LPGA In The '80s: Patty Sheehan Savors Hall-Of-Fame Career
Very little is missing from Patty Sheehan's career golf resume. A native of Vermont who grew up in Nevada, Sheehan's golf legacy began when she won both the Nevada and California State Women's Amateur tournaments multiple times.
Sheehan qualified for the LPGA Tour in 1980, and was the Tour's top rookie in 1981, the 1983 Rolex Player of the Year, and the 1984 Vare Trophy winner. She also won at least one tournament in 15 of her 20 full-time LPGA seasons with a career-high five wins in 1990. All total, Sheehan won 35 LPGA tournaments and six major championships. She also was a four-time member of the U.S. Solheim Cup team, a two-time U.S. Solheim Cup team captain, and is a member of the LPGA and World Golf Halls of Fame.
Even after her LPGA career, Sheehan has remained active on the Legends Tour for LPGA players age 45-over, winning multiple times with her signature model golf swing. As a former nationally ranked junior snow skier from New England who became a Nevada-based Hall of Fame golfer, Sheehan excelled at every level. Here is what she had to say to LPGA senior writer Lisa D. Mickey in a recent interview:
LPGA: With an LPGA career that spanned the 1980s and 1990s, what comes to mind when you think of the Tour in your era?
SHEEHAN: We had some great competitions between Hall of Fame players because so many of the Hall of Famers played really well in the 1980s. We kept trading tournament wins off and on, throughout the '80s.
LPGA: You were a rookie when some of the LPGA's great early players were starting to wrap up their careers. What do you remember about them and how did they impact you?
SHEEHAN: I got to play with JoAnne Carner, Kathy Whitworth, Sandra Palmer, Donna Caponi and Sandra Haynie. They were finishing up and us "whipper-snappers" had some big shoes to fill and tournaments to win. It was a very exciting time for the young players. We all knew we were pretty good, but we weren't sure how we would do out there.
LPGA: Which players were your toughest competitors?
SHEEHAN: I always knew it was going to be a long day against Betsy King. Betsy was tough. I don't know if it was her or if it was me, but she was always tough for me to play. I don't ever remember beating her head to head. Nancy Lopez didn't make many mistakes. She could putt! And Beth Daniel was always tough. Sometimes she would win and sometimes I would win. I always felt Beth was the best ball striker and Lopez was the best putter. Amy Alcott was right in there and Pat Bradley also won a lot because she was so solid.
LPGA: How mad was Juli Inkster, your former college teammate, when you birdied your last two holes of the 1992 U.S. Women's Open to force an 18-hole playoff, and then you beat her in extra holes?
SHEEHAN: Laugter I don't think she's forgiven me yet, especially after the ruling I got on the 72nd hole in regulation. She was in the middle of the fairway and I was in the right, heavy, wet rough. My ball was lying in casual water. I called for a ruling and as it turned out, my closest point of relief was out in the fairway. Well, Juli didn't like that. And then I hit the green and birdied the hole and forced the playoff.
LPGA: It must have been tense the next day when you started that 18-hole playoff.
SHEEHAN: Laugter Oh no. Juli was funny on the first tee. She was telling me a story about [another player] walking in her sleep. She, this player and Juli's parents were all staying in the same house that week and the player sleepwalked into Juli's parents' room. We were cracking up on the tee while she was telling me that story, so it was a good release of energy. Plus, that morning, I got to the course and forgot to bring my clubs.
LPGA: What? How did that happen?
SHEEHAN: Well, normally you leave your golf clubs in the club storage area overnight, but they closed it up on Sunday night, so I brought them back to the house where I was staying, put them in the basement and forgot about them. The next morning, I drove 20 minutes to the golf course and realized I had forgotten my clubs! So I got back in the car and took off, driving as fast as I could, got my clubs, and came back to the course. I had 20 minutes to warm up. Meanwhile, the TV announcers were like, "We don't know where Patty Sheehan is. This is an unusual way for her to warm up for a playoff at the U.S. Women's Open." I didn't have time to be nervous. I was just relieved to get there on time. And with my clubs! Laugter
LPGA: The bulk of your career really spanned the 1980s and 1990s. What was the biggest difference in those two decades?
SHEEHAN: Well for me, I had endured an earthquake in 1989, and lost an 11-shot lead to lose the U.S. Women's Open in 1990, which was the biggest disappointment of my career, so I went into the rest of the 1990s knowing I could survive anything. All of that made me stronger and more determined to win major tournaments and get into the LPGA Hall of Fame. I guess you could say I had a certain amount of confidence and a greater feeling of being settled in my life.
LPGA: You won 35 LPGA tournaments, six majors, played on Solheim Cup teams, captained two Solheim squads, and became a Hall of Fame member. What was your most memorable achievement?
SHEEHAN: They were all so special in different ways, but none of them can top the fact that I now have two children that are more important than any win I could have had. My life is rich now. Sometimes, I look back and say, "How did I do all of that? How did I get so good?" I just hated to lose. Every victory was pleasing and wonderful, but none of them even come close to my life now.
LPGA: The Women's British Open wasn't a major in 1992, but that year, you became the first and only woman to win both the U.S. and the British Opens in the same year. That must have been pretty big.
SHEEHAN: It's still big. It's one of the biggest accomplishments I can lay claim to because all of my records have been broken.
LPGA: How much competing are you doing now on the Legends Tour?
SHEEHAN: I always look forward to playing some tournaments, but I don't practice and play nearly like I used to. I have other things in my life. When I go out to those Legends Tour events, my favorite thing is to see everybody and to catch up, but I don't stress over it any more. Now, it's fun. I love to play golf and it doesn't matter what I shoot. I want my kids to see me play, but it used to be a lot more important than it is now. I've told them that I don't expect them to be anybody but themselves, but I'd like for them to learn to play golf just so we can have fun with it as a family. My daughter, Bryce, is 13 and is riding horses and learning dressage. My son, Blake, is 11 and playing football, riding dirt bikes and snowboarding. I love to just sit and watch them. Now, it's all about them.
LPGA: So was it hard to walk away from a career like you had?
SHEEHAN: It's been an interesting journey and it was a hard transition. It was different. Sometimes it was even lonely. My hair is white now and I don't look like I used to and don't play like I used to. The only people in Reno who recognize me are all over 45 years of age. Laugter Life changes. And I transitioned from being selfish - you know, living a life where it's all about me - to really loving being with my family. I don't need the spotlight anymore. I'm happy.
Topics: Sheehan, Patty