She has 13 LPGA Tour wins, five that came from playoffs, from 1987 through 2003, along with two LET wins and nine victories on the Legends Tour from 2007 through 2019. But as hard as it was to win on the LPGA Tour during the eras of Lopez, King, Bradley, Sheehan, Mallon, Inkster, Pak, Webb and Sorenstam, the conflicts Rosie Jones had to endure in keeping her personal secret were far more difficult than anything she experienced inside the ropes.
“Some of my most vivid memories of my early years on tour were the pro-ams,” Jones said last week as she and her partner, Carrie Sexton, rode through the American south in their RV. “Back then, you’d be having this really nice personal time with four players, usually men but occasionally women and you’d start talking about your lives. But even then, there was this sense of dread because the question would inevitably come up: are you married? I would always just say, ‘No, I’m not married,’ but you couldn’t really embellish on that. I couldn’t say, ‘I’m in a relationship,’ or anything like that because it meant more questions were coming. So, I dodged the issue and changed the subject. And I always came out of that conversation thinking, I really want to tell them that I’m in a relationship; I am a fun person; I do feel love and give love and I have a full rich life. But you couldn’t.
“Back then the LPGA always tried to steer us away from conversations about our sexuality. Bring it back to your golf, was the mantra. We had a lot of media training to keep away from our personal lives and focus on our performance on the course. But at the same time, we had this big campaign to promote the mothers on tour and how they balanced playing professionally while raising children. So, it was really a lonely way to live.
“We were fearful of losing what few endorsements we had. All the players knew who was gay and who was not. I think the administration and the rules officials, everyone within the traveling circus of the LPGA Tour knew. But nobody was coming out publicly because there was too much to lose.
“We felt desperate at times. It was a challenge being a public person. And, of course, the better you played the more attention you got, and the more people wanted to know about you.”
Jones was thrilled when she saw society begin to change in the 1990s.
“People became more welcoming,” she said. “We saw shows on TV like ‘Will & Grace’ that brought acceptance of the gay community into mainstream culture. Everything became more known and more open.
“It’s hard to keep that part of yourself closed off. There are still people my age who choose to live like that. But I simply couldn’t do it anymore.
“I had the opportunity, in 2003, to work with a travel company, Olivia, (that caters to a lesbian market) and I thought, this is the perfect opportunity to bring this out into the open and free myself from these chains that I have been living under. So, I called the LPGA and said, ‘I’m going to sign an endorsement with a lesbian cruise ship. And we’re going to make a big splash at what was then the Kraft Nabisco. There’s going to be an article in the New York Times. And I just want your support.’ To his credit, (the commissioner) Ty Votaw said, ‘Absolutely. We’ll help you do whatever you need. We’ll have one of our media people help you coordinate.’
“There was a lot of media surrounding the launch and a lot of press conferences at the tournament sites. I was also playing pretty well, so that helped. It was refreshing and tiresome at the time. But it was also liberating to get this out there.”
Like so many people who struggle with the decision to come out, Jones wondered what would happen to the relationships she had developed and the companies that she represented.
“I called up every single golf club where I had an affiliation, every organization that I was associated with and every sponsor that I was signed with,” she said. “And every one of them said, ‘Oh my gosh, Rosie, we already know. You go for it. We’re with you.’ I reached out to everybody who I thought might be affected by this and I said, ‘This is your time to get out if you don’t want to be on my sleeve.’ And to a person, they all said, ‘Oh no, we support you all the way.’ Not only that, I gained sponsorships, which was very humbling. It was an exciting time for me.
“There had already been a big change in society because of people like Martina Navratilova and some actors and artists who were coming out. Some of our players had come out as well, but after they had retired.
“It’s even easier now. People are not worried now about losing friends. Those are the last people you think will abandon you if you come out. But 20 years ago, I had gay friends who were concerned that they would be outed just by associating with me. It was sad. I wasn’t celebrated by my gay friends. My journey was a curiosity to my straight friends who wanted to know what this was like for me. I told them, ‘I feel like I’m walking around naked because I’ve exposed myself to everyone.’”
In hindsight, with the success of her career on and off the course, coming out when and how Jones did was one of the best decisions of her life.
“So many people, friends, acquaintances, neighbors, came up to me at that time and said things like, ‘Thank you so much for what you are doing. My son is gay. I know it’s so hard for you. This is going to help people understand.’
“I felt that I was doing something good by standing up. Standing up for who I am, for who we are. And it warmed my heart to have people stand up and applaud what I was doing in that way.”