WHEATON, Ill. – JoAnne Carner threw up her arms in triumph as she walked off her final green at the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open. After shooting her age in the first round, the 79-year-old struggled with her swing in her fifth 18-hole round of the week. Carner was likely the only player in the field who walked 18 holes for three consecutive practice rounds. But considering that she hadn’t walked a golf course since 2004, the LPGA Hall of Famer figured she needed the reps.
On the porch of Chicago Golf Club’s halfway house, which this week serves as ninth-hole scoring, Carner gave Hollis Stacy a putting lesson after the round. Hollis wanted to know Carner’s secret on the short putts.
The urge to get better, to learn something new and beat the stuffing out of the competition never changes for these legends. It’s what makes them so extraordinary.
“Hollis was watching my stroke because when I’m on, I make a lot of putts,” said Carner, who has never had the yips. “And it’s an aggressive stroke. She liked it and wanted to know what I do. The first thing that shocks them all is I have both thumbs off the putter. Because if I put particularly the right thumb, I’ll hook it. So to stop doing that, I just took the thumb off and then I took the other thumb off.”
Carner’s putter was magic on the front the nine, saving her time and time again. She still putts with a glove on, the Velcro undone. Her red vintage vinyl golf bag looks like it should be a museum, and she pulled a pack of Winstons from it after the round before signing autographs.
Carner is a national treasure, an inspiration to every person who feels the least bit lazy. Did she run out of gas in that second-round 83?
“I don’t want to admit that,” she said. “I think that’s probably part of it, yeah. Got a little stiff.”
On the 18th tee box, Carner’s ninth hole of the day, she called over her soon-to-be 87-year-old sister, Helen, and asked her to help work out the kinks. Carner laid down on a bench as Helen moved her sister’s foot around her in circles trying to loosen up the hip that was replaced last year.
Helen, by the way, took up golf at age 70 when JoAnne gave her a set of clubs for her birthday. She retired after nearly four decades with Boeing and runs a 20-acre ranch in Maple Valley, Wash. During the summer, Helen comes down to Florida to play golf with her younger sister and spend time on Carner’s 42-foot Hatteras, which her husband named JoAnne.
Carner won 43 LPGA titles and eight USGA championships. Asked what’s most extraordinary about her baby sister, Helen said: “She’s up and cheerful all the time.”
It’s an attitude Nancy Lopez desired to emulate on the golf course. Carner, one of the game’s all-time characters, was always up for sharing what she knows. Almost everyone in the field who played the LPGA has a Carner story, something she taught them along the way. She was “Big Mama” in every sense of the phrase.
“JoAnne Carner should be on a statue,” said Juli Inkster, “for what she’s done for golf and how she played yesterday.”
Asked if she planned to play in this championship next year at the age of 80 Carner said, “Certainly.”
She plans to walk a bit more beforehand to get her body loose, but not play another tournament until Pine Needles May 16-19.
“You need to really get totally away from golf so that you get enthused again,” Carner explained. “You know, the fun is the anticipation of getting my swing back.”
Carner got into this field as a past U.S. Women’s Open champion, a criteria that should remain the same for this championship into perpetuity. Actually, they should name the Senior Women’s Open trophy after Carner.
“She’s made this tournament,” said Laura Davies.
Can’t wait til next year.