During the recent Legends Tour event at Innisbrook Resort, Golfweek gathered together five of the LPGA’s most celebrated champions – Pat Bradley, JoAnne Carner, Beth Daniel, Nancy Lopez and Jan Stephenson, who between them amassed 171 tour victories – for a spirited conversation that covered a variety of topics affecting the women’s game. To read the entire conversation and watch video from the roundtable, visit golfweek.com/lpgalegends.
Golfweek: Why don’t the women have a Senior Open?
Pat Bradley: We have tried to make (the USGA) aware. I went to a few of the meetings. The moment they saw me, they made an about-face and went the other way. I want an opportunity to go for another national title just like my peers on the men’s senior tour. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
JoAnne Carner: I thought with the advent of such great players out here that the USGA would realize that a Women’s Senior would be ideal. They give you all kinds of alibis. They say, ‘Well, there aren’t enough players.’ Well, look at our roster. There are plenty of players.
Beth Daniel: It’s a big hole in their championship schedule. I certainly would’ve loved the chance to play for another national championship. Once you leave the LPGA tour, there’s very little out there for us at this age. And then you look at the guys, and they continue on and are doing very, very well with the Champions Tour.
Nancy Lopez: When you look at the players who are playing on the Legends Tour, they were the players who had a lot of personality and really made the LPGA tour shine. But you know in any kind of women’s golf we’ve always had to fight very hard to get what we deserved. Unfortunately, we always seem to be behind the times following the guys. There are days I just hit my head against the wall and wonder why, because they work just as hard, they give back just as much and truly the fans really feel like our tours – the Legends Tour and the LPGA – are more approachable. So why not? We should definitely have that opportunity.
Jan Stephenson: It’s total inequality. The thing that really bothered me this year was their campaign was, ‘We have a tournament for every player,’ and they don’t. It really bothers me.
Golfweek: Was the LPGA more fun in the golden era?
Daniel: We all wanted to beat each other very badly, but at the end of the day we’d go out to dinner with each other and say, ‘Well done.’ If you look at our era, all of us had one thing in common: We played the game because we truly loved it. We didn’t play for the money, because there was money to be had but not enough when we first got started. We played truly for the love of the game. When you really look at the age that some of these players are coming out, and they’re sort of pushed to turn pro at a young age, I think you learn to resent the game a little bit. I talk to so many players now that play because they feel like they have to. They don’t play because they love it.
Carner: We never had to support anybody else, either. No family, trainers.
Bradley: The entourage. We didn’t have an entourage.
Stephenson: It has become such a big business, but I think still the main part is, if you think of the personalities we all had our own fans. We had lots and lots of fan mail. They’d send it to the tournaments, and we’d have a box in the locker room and we’d pull out our mail and everyone would sit around during rain delays and read everyone’s fan mail. It was really fun, and it was a totally different lifestyle. We had to all be together, and a lot of times we drove. We’d ride together and fly together, and we had to do everything together. Everyone in America, they knew our personalities. And now it’s almost like they’re all the same.
Golfweek: To that end, what advice would you give the stars on tour today?
Stephenson: I think a lot of it has to do with a lot of the Asian players. Their custom is to not show emotion, and we were all very emotional. So that makes it difficult because it’s not something you’re used to. I don’t blame the players; I blame the officials or the LPGA for not saying, ‘Hey, this is what we need to do.’ When I first came over here (from Australia), nobody knew who I was and our commissioner said, ‘Look, this is what we need to do to kind of change the image and this is what you need to do to help the tour – whether it’s photos . . . that’s what’s going to help the tour.’ Nancy would go play golf with some of the potential sponsors and we would do whatever it took to help the tour. I think somebody has got to sit down these girls and say, ‘This is what it’s going to take.’ You need to learn the personalities or educate the public on your personality. It’s not that they don’t have personality; it’s just they don’t show it on the golf course.
Lopez: I think we worked very hard for the LPGA tour because we knew we had to. The question I’ve wanted to ask every one (of today’s players) is, ‘Why do you think a sponsor works all year to have a tournament for you?’ And I want to really know what the answer is and then I want to ask them, ‘What are you going to do for the sponsor?’ Our players, that group, knew that we had to schmooze a sponsor, play with them. Pro-am day, to me, was not a practice round. It was a day of entertaining. That’s what was going to bring that sponsor back and bring two or three other teams with them. I think players now feel like, ‘They’re supposed to have a golf tournament for us; we are the LPGA tour.’ I don’t believe I ever felt that way. I always thought we had to work really hard to come back to that tournament at that golf course the next year. That was what was important to me. I loved the LPGA tour.
Bradley: I thought the same thing. Wednesday was my job of really working and making the best experience I could for my amateurs, which gave me the opportunity on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday to just take it all if everything went well. My goodness, they are just asking me to spend five hours with these folks, and this is the nuts and bolts of a tournament. This is what really funds our events. But Wednesday was the day I really focused. I was going to make it the best experience I could for the people who paid money to play with me. I wasn’t trying to learn the golf course. I had done that Monday and Tuesday. I was just out there letting them do their thing.
Daniel: That was engrained in us. When I was a rookie, Donna Caponi was on me all the time if I was not doing something right. I came to the course one time as a rookie and Donna looked at my shoes and said, ‘You need to go back in the locker room and clean your shoes. They’re too dirty.’ I did it because Donna Caponi told me to do it. It was engrained in us that entertainment day. I’ll tell you I didn’t love Wednesdays because Wednesdays weren’t about me and they weren’t about my golf. I went out there and I wanted to make sure those people that I played with had the best day they could have that day because they were putting playing for. That’s a big difference. I think there are some issues now with players practicing and doing all kinds of things on pro-am days. We didn’t do that. We didn’t hit extra putts or anything like that. We just played the pro-am, entertained them, and at the end of the day, you could go out and practice and get ready for the tournament to start.
