Poppie's Pond: One giant leap for women's golf

Getty Images/GWK Illustration

Poppie's Pond: One giant leap for women's golf

PGA Tour

Poppie's Pond: One giant leap for women's golf

The best-known tradition in women’s professional golf began on a whim.

Amy Alcott didn’t go to bed at night 30 years ago dreaming of how she might jump into the murky pond near the 18th green at Mission Hills Country Club.

Didn’t think about it on the course either.

After Alcott holed her putt to win what was then known as the Nabisco Dinah Shore, she instinctively grabbed caddie Bill Kurre’s hand, told him to “Let it rip,” and made her signature splash.

“It wasn’t the smartest move,” said Alcott, “all the gunk and bacteria. The crowd loved it.”

That might have been the end of it, given that Juli Inkster and Betsy King didn’t follow Alcott’s lead in the ensuing years.

It was actually tournament host Dinah Shore who kept the ANA Inspiration’s watery jump en vogue. Not long after Alcott’s mother died in the summer of 1990, she ran into Shore in the parking lot of Hillcrest Country Club in Los Angeles. Alcott recalled standing next to Shore’s classic gold-colored French Citroen when the famed actress/singer gave her a pep talk.

Dinah Shore jump-started tradition

“If you can win that tournament again,” Shore told Alcott, “I want to jump in with you.”

The following spring Alcott came to the 72nd hole at Mission Hills with a commanding lead.

As her caddie wiped down the golf ball, Alcott caught a glimpse of Shore standing nearby wearing black pants. (She had always worn white.) Her assistant held a robe.

At Alcott’s urging, Kurre walked over to Shore to try to talk her out of it. They’d been in that foul water once and didn’t care to return.

“I don’t want to hear one more thing about it,” Shore told Kurre. “We’re jumping.”

In 1994, Donna Andrews was the second champion to make the leap in memory of Shore, who died from ovarian cancer one month before the championship.

It became a sure thing after that, with winners coming to expect a plush white robe as much as the trophy.

The pond, of course, has come a long way, and for good reason. Betsy King attended the Easter sunrise service the morning she captured her third ANA title in 1997 and watched the maintenance crew drudge up debris with a net.

“I never put my head under the water,” King said.

Dottie Pepper came down with a gnarly ear infection after she won in 1999.

The next year she pushed two-time winner Karrie Webb into the pond, then advised her to go on antibiotics.

Today’s somewhat staged celebration takes place in a concrete-lined pool. It’s now essentially a swimming pool that’s refillable, and because it’s self-contained, the maintenance crew can use chlorine without impacting surrounding wildlife.

Champions Lake surrounds the par-5 18th at the Dinah Shore Tournament Course, and the section known as Poppie’s Pond, named for longtime tournament director Terry Wilcox, is 5½ feet deep at the center and extends 60 feet on either side of the bridge.

After Stacy Lewis’ mother suffered a bad leg injury in 2011, the designated jump area was deepened.

It’s now essentially a swimming pool that’s refillable, and because it’s self-contained, the maintenance crew can use chlorine without impacting surrounding wildlife.

Sacred water

For Inbee Park, the pond held sacred water. After she won in 2013, Park’s husband filled two bottles with pond water and marked them with a Sharpie.

The next week in Hawaii, they dumped the water on Park’s father, Gun Gyu. It was a small consolation for dad, whom she’d asked to make a U-turn on his way to the airport in Seoul.

Inbee thought his presence in the desert on Sunday might add too much pressure.

Lorena Ochoa – a true woman of the people – had more than two-dozen folks in the pond with her in 2008 while a Mariachi band played. Ochoa took the traditional route with her parents and best friend, while caddie David Brooker jumped off the bridge alongside Ochoa’s coach and brother.

The pool party was so chaotic, Brooker said, that after Ochoa received one hug in particular she threw her head back, let out that familiar laugh and asked: “Who is that?”

“I just thought it was one of your cousins,” Brooker said of the stranger.

More pressure than a winning putt

For some, the celebration might cause more anxiety than the winning putt.

Pat Hurst and Yani Tseng are two winners who can’t swim. Hurst chose to wade in while Tseng held nothing back.

“I just kept jumping there and told my caddie, ‘Can you help me get out of here?’ ” recalled Tseng, “because it was a little scary.”

Patty Sheehan cartwheeled in. Brittany Lincicome jumped twice and each time worried about mascara running down her face.

After what happened to Lewis’ mom, Lydia Ko simply wanted to make sure she jumped out far enough. Beyond that, Ko didn’t have a plan.

“You go to the pool and you jump in there for fun but you never think, ‘Hey, this is like me preparing for Poppie’s Pond,’ ” Ko said. “Who does that?”

2014 winner Lexi Thompson started daydreaming about her jump before hitting her approach into the 18th green.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” cautioned caddie Benji Thompson, who soon after made an unforgettable flip. Adam Woodward’s flying squirrel move in 2012 ranks among the all-time best for caddies.

For years Alcott wore her championship robe around the house and at the pool. She eventually worried the robe, which had the dates of her three victories scripted across the back, had collected too many coffee stains and put it to the side.

Alcott’s jumping days might not actually be over. Earlier this year at the USGA’s Annual Meeting, the 62-year-old Alcott told Paula Creamer to go out and win the ANA this year so they could make the leap together.

Alcott never has been one to sit on the sidelines, especially when there’s reason to celebrate.

“You don’t get the highs as often as you’d like,” she said. “When it’s your moment to capture, capture it. Embrace it. Make it something memorable.” Gwk

(Note: This story appears in the April 2018 issue of Golfweek.)

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