When I attended last week's LPGA Q school finals in Daytona Beach, I could only marvel at the strides made by women's professional golf since I was a tour rookie in 1977. The young women who are breaking into professional golf today have swing doctors, big endorsement deals and, above all, an undeniably professional manner about them. Youngsters like Cristie Kerr, Kelli Kuehne and Se Ri Pak come to the tour confident and ready to play. They expect to have long, lucrative careers.
Twenty years ago the goal of most top female golfers was not to play on the LPGA tour, but rather to play on the USGA's national amateur teams. After graduating from Denver in 1972, I spent five summers playing the amateur circuit, winning three Canadian and two Western Amateurs. I saw golf less as a career than as a challenging way to pass the time between winters, which I spent as a ski instructor in Vermont.
Two women I met in the '70s made me rethink the way I viewed the game. I beat a 15-year-old from Roswell, N. Mex., in the final of the '72 Western, and she went on to change women's golf. I'm talking about Nancy Lopez, of course. Aside from being a terrific player, Nancy had a very attractive personality, which convinced young girls and their parents that it was possible for a woman to be both successful and happy as a pro golfer—no small accomplishment in those early days of Title IX.
Then there was Betsy Rawls, who after retiring from the tour in 1975 served as the LPGA's tournament director for six years. Shortly after I joined the tour, there was a movement to shorten women's courses so that our scores would be lower. Betsy refused, correctly believing that such a transparent move would set back the women's game. To this day the momentum Nancy and Betsy created for women's golf is still palpable.
Two years ago I retired as a player and began a career as an agent. I'm often asked whether today's young players are being saddled with excessive expectations, given the lavish endorsements some of them have received before earning their tour cards. I always answer no. These women are technically sound and mentally strong. They can handle the pressure, whereas most women 20 years ago needed time to adjust to the rigors of the LPGA tour. Today's players understand that they have to be ready from the start or they won't survive. That's a healthy situation for the players and for the LPGA.