Judy Rankin has been prominent on the women’s golf scene for more than 50 years, since she was low amateur at the 1960 U.S. Women’s Open as a 15-year-old. Two years later, she began a professional career that would lead to 26 LPGA victories and induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Rankin broke into TV at the 1984 U.S. Women’s Open, and in 1988 she became a fixture on the ABC crew covering women’s and men’s golf. This season, she will be the lead analyst for many of Golf Channel’s LPGA broadcasts. Rankin talked with Golfweek about the women’s game and her TV career.
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What is your assessment of the state of the LPGA?
It was hurt a great deal more by the general economy than the PGA Tour has been. (I’m not sure) whether that’s through mistakes or because it’s a women’s organization, and you always have to fight and dig and climb a little harder. The PGA Tour has weathered the economic storm pretty well, and the LPGA has paid a pretty tough price. What I do know is, the level of play at the top (of the LPGA) is extraordinary.
How has the job changed since you first broke into TV?
When I started, the on-course commentator only spoke when spoken to. It’s evolved to the point where the on-course commentator has space of their own (to comment). It’s a much bigger role.
What has been your most memorable moment on air?
I’ve had numerous extraordinary experiences out with Tiger (Woods), and I really have loved watching him play golf. I’ve had an inside-the-ropes, fairly nice relationship with him, and he’s been really good over time to give me access.
I was in the booth when Annika (Sorenstam) shot 59 (at the 2001 Standard Register Ping). You couldn’t help but root for her to do it. The real extraordinary thing was watching the rest of the field. They were all watching the leaderboard, and it was very clear that every player on the golf course was rooting for her to do it. She came to our trucks to do an interview (after the round). She jumped out of the cart and hugged me, and that was so unlike Annika.
I was assigned to the last round of Jack Nicklaus’ at St. Andrews (in 2005). I don’t usually get too sentimental or emotional, but it was really extraordinary to watch him go around the golf course, and see how people respected him and loved him. Aging gracefully is not the easiest thing, and he has done it extremely well.
Have you ever said anything on air that you’d like to take back?
Oh, lots of times. And if it’s something particularly stupid, some writer will write that you said it. And I always want to write the writer and say, “You get to read yours and erase it before you put it out there.” When I worked with Brent Musburger, I told him something I knew about a player, and he was so mad at me because I didn’t say it on the air. I told him I wasn’t 100 percent positive. He said, “You know what, if you feel pretty sure that you know it, you should throw it out there. Once in a great while, you’ll be wrong, but most of the time you will have shared some good information.” I’ve tried to remember that.
The women are going to Carnoustie this year. You’ve covered the men there. What advice would you give the women?
First, I would advise them to hit it straight. And I would pack long underwear. . . . The women have handled some pretty tough golf courses really well in the last few years. Oakmont (2010 Women’s Open) is as tough a course as I’m ever going to see. And I don’t care if it did rain; Paula Creamer’s 281 was pretty spectacular.
Which on-air personality do you most respect, and why?
If you want to talk about entertaining me, I’d give a big nod to David Feherty. His humor is not forced; he’s great at being serious. Johnny Miller has an insight for what might happen through the day that I think is really good. I worked with Nick Faldo and Paul Azinger, and I thought the two of them together were extremely entertaining. And I’ve done a lot of years with Curtis Strange, and we have a really good rapport and we see things the same way on the golf course.