Carner: Some of the best friends are from playing in pro-ams. It started with the pro-am, and you wouldn’t play with them next year, but they would be at the tournament. And you would make a point to see them and, if you have time, go to dinner.
Golfweek: Lydia Ko is coming out on the tour at 16 having already won twice. What are you thoughts on her longevity?
Stephenson: Lydia has gone through the ranks; she’s just done it at such a young age. She knows what it takes to win, and she’s been in those positions where she is nervous and had to be in the last few groups. She’s definitely an amazing ability.
Bradley: I just hope and pray she stays healthy and injury-free. I just marvel at how these young women, these young girls, develop and become so good at such a young age. I just started tournament golf at 15. Here this young lady has won two professional events. It’s just incredible. It’s just wonderful to see. I’m very happy for her and I hope her mom and dad keep a close eye. That’s a talent you don’t want anything to happen to.
Lopez: I look at my daughters at 16, how I was at 16. I don’t care how she plays on the golf course; she’s got a 16-year-old mind. She’s still a child, and for her to deal with the super. But somehow, I guess it’s the mother in me that wants to protect her from the pressure of what’s going to be on her plate for the rest of her life now. I wish her handling her will still let her be a 16-year-old. Let her play golf with the maturity that she can, but when she goes home . . . just let her be a young person.
Daniel: I understand it because financially it is so expensive to play amateur golf. But here’s a girl that wants to go to college. So she’s going to follow a little bit in the footsteps of Michelle Wie by being a professional and also going to college. And that’s a lot on her plate, and the better she plays, the more expectations will be on her shoulders and the more she will be in demand by people and by the tour and everything else. I wish her the best because I don’t know Lydia very well, but from what I can see she handles herself extremely well. She definitely knows how to play the game and handle herself. But she’s 16 years old.
Carner: To me it’s all in what her agent makes her do. Because at 16 you could be swayed to do a lot more than you should be doing. And that’s what Michelle Wie ran into. They had her doing all this other stuff and convinced her not to join the LPGA. She could make more money without joining. Get show-up money, which the agent got a whole lot more. But I think, at least I hope, she has someone who will let her do what Nancy is talking about. Let her be a 16-year-old.
Golfweek: For the LPGA to thrive, the domestic schedule has to be strong. What are your words of wisdom to boost American golf?
Carner: The young players that are turning pro right now are really coming into their own, and I think they’re hungry enough to really start to win and no longer fear the great players from Korea and Japan and Europe, and realize that as Americans they can really go out and win, too. I think it’s coming, and from what I’ve seen of some of the young ones, it’s going to be a great tour.
Daniel: The schedule has gotten so much better domestically. (LPGA commissioner) Mike Whan has done a very good job of that in a tough economy. I just think the tour needs to do a better job of introducing its players to the general public. Even the American players, people just don’t know them very well. There has to be a better way of getting recognition of these players through the tour.
Bradley: I know the game has become global, and that’s wonderful. We want to grow the game and stretch it out. But I do think we should still, when we’re in the states, concentrate on letting USA know our players. They want us to know all of the players, which I get, but I think we need the tour to also get back to concentrating on getting the American players out there here on our home turf.
Stephenson: I always thought it should be a 50-50 tour: 50 Americans and then 50 international. It is the host country; it’s all their money; it’s all their sponsors. My concern is that if you’re a young American girl, 16 years old, you’re gonna have homework; you’re gonna have boyfriends; you’re gonna have school as well as everything else, whereas a lot of the international players, they’re turning pro at 16 and all they do is golf. So they’re not having anything else in their life. How does an American girl compete with that? It’s very difficult.
Bradley: They pluck ’em early now in some of these foreign countries and they focus all their energy, all their time, their hands are bleeding. And our girls, we want them to be well-rounded. We want them to experience a lot of things. But the sacrifice to be great is, you’ve got to give up some of this stuff and concentrate on making the putts.
Stephenson: None of us probably had a normal childhood.
Lopez: I think we probably always wanted to play and win. Since I can remember, I wanted to play and win. There was desire. I remember being in high school and telling my boyfriend I’m going to go practice and he was, like, ‘Why?’ Because I want to win! And so he broke up with me because I wanted to play golf and not hang out with him. But I had a path that I was following that I wanted to do, and we need to get our young players on that path. Golf is a great game . . . but how do you get them to focus on it being a career? That’s the big thing for American players.
Bradley: Is it, ‘Do I want to win? Or, ‘Do I want another patch on my sleeve?’
Daniel: Or, ‘Do I want to make enough money where I can go on a shopping spree?’
Carner: I can remember walking into the locker room and here’s four girls playing bridge. OK. Now, I have nothing against that. They’re telling me it’s great and you should learn it. I said I know a little about it but not much. And, I’m saying, ‘When did you practice? We played early and then we practiced.’
Stephenson: There’s still four hours of daylight.
Carner: They would play bridge every afternoon in the locker room. I wanted to say, ‘How many tournaments have you won? Zero? Oh.’
Lopez: We want those American players to win, and there’s nothing wrong with saying that because when I went to Korea, they didn’t care if Nancy Lopez won. The wanted Se Ri Pak to win. Every place we are, if you’re in the United States, if you’re in Australia . . . they want their players to win. So there’s nothing wrong with saying we want American players to win. When you go to other countries, they’re always rooting for their players. I want to see our players winning.