LPGA History: Looking Back with Amy Alcott

Amy Alcott: LPGA In The 1980s Begins 'Developing A Soul'

She is known as the LPGA player who started the trend of jumping into the Mission Hills Country Club pond beside the 18th green at the Kraft Nabisco Championship. And in 30 LPGA Tour seasons, Amy Alcott won 29 tournaments with five major championships. She was inducted into the LPGA and World Golf Halls of Fame in 1999.

A long-time resident of Santa Monica, Calif., Alcott is just as comfortable with the movers and shakers of the Hollywood/Los Angeles scene as she is in mingling with fellow Hall of Famers on the LPGA and PGA Tours. Here is what she had to say to LPGA senior writer Lisa D. Mickey in a recent interview:

LPGA: How would you describe the LPGA's changes during your career?
My early years on tour, from 1975-1980, are kind of a blur. I was 18, right out of high school, so I wanted to see how good I could be. I feel like the tour was developing a soul in the 1980s. It was a tour in transition, growing, developing, and slowly garnering large sponsors like Colgate, Nabisco and McDonald's. And it was morphing into a different personality along with the times. We couldn't have survived without small towns like Corning [N.Y.], Hershey [Pa.] and Rochester [N.Y.], and tournaments in cities like Dayton Oio, St. Petersburg [Fla.], and Tucson [Ariz.] were all sponsored by the communities. But in the late 1970s and 1980s, events were becoming more corporate and we began playing in special events in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and in the Philippines. We played up to 37 tournaments with lots of extra events. Thanks to people like [former Colgate Palmolive CEO] David Foster, we played the Colgate Dinah Shore [which became the Kraft Nabisco Championship], the Colgate Far East Open, the Colgate England Open and the Colgate Triple Crown match play event at the end of the year at Mission Hills Country Club. We were changing and growing and the tour had to change with the times.

LPGA: I remember you saying that players used to have Scotch and a cigarette after a round, but as time passed, that turned into a Gatorade and a workout session.
Laugter That's true! Nobody talked about staying in shape in the 1970s and '80s, but when the LPGA Tour got its first traveling fitness trailer, players got involved and staying in shape became the norm. Players started thinking about conditioning more and stretching and using weights. The fitness trailer even became a social place. It was like, "You build it, and they will come." These days, young pros have a fitness instructor, psychologist and a swing coach, and they eat protein bars and drink soymilk. You don't see a lot of Scotch and cigarettes anymore.

LPGA: What do you remember about playing alongside some of those great Hall of Famers?
I had the amazing pleasure to play with some of the greatest shot makers and I wouldn't trade it for anything. I remember playing in a 7:50 a.m. twosome with Mickey Wright in one of the last tournaments of her career. I was excited to play with her. She showed up wearing tennis shoes because she had problems with her feet, but she could play! I remember watching a lot of those players before I turned pro. I read Babe Didrikson Zaharias's book six or seven times. I was very respectful of them. I remember introducing myself to Kathy Whitworth because I wanted to meet her.

LPGA: You won your third tournament as a pro and had seven top-10s in your rookie year, winning the LPGA's top rookie honors in 1975. To what do you credit your fast progress?
Even though I was young, I was a little racehorse. I was really ready. I wanted to be one of the best. Sometimes in the newspapers, they called me "cocky, brash and arrogant," and some players snubbed me because I would say that I wanted to be one of the best, but I think I backed that up. It was interesting that as we moved into the 1990s, when the new players on tour would say the very same thing, now, they were just called "confident."

LPGA: Which players made you work a little harder when you played on the LPGA?
One week, it was Hollis Stacy and one week, it was Judy Rankin. Another week, it was Nancy Lopez or JoAnne Carner. I had a few duels with JoAnne and I loved and admired her shot-making skills. And it was the same with Nancy. At the height of her career, there was not a better putter. Hollis was a very underrated player. She had three wins at the Open and she could really get up and down for par. I think my drive to excel came out of respect for their games because every week, I wanted to be able to go up against them. They definitely made me work harder, but the beauty of it all was having the ability just to be there in the mix.

