Things changed for the LPGA 30 years ago when one of its own was diagnosed with breast cancer at the shocking age of 24. That stunning moment in 1989 when Heather Farr, a promising tour player with a glittering amateur resume, found out that she had the disease that would take her life in 1993 changed the perception of breast cancer and changed how Val Skinner viewed the world.
Skinner, who won six times in her 20 LPGA seasons, started her own Drive On campaign, creating one of the first charitable outings hosted by a player. And on the Monday after the ShopRite Classic near Atlantic City and 100 miles up the New Jersey Turnpike, 18 players joined Skinner at Mountain Ridge Country Club in West Caldwell, N. J., for the 20th edition of her LPGA Pros In the Fight to Eradicate Breast Cancer – LIFE – outing.
Many of those participating weren’t even born when Farr was diagnosed but, because of work like that of the Val Skinner Foundation, they know about Heather’s struggle and appreciate their role in trying to make the breast cancer story have happy endings.
“When Heather was diagnosed with breast cancer, it was a shock to her family, friends and the world of professional golf,” Skinner says. “Women are not supposed to get breast cancer at 24, and they are not supposed to die at 28,” she said. “Heather’s death inspired me to create the Val Skinner Foundation to provide a stronger message to caution young women about the disease.”
The 18 pros on hand for this year’s outing were Laura Davies, Brittany Lang, Marina Alex, Tiffany Joh, Jodi Ewart Shadoff, Jacqui Concolino, Caroline Masson, Sandra Gal, Christina Kim, Mel Reid, Emma Talley, Cheyenne Knight, Lindsey Weaver, Anna Nordqvist, Giulia Molinaro, Carlota Ciganda, Alison Lee and Bronte Law.
“We’ve raised millions for scientific research, launched early-detection programs, supported comprehensive education programs and provided clinical support for those affected by breast cancer,” Skinner says. “I'm tremendously proud of what has been accomplished with friends of the Val Skinner Foundation and our benefactors.”
On this day, $500,000 was raised for a wide range of projects benefitting breast cancer awareness, treatment and research. Since its inception in 2000, the Val Skinner Foundation LIFE project has raised more than $13 million.
“When you talk to the women who went through that time period with Heather – people like Val and Beth [Daniel] and Meg [Mallon] – and you realize the impact her death had,” said Christina Kim, who drove two hours up the Garden State Parkway from the ShopRite Classic to participate.
“Now days, you can’t come across anyone who hasn’t had a family member or friend impacted by breast cancer,” Kim said. “We have to be so close to a cure. And Val is such a bulldog. You can’t say no to her and you know the money is going to go to the right places.”
Farr came to the LPGA with every reason to expect big things in her life as a pro. The Arizona state University alum won the 1982 U.S. Girls Junior Championship and the 1984 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links, the same year she represented the United States on the Curtis Cup team. In 1983, at the age of 18, Farr was T-11 in the U.S. Women’s Open.
She earned her tour card for the 1986 season and in 1988 her career began arcing upward, She had a T-3 in the Mazda Classic and five other top-10s. The next year everything changed when he July 1989 she received the news that shattered her world. Although able to play only a few events in 1990, her public discussions of her disease brought much needed attention to an issue just emerging from the shadows of secrecy.
“As important as our careers are, making a difference is what it’s all about,” said Emma Talley, who also played the ShopRite. “My Mom has had breast cancer and my grandmother. Val’s event is great and it’s so special for me to come back every year.”
For her charitable work, Skinner has received numerous awards, including the LPGA Humanitarian Award, the Golf Writers Association of America Charlie Bartlett Award, given for commitment to community service, and the Metropolitan Golf Writers Association’s Winnie Palmer Award for commitment to helping others.
“I think of Heather every day and know she is cheering us on to stay the course for all of those still struggling to survive,” Skinner says. “We can’t forget what happened to her and her memory is why we continue the fight.”
Each year for the last 20 years, Skinner has been joined in that fight by LPGA players who give of their time and their money. Because of Val, they know her friend Heather. Because of Val, they know they are helping countless strangers.
(To learn more about the LIFE or to contribute go to valskinnerfoundation.org)