Jan Stephenson is In

Former LPGA Star Stephenson in the Hall of Fame

Do we all remember Jan Stephenson from the day that the modern LPGA was developing? I’ll take that for a “yes,. If you are male and watch the LPGA, ask yourself how much you watched those tournaments and how much you watched them for Jan Stephenson. There was nothing inauthentic about Stephenson the golfer, to be sure. She won several majors, eight of them worldwide, and around 40 or so victories in all sorts of countries. However, she was also blessed with good looks, and she felt fairly comfortable using them to move the fortunes of the tour along. Iconic, for example, is a photo taken of Stephenson in a bathtub covered only with golf balls. The shot was considered quite racy at the time, and by all accounts, that and other promotions did indeed perk the attention of golf watchers.

Here’s where the usual judgmental behavior begins with human beings. If someone is a little less freaked out by public daring than someone else, that someone else’s sense of morality gets its toes stepped on. In other words, for me to be comfortable, you should be just as shy as I am. If you’re not, there’s something wrong with your sense of propriety.

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Stephenson got a disappointing phone call from Nancy Lopez two or three years back, learning that she was not to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. This year, she got a second call from Lopez, and the news was entirely different. She will be included in the Class of 2019 with Peggy Kirk Bell, one of the founders and greatest pillars of the women’s tour.

Since the height of her playing days, Stephenson has been up to some interesting things. She has mentored a good many young players, some of whom have ended up on tour. She has won on the Legends Tour, one which she co-created. She directly supports golf for the blind and disabled, on and off the course. Her foundation serves veterans and first responders. Since her rookie year of ’74, Jan Stephenson has kept her involvement in the game pretty interesting. And, in an occasional case, she has been criticized for looking too good doing it.

The Sydney native didn’t have the aversion of some others to coupling attractiveness with the game. The forthrightness helped sell it to a wider audience, and to expand television coverage. From bathtubs to calendars and other interesting approaches to the product, she created a look on the course, and she is certainly not alone. The LPGA unabashedly embraces looking good while playing good golf. It occurs to me that there was no movement to ban Betty Grable from World War II soldiers overseas, and Bob Hope was always sure to include a beauty or two on his foreign military tours.

Perhaps it all comes down to what demographic one is attempting to bring to the game. At my age, the call of the wild lacks oomph and is a little wheezy, but there are is an enormous market of teens to fifties to recruit as LPGA fans. Stephenson and her people may have been on to something. A few golfers on tour have become public celebrities off the course as well, and Stephenson did a pretty good job with that. All she had to was date Donald Trump, and anonymity was banished forever. She was invited on a private plane filled with roses for a meal reservation in Paris by the New York mogul, and turned it down.  Trump responded by marrying Ivana.  The new Mrs. Trump was willing to give up her career, while Stephenson was not. That’s good fodder for the evening papers right there.

Stephenson is in fast company on lifetime holes-in-one in tournament play, with eight in all. Outside of one misstep when she commented that Asians, particularly Koreans, were “killing the game,” it’s all been relatively smooth.  These days she is active on a number of environmental issues and sells wines.  Golf, like every other public profession such as film and rock music,  apparently needs its charismatic types to keep it in the public eye.
Golf Simplified logoIt’s a good thing that Stephenson is in the Hall of Fame, and many congratulations are offered. She played great golf, did a lot to get the tour on the map, and helped a lot of people. If she’s a little less shy than I am, no problem as far as I’m concerned. However, she recently let it slip that she might be writing a book. Considering her dating card, I might be too shy for that one – “we’ll have to wait and see what happens.”


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