LPGA: You started winning quickly on the LPGA Tour. Did it feel like your career was starting to unfold quickly?
It unfolded exactly the way it was supposed to unfold, and so did the slumps. Nobody ever talks about those, but the hard times and the losses happened just the way they should have. I went through a terrible case of the yips. I would have won a bunch more tournaments, but truthfully, I had the yips before I ever turned pro. Because of that, I was turning 68s into 73s, and sometimes I couldn't seem to get the putter back. That was my nemesis and it was the thing I had to learn to get past, even if it meant I had to putt with my eyes closed. I got through it, but that's really my only regret. I guess there is a plan you can't control and there are other plans you can. The greatness comes not by trying to control it, but by just letting it take its course.

LPGA: You are probably best known for your three wins at the Kraft Nabisco Championship. Why was that event so special for you?
Well, I grew up in Southern California and I like the Mission Hills golf course. That tournament always had a special feel and I think you play better in places where you want to be. My first win there came in 1983, and again in 1988, when we had a terrible windstorm. The last win came in 1991, six months after my mother died, so there was something really spiritual about that week. Before that tournament, I ran into Dinah Shore on the street in L.A., and she said she was sorry to hear about my mother, and that I had to win her tournament one more time. So that week was where practice and opportunity met. It wasn't just a win. It was a win that spoke to me in every way. I was like a marionette that week and somebody else was pulling my strings. I walked up that 18th hole with an eight or nine-shot lead. I really think there was a reason that was my last official LPGA tournament win.

LPGA: How did entertainer Dinah Shore help the LPGA in its formative years?
Dinah was a unique actress and ambassador for women's golf. She and Colgate's David Foster formed an alliance and created the tournament that is now the Kraft Nabisco Championship. Dinah would say, "Amy, you have to tell these LPGA players they need to dress better and look better." She worked really hard and she was so proud of having that event with her name on it when it was the Nabisco Dinah Shore. Dinah was a trailblazer for women and a great hostess for the tournament. She had a vision for young players. When she was talking to me, she was talking to them - telling them to be the best they could be and to have personal self-esteem about the image they carried into the game. She believed that the image individual players have also becomes the image of the LPGA Tour, and with that, sponsors come along. She knew what it took to attract public and media attention, as well as corporate sponsorship. That really has not changed.

LPGA: You started the tradition of the Kraft Nabisco Championship winner jumping into the pond beside the 18th green at Mission Hills. How did that first plunge happen?
It actually happened on my second win there in 1988. I made a winning putt and I looked at my caddie and it just happened. I said, "We're going into the water, and he said, "Cool, kid." It was rocky and murky, and there were birds in there. The Russian judge probably would have given us a 2 for our jumps into the water.

LPGA: What did it mean to you to become the 15th player inducted into the LPGA's Hall of Fame in 1999?
When I was finally inducted, it was a relief. I remember early in my career, I won a lot of tournaments and somebody said, "You're going to get into the Hall of Fame." And I said, "What's that?" I'm glad I was rewarded for all the hard work and the career I had. I have a real appreciation of being with other people who have worked hard like I have. I'm very proud of being a part of such an elite group.

LPGA: How are you staying involved with golf these days?
I'm teaching a little bit privately and I have a consulting company called Amy Alcott Golf. I help some companies put together corporate golf tournaments and outings. I also have done some golf course design and I serve on the advisory board of the Southern California PGA Foundation as it relates to junior golf. And I wrote a book two years ago called The Leaderboard: Conversations On Golf and Life. My life is now kind of like a smorgasbord with a lot of different things on my plate.

LPGA: How much golf do you play?
Maybe once a week socially at Bel Air Country Club and Riviera Country Club. I'm a lucky girl! I recently played in a two-day corporate outing at Pebble Beach. And I play tournaments on the Legends Tour. The players on the Legends Tour [for LPGA Tour members ages 45-over] are still competitive, but it's much more casual among us now than it was when we all were on the LPGA Tour. Golf is not the first thing I think about in the mornings, but I still love it.

LPGA: When you look back on your era of the LPGA, what means the most to you?
I gave it my absolute best, everything I had, but the game gave back to me so much more. What I received is not related to money or the Hall of Fame. Really, the lessons of golf are the lessons of life.

Topics: Alcott, Amy

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