LPGA History: Looking Back at JoAnne Carner

LPGA and World Golf Halls of Fame member JoAnne Carner is one of the most decorated players in LPGA and USGA history. Her career is a dichotomy to the trend in women’s golf today. In an age in which more and more players are bypassing colleges for the professional ranks, Carner was the first to receive a full scholarship to play college golf. A graduate of Arizona State University, Carner won everything she could as an amateur before turning professional at the age of 30.

As an amateur, Carner wrote one of the greatest resumes of all time, male or female. She was a master of the match play format and dominated her competition. She won an incredible five U.S. Women’s Amateur Championships (1957, 1960, 1962, 1966 and 1968) and one U.S. Girls Junior Championship (1956). She played on four U.S. Curtis Cup teams and went undefeated in singles competition with a record of 4-0-1. Later, when she won the 1971 U.S. Women’s Open as a professional, Carner became the only player in history to win the U.S. Junior, the U.S. Amateur and the U.S. Open. In 1969, a year before turning professional, Carner won the 1969 Burdines Invitational, becoming the last amateur to win an LPGA event.

As a rookie, Carner made an impact on the LPGA Tour immediately. She won the Wendell-West Open, carded five top-10s, finished 11th on the LPGA money list, and was named Rookie of the Year. In her career, Carner amassed 43 LPGA victories, including two major championships. Both of her major championship victories came at the U.S. Women’s Open in 1971 and 1976. Carner led the LPGA money list three times (1974, 1982, 1983), claimed five Vare trophies (1974-1975, 1981-1983) and was named Player of the Year twice (1981, 1982).

While collecting trophies and awards, Carner, a.k.a. “Big Momma”, was also one of the great personalities of the LPGA. She had a terrific sense of humor and was one of the most accessible and relevant players on the Tour. Carner was definitely a crowd favorite and often chatted with the galleries to help relieve pressure. She was an animated player who never hesitated to use body language to help coax the golf ball into the hole and she is one of the great story tellers of all time.

Carner never forgot the name or face of a pro-am partner and loved to talk golf and technique. Carner relished spending hours hitting shots and was notorious for testing equipment, particularly drivers. Even in her later years on Tour, Carner was often the longest-lasting player on the driving range. She was also very accessible to other players and was the first to help a young player with some nuance of the game. When one player would ask Carner for help with a particular shot, it wouldn’t take long for the session to turn into a group lesson. Carner was just as popular with her peers as she was with her fans.

Carner’s personality and quick wit made her favorite with the media as well. She could always be counted on for a great quote or story. Golf Digest featured some of her best in March of 2003. Here is a sampling.

“I was standing over a putt in a U.S. Women's Open a few years ago. I glanced down and thought, "My, where did those wrinkles in my arms come from?" I couldn't get the wrinkles out of my mind all day. Now that's bad concentration. I realized my best days were behind me.”

“Trying to outdrive other long hitters was irresistible to me. Not that it did my game any good. One day I was paired with Mickey Wright, who could also hit it a mile. On the first tee Mickey said, "JoAnne, please, let's not get into a driving contest." But on the fifth hole she let loose and outdrove me by 30 yards. What could I do but try to slug it past her on the next hole? This went on for several holes, both of us bombing away and hitting the ball all over the golf course. Finally, with both of us out of contention, Mickey suggested we play closest to the pin, a penny a hole. I said, "Why didn't you suggest that in the first place?"

“I tried to quit smoking three times. The first time I quit, I was playing in a tournament at Industry Hills in California. I shot 45 on the front nine. I told my caddie to go to the refreshment stand and get some cigarettes, the strongest kind they had. He came back with a pack of Pall Malls, and I shot 32 on the back. For me, smoking and golf go together.”

“You look back at the purses the women played for in the 1950s and early '60s, and you wonder how they could even afford to eat. Well, a lot of them were world-class poker players. They would look up the biggest card game in town and play for big money. They were good enough at it to make a living. As a rule, women are better poker players than men.”

“I have a sick sense of humor. If you stub your toe, I'll laugh. Someone bumping their head is hysterical to me. I've tried not to laugh when people hurt themselves, but I can't do it. It runs against my nature.”

“Of course a woman's chest interferes with making a swing. How could it not? The trick is to swing the arms over the bosom, not under. To do that, we have to bend over at the hips a little more to give our arms room to swing. It's not natural. For the record, having breasts is not an advantage.”

Topics: Carner, Joanne, Player Spotlight

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