˘ I started playing at 10 on a nine-hole course near
my home in Kirkland, Wash. My two sisters worked in the
snack bar, and my brother worked there watering. If you
had a job, they had a rule that you had to learn to play. So
we would go out after work. They gave us old hickory-shaft
rentals that were warped or split. My father, a carpenter,
would fix them. He didn’t play golf. In fact, I talked to him
in pool language: right-hand English, left English, topspin,
backspin. All the kids in the neighborhood found some kind
of job there. We played moonlight golf and really had fun.
˘ You had to go by how the ball felt as to whether you
sliced or hooked. It was probably the best training I ever had.
˘ Kids don’t hang out at golf courses that way today.
And if they are, they are texting. Young players now are overcoached. No one plays by feel. It’s all mechanical. Tiger has
become a totally mechanical player. I don’t like his swing now.
He hits shots that are off the world, then plays these remarkable recovery shots. Jack’s misses were never as bad as that.
I don’t recall ever seeing Nicklaus hit a ball out-of-bounds.
˘ I stayed an amateur until I was 30 and had won the
1969 Burdine’s Invitational [an LPGA event]. My husband
said, “I think you need to play against tougher competition.” I said, “Well, if you like it, you know me, I’ll play golf
anywhere—just drop me off at the course and pick me up at
midnight.” So we bought a travel trailer and started out.
˘ If I felt pressure building, I would stand up and hit the
driver as hard as I could. I didn’t care where it went. And
that just relieved all the pressure from me. I never paid
attention to the scoreboard or who I was playing with. I just
played my game. I used to look for four-leaf clovers. You
can’t turn your back on a player because the gallery sees it
and wouldn’t think much of it. So I would look down on the
ground. That was my way of shutting everything out.
˘ Mickey wright had the best swing. By far. I might
watch her when we were playing together. She had the
great tempo and the wide swing and balance and yet hit
very aggressively. She had no flaws in her swing that would
throw you off. We’d try not to get in a driving contest if we
were in the same pairing. Both of us were sort of competitive. So she’d fly it by me, and then I’d fly it by her. We never
did decide who hit it longer. Then we’d end up the round
playing “closest-to” with the second shot for pennies just to
get away from trying to outdrive one another.
˘ sam snead was my last coach. Sam and I got along
great as long as I told him, “No dirty jokes.” He loved to
tell dirty jokes. Sam would straighten me out. He’d see my
swing, and he’d know right away: “Bring the ball in four
inches, and back four inches, and keep your heel on the
ground up to the 4-iron.” I worked with him even when he
couldn’t see well.
˘ Any young player who is thinking of turning pro better
be able to shoot 68 every day on her home course or don’t
bother going out there. The first thing I realized when I turned
pro was that you couldn’t hit it out-of-bounds and tie the hole!
I don’t know how many times I did that as an amateur.
˘ I’m one of five players [with Woods, Nicklaus, Arnold
Palmer and Carol Semple Thompson] to win three different USGA championships. And if there were a U.S. Senior
Women’s Open, I’d have four. It’s long, long overdue for
there to be a Senior Women’s Open. The Legends Tour is
growing, but very slowly. It would be nice to have the USGA
finally get off their duff. That would give us a little prestige.
I can show them how to spend a little of that Fox TV money.
˘ My strength was that I missed the ball with the driver on the side where you could always recover. And I was
a really good short-iron player. Really good. Excellent sand
player. And a wonderful par putter. I missed a ton of short
birdie putts but could always make that hard par putt.
˘ The only tournament I ever felt terrible about was
the 1987 U.S. Women’s Open, where I had to get down in two
on the last hole at Plainfield CC in New Jersey to win and
didn’t. I hit a perfect tee shot and a really good 7-iron to a
two-tiered green and it went just into the collar. My next
shot zinged way by down a slope. Laura Davies ended up
winning in a playoff with Ayako Okamoto and me.
˘ It was a seven-day-a-week job, but I never got mad
at myself. I never threw clubs. I never swore.
˘ The easiest flaw for me to fall into was complaining.
“Oh, I missed this.” “Oh, I got a bad bounce.” What would
happen is, by the time you get to 12 or 13, you’ve convinced
yourself that you are not hitting the ball well. So then the
bogeys start flying. I said to my caddie, “I’ll give you five
dollars every time I complain.” I had to break the habit.
˘ when people think of me, I hope they remember that
I really loved the game. I couldn’t wait to play it. And being
a born competitor. I don’t know what makes that, but it’s in
me. I loved the competition whether I won or lost. To this
day, I still want to try a new shot.
˘ I was 65 when I set the record by making the cut at the
2004 Kraft Nabisco Championship. I probably still would be
playing if I hadn’t broken my wrist later that year. I always
felt I had a chance to win. My last win was when I was 46. I
never had the yips. That’s why I could play for so long. n
74, 43 LPGA victORieS, eiGht USGA chAmPiONShiPS, LAKe WORth, FLA. ˘ interviewed by Ron Sirak, Photographed by Jensen Larson