Grant Thornton Invitational Sparks Memories From Mixed-Team Champions

It won’t be the first time. When some of the best LPGA Tour players tee off with their partners from the PGA Tour in the Grant Thornton Invitational, the only mixed-team event on either tour, it will spark a lot of memories from veterans. For as unique as the Grant Thornton format is to those playing, this isn’t the first time that pros from both tours have competed as teammates.

From 1960 through 1999, mixed-team tournaments were a late-fall staple. Under various names – the Haig & Haig Scotch Foursomes, the Pepsi-Cola Mixed Team, and finally, the JC Penney Classic – LPGA and PGA Tour stars got together for a fun week of friendly competition. Past champions from the LPGA include Mickey Wright, Kathy Whitworth, JoAnne Carner, Beth Daniel, Nancy Lopez, Pat Bradley, Juli Inkster and Dame Laura Davies among plenty of others.

And all who played remember those events fondly.

“It was one of my favorite events because we never really got to see the guys,” said Meg Mallon, who won the mixed event with Steve Pate the first week of December 1998. “You would only run into them in the off-season if you happened to practice in the same places.
Meg Mallon (right) and Steve Pate (left) display trophies during the JCPenney Classic in Westin Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor, Florida. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Laforet /Allsport

“And we played with the guys who wanted to be there. They respected us. That was also fun.

“We’d have these big dinners every night with Davis (Love) and Mike Hulbert and Curtis Strange. Judy Rankin would cook for all of us – it was a lot of fun.”

Fun was a consistent theme.

“Billy Andrade and I both enjoyed it so much,” said Kris Tschetter, who won the event alongside Andrade in 1991. “Billy is such a team player and we’re such good friends that it was great to be able to spend a week together. Way back in our junior golf days, we were always like, ‘Hey, maybe we’ll get to play in the mixed-team event together someday.’ Then we actually got a chance to do it. And the first time we played, we won.

“We beat Elaine Crosby and Ed Humenik in a playoff. I remember we were on the last hole, hadn’t made a bogey, and Billy left me like a 5-footer for par. I was like, ‘Don’t let this be the hole.’ We had to make it to tie and get into the playoff, which I did.

“But that was just part of the appeal. My dad was caddying for me and my mom was there, so it was a storybook ending – a lot of fun. The Copperhead Course at Innisbrook (where the event was held) was always great. I think it’s the best course in Florida, so it was a wonderful way to cap off the year.”

The format in the old days was a modified alternate shot. Both players teed off and from there, they would hit each other’s balls until they were on the greens. Then they chose the shot they wanted and, whoever hadn’t hit that approach putted first

“One year I played with Dave Stockton, Jr.” Dottie Pepper said. “I might have been the reason he didn’t play the tour much longer. Dave was a die-it-in-the-hole putter and I was a hit-the-back-of-the-hole putter. By the end of the week, he was shellshocked.”
Dottie Pepper (right) chats with Jeff Sluman during the JCPenney Classic in Westin Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor, Florida. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Laforet /Allsport

Pepper won the event in 1992 with Dan Forsman.

“I played with three different partners,” she said. “Dan Forsman was the first and we weren’t very good at the beginning. He was a bomber, but he wasn’t very straight. One hole was a dogleg right with water on the right side and as we were on the tee, I looked back and caught him giving himself the sign of the cross.

“But both of us had tremendous years in 1992, so we were supposed to be in the conversation. In the prior years, we hadn’t even teed off on the proper side on the weekend. That was our goal. Just get us on the right side of the golf course and see how it goes. And, sure enough, we won.

“I also had some very good tournaments with Jeff Sluman who is, to this day, one of my dearest friends. The first year we played together, we spent more money on wine in Tarpon Springs, (Florida) than we won. We shipped it out of the tournament office as olive oil, because you couldn’t ship alcohol. The tournament director shipped it all home for us.”

Tschetter also had multiple partners over the years. “I played with Billy for seven or eight years, but I also played with John Cook, Robert Gamez and Chris DiMarco. And it was always fun.

“But it was also important financially for the LPGA players,” Tschetter said. “It was one of our biggest paydays. The year after I won with Billy, I won an LPGA Tour tournament and made like $67,000. I’d made $110,000 for the mixed team.”

Pepper had a similar story. “The year Dan and I won, I had just bought a house and paid cash for it,” Pepper said. “I never told him, but I needed to win a golf tournament so that I didn’t have to take out a loan to pay my income taxes for the next quarter. That win was big for me, personally, but it was big for all the girls. I think it was the largest paycheck Donna Andrews ever made, and she won a major championship.”

It was also a chance for fans to see Hall of Famers from both sides of the game playing in one event.

“I won it with Jerry Pate, and we had a great time,” said Hollis Stacy of her 1977 mixed-team victory. “It was a week where I probably putted better than ever in my life. I made everything. We beat Nancy Lopez and Curtis Strange. But more than that, a lot of great friendships came out of it. We still see Jerry and his wife Soozi and their three kids. And we still see Jay Haas and Fuzzy (Zoeller) who played. All the players really enjoyed it and we were sad when it went away.”
Laura Davies (left) and John Daly (right) in action during the JCPenney Classic in Westin Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor, Florida. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Laforet /Allsport

“We learned a lot from each other,” Mallon said. “It wasn’t just us learning from the guys, they learned a lot from us.”

Mallon also has some advice for the LPGA players in the Grant Thornton Invitational.

“Just play your own game,” she said. “Don’t try to do anything extraordinary, or think you have to hit it perfect all week, because they don’t hit it perfect, either. Just play your game and enjoy yourselves.”

Stacy agreed, but she also had some advice for fans. “This format was and is great for golf,” she said. “Everybody should tune in and watch it. You have all these people in Ohio and Minnesota up to their eyeballs in snow and they want to see something different and something good. Well, this is it. This is just what the doctor ordered.”