its Hogan Room that Valerie Hogan was so instrumental in creating. The answer was quick and blunt: No. One of the conditions of the gifts had been that they would not be moved.
“I could deal with that,” Mann said. “Does that mean we have to stop? I hope not. I’m a huge fan of Mr. Hogan’s, so it was a dream, and my persistence level was huge.”
At the PGA Merchandise Show a few months later, she was lamenting an opportunity that had been missed when her pal Davis, a publisher who’d just finished “Ben Hogan: The Man Behind The Mystique,” offered her use of electronic images
of Hogan that could be blown up into giant art.
It was as if the heavens had parted; if the heavens had parted; Mann was off and running. A short time later she was in Fort Worth, Texas, at Hogan’s beloved Shady Oaks, stepping cautiously around ashes and charred beams inside a clubhouse that had recently burned, led by a flashlight wielded by pro Mike Wright as they walked toward Hogan’s famed double locker, one filled with such things as pressed slacks and muscle balms and even a candy bar.
Wright asked, “Would you want this for the exhibit?” Mann said she nearly fell over.
A few days later, after Wright had secured approval from his board to lend Hogan’s locker to the Hall, Mann sat down on her computer and addressed a mass e-mail to her friends in St. Augustine, her note written in red type in the largest letters her computer could display:
WE GOT HOGAN’S LOCKER!!!
She whooped and hollered a little. Then she cried. Hunold told her such exhibits usually take a year and a half to piece together. This one was unveiled in 43 days, and led the Hall to pursuing other detailed exbibits on Byron Nelson, Bobby Jones and the Ryder Cup.
Much like the Hall of Fame continues to be an evolving work in progress, so is Carol Mann. The very way golf can some days be such a futile pursuit, she learned life can be quite similar. As she sits on the back porch at the World Golf Village’s Slammer & Squire course on a hot September afternoon, the butts from her Marlboro Lights piling up like logs, her candid recollection of a Hall of Fame playing career reveals a kaleidoscope of experiences. There are fulfilling times, but also times that left her emptier than a panhandler’s cup.
In the late 1960s, Kathy Whitworth was on a terrific roll, but nobody played better than Mann. In 1968, Mann won 10 times and set a scoring record of 72.04 (which stood until Nancy Lopez broke it a decade later). In 1969, Mann added eight more victories. In those two seasons alone, she finished in the top 5 in a staggering 40 tournaments.
“Carol was excellent,” says Whitworth. “I think her short game was the strongest part of her overall game, not to say the rest of it was bad. Her short game was excellent, and she had a very nice touch and was a good putter. She was a good competitor. She had to be doing something right, or she wouldn’t have been winning all those tournaments.”
The great Mickey Wright, whom Mann considers the best swinger of a club she’s ever seen, gave Mann a copy of Ernest Jones’ “Swing the Clubhead,” and eventually Mann would gravitate to renowned instructor Manuel de la Torre. Golf was in her genes. Rip Mann, Carol’s dad, was a talented amateur who once shot 65 at Olympia Fields, and her mom, Ann, though raising five kids (Carol being the oldest, and only girl), was a nine-holer. Ask Mann about swing tempo, and she harrumphs in disgust. “I can’t stand all this focus on tempo,” she says. “Tempo is a byproduct of efficiency.”
She can very vocal and insightful on numerous subjects, but when it comes to her playing career, Mann seems quite humbled by what she accomplished. “I did well for a while, yeah,” she says simply. “Whitworth and I were winning two out of every three tournaments in one spell. It was fun. I was very fortunate.”
In Canada in 1969, on a day Mann had won her “umpteenth” (and third consecutive) tournament, the loud applause long had faded by the time she got back to her hotel room. She never opened the curtains, never turned on the light. She sat in a corner of the room, crying.
“I couldn’t figure out what that was about, and it worried me, frankly,” she said. “And it made winning again kind of scary.”
She went for a physical in Milwaukee soon afterward, but her problems weren’t physical. When asked how she was feeling, she teared up. The doctor asked, “Do you need to see somebody?” He was talking about a taboo subject: therapy. Mann answered, “Yes.”
“Now this is 1969,” says Mann, “and you didn’t do that, not freely, in 1969. You surely didn’t let it show up on your insurance form. . . . I don’t mind admitting I had therapy. Life is hard. Even though I was doing so well (in golf), something kept being ‘missing’ for me. Like real life, frankly.”
Basically, her quest was to find out just who Carol Mann was. That has been an ongoing process. She would visit a therapist intermittently in Baltimore for years, and every now and then, he’d warn her that “what we do here might hurt your golf.”
Said Mann, “There was a voice inside me that said, ‘Keep doing this. What about the rest of your life?’ That’s why I kept going. . . . I wanted to feel better, feel more joy. I wanted to be able to relate to people in a human way, not a public way (as a golfer). I had to learn to do that.”
Bottom line, she cried that evening after winning in Canada because her life outside golf was so empty. She remembers telling her father, “Is this all there is?” As a response, he sent her a Peggy Lee album that featured a song titled “Is That All There Is?” Mann has worked diligently at self-discovery, learning to deal with anger she used to direct inwardly at herself and learning to deal with the rage, and ensuing forgiveness, of having an alcoholic parent.
“I’ve done a lot of work on the inside of this body,” she says, smiling gently.
When she walked away from competition at 40, she termed it a huge relief. She had a business plan that would keep her busy, and started living for herself, not to please others. Today, Mann’s life is deeply spiritual – she says the death of Payne Stewart brought her closer to God – and her energies are channeled in dozens of productive directions. She shares her home at The Woodlands with a cat, Boo Boo, and her “second home” at the Hall of Fame with anybody she can. She hits golf balls nearly every day but doesn’t like to play. In asking a half dozen friends and acquaintances to describe Mann, the word “passionate” emerges every time.
“She is unbelievably smart, and you will not meet a sweeter, nicer, better person than Carol,” says renowned instructor Jim Hardy, who met Mann at a teaching seminar in 1976 and married her a couple of years later. (The two later divorced, but remain close friends.) “She is a work in progress, as she says, and keeps getting better, like wine. There is not a mean bone in her body, and I’m so honored to be her dear friend.”
Says Davis, “I’m very happily married, but I tell Carol all the time that I love her. She's terrific.”
Mann never imagined where the game of golf would lead her. Even with ties to the Hall of Fame, she leaves reminiscing to others.
“Golf teaches you to live and be focused in the present,” she says. “Reminisce? That’s not what my brain is trained to do. It’s not that I don’t have a heart. I have plenty of heart. I just don’t want to dwell on that stuff. There’s still too much to do in life.”
A life she continues to polish every day.