Sit Down With LPGA Hall of Famer JoAnne Carner

joanne carner-bwQ: You’re a Kirkland native who is in the World Golf Hall of Fame and the LPGA Hall of Fame with 43 victories. You are the only woman in history to have won the U.S. Junior Girls Championship, the U.S. Women’s Amateur (five times) and the U.S. Women’s Open (twice). What victories are most memorable?

A: The U.S. Women’s Opens (1971 and 1976). The Opens are so big and important. The only tournament I ever lost that still bothers me is the U.S. Open in 1987 that Laura Davies won because I missed some putts.

Q: Part of your bio in the World Golf Hall of Fame reads: “She loved match play, showboating to the galleries, riding motorcycles and partying in the clubhouse with members after her rounds. As JoAnne Gunderson, and later JoAnne Carner, she dominated women’s golf – and nobody had more fun dominating than she did. There was a little Babe Ruth in her, a little Babe Zaharias, a little Walter Hagen and a little Shelly Winters. It made for some package.” Sound accurate?

A: I don’t recall ever seeing that. But it sure sounds like me.

Q: You turned 76 in April and you are in your seventh decade of playing competitive golf. You are a member of the Legends Tour. Most people your age are thrilled if they shoot their age. Is it special for you?

A: No. I don’t have any trouble “shooting my age”.

carner-colorQ: You, and other women golfers, maintained for years that there should be a U.S. Senior Women’s Open— just as there has been for men since 1980. Now, there will be. But it starts in 2018 and, realistically, someone in her 50’s is going to win it. Better late than never?

A: Yes. I told the former president of the USGA, “Please do it before I’m 100.”

Q: At Lake Washington High School in Kirkland, the golf team was “boys-only”. But is it true that they gave you a letterman’s sweater when you returned from winning the U.S. Junior Girls Championship and finishing second in the U.S. Amateur?

A: They did. And yes, I played golf with the boys. I could beat them, too.

Q: Your last professional victory was at the 1985 Safeco Classic at the Meridian Valley Country Club in Kent. Even though you’ve lived in Palm Beach, Florida since 1968, a lot of folks think it’s only fitting that your final victory was in the Seattle area. You agree?

A: It was nice. I dedicated that tournament to my father (Gustav) who had recently died.

Q: Didn’t the Sand Point Country Club steer its carpentry work to your father and help you out in a variety of ways?

A: Yes. For one thing, John Hoetmer (the head pro), gave me free lessons.

Q: How did you get started in golf?

A: When I was 8, my brother Bill and I used to look for balls at Juanita Golf Course (which has since been converted into a park). I started playing a year or two later. I have always liked looking for balls. The only person who seemed to like looking for balls more than me was Sam Snead. One thing I learned fast living in Florida is to always take a club with you when you look for balls because of snakes.

Q: Didn’t you play some night golf at Juanita? Was it helpful?

A: Yes. It was a lot of fun. Sometimes there would be a whole group of kids playing. It helped my game because unless moonlight was behind the ball in the air, you had to tell by feel where you had hit it.

Q: You didn’t turn pro until 1970 when you were 30, and actually won an LPGA tournament as an amateur? Why did you wait so long to turn pro?JoAnne Carner

A: I really liked amateur golf because of the match play. Also, the money wasn’t that much on the LPGA Tour in 1970. But in 1970 my husband (the late Don Carner, who died in 1999) said to me, “I think you’ve run out of goals.”

Q: You had a few nicknames in your career – “Great Gundy” before you were married and “Big Momma,” which is Sandra Palmer gave to you because of your driving distance before the 1976 U.S. Women’s Open playoff. “Big Momma” seems a little strange considering that you were 5 feet 7 inches tall and not overweight.

A: Right now, I may have grown into it.

Q: You and Don traveled to tournaments in a trailer and often stopped to go fishing. Was he your unofficial swing coach?

A: No. He hooked the ball and I faded it so we could never think the same. If I needed help, I’d have a lesson. But I’d have Don observe the lesson so he knew what to watch for in my swing.

Q: Is it true that you used to watch sad movies and cry as an emotional release so you would be ready for tournaments?

A: Yes I would cry and the tension would be gone.

Q: How often do you get back to the Seattle area?

A: About once a year. I stay with my sister, Helen Sherry, in Maple Valley and visit all my relatives in the Kirkland area.

*Interview conducted by Craig Smith

Photos courtesy PNGA and World Golf Hall of Fame

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