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More Than A Pretty Face
Barry McDermott
January 18, 1982
For years Jan Stephenson's claim to fame was that she was the LPGA's designated pinup, but now her golf game is nearly a 10, too
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January 18, 1982

More Than A Pretty Face

For years Jan Stephenson's claim to fame was that she was the LPGA's designated pinup, but now her golf game is nearly a 10, too

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It's the peak of the morning rush hour in L.A., but Jan Stephenson doesn't care that she's an hour late for another million dollars' worth of publicity. She's staring out the window of the car in which she's riding, brooding. She just can't get over the fact that two days earlier in San Jose she had driven her ball out of bounds on the first extra hole of a tournament and lost a playoff. Also, she's exhausted because her hotel reservation for the previous night was fouled up and she more or less had to sleep on the San Diego Freeway. Plus, she has broken up with her boyfriend—again. She's sick, tired and edgy, with no one to love her. Being a star isn't always what it's cracked up to be.

Stephenson is going to a photo session for Fairway, the magazine of the Ladies Professional Golf Association. She sighs. These days life is one photo session after another, one interview after another. one Johnny Carson guest shot after another. The magazine's photographer and his assistants are waiting for her. So are a television crew, lighting men, makeup men, more still photographers and an assortment of anxious golf and television executives.

As the car turns into the studio driveway, they're all lined up outside, standing on tiptoe, some with their hands up to their eyes like Indian scouts. Suddenly one of them is at the car window.

"What?" says Stephenson. The man, speaking solicitously but quickly, wants to know if the car could be backed up. The TV crew, now fumbling frantically with equipment, missed the shot of her arrival. The car reverses. Stephenson mutters, "They better get it right this time."

This time the camera crew dutifully records her entrance, and inside the photo studio everyone is all smiles. They are so happy to see her! Stephenson sizes up the situation immediately, the way she knows right away whether the iron shot facing her is a hard seven or an easy six. She doesn't even bother saying anything like the alarm didn't go off or the traffic was murder. Instead she breezes in and chirps, "I can't believe they gave me such an early shooting. Everybody knows I always get a late pro-am time."

A whole roomful of hearts skips a beat, and not a man stops smiling. Stephenson, the 30-year-old golfing sprite from Australia, is no longer just another pretty face. She's rich and famous. They know it. She knows it.

The LPGA knows it, too, and couldn't be happier, because Stephenson did a lot for the image of women's golf in 1981. That was the year in which Billie Jean King admitted she'd had a lesbian affair and almost knocked a wheel off the apple cart of women's sports. And all during that parlous time there was Stephenson out front on the sports pages, looking good and playing better.

Golf insiders used to make snide remarks about Stephenson because she was a powder-puff hitter who couldn't putt and choked in the clutch. Pretty, and generally up there among the top money winners, but a loser. But last year Stephenson turned things around. The back trouble that had plagued her in 1980 didn't reappear and she won four tournaments, including Canada's Peter Jackson Classic, her first major LPGA title. Stephenson was a leader-board regular, accumulating $180,528 in official prize money—fifth in the standings—and fielding calls from every dealmaker around.

In the end, though, Stephenson will probably remember '81 less for the money she made than for the fact that she proved to herself—and the world—that she was more than cheesecake, that she finally had become a golfer.

The thing that strikes one first about Stephenson is her size, barely 5'5" and 115 pounds. That and her good looks. Stephenson is truly striking, though not quite a 10, as she is well aware. "If you took me away from the golf tour, I'd be just another pretty face," she says, adding, "but I'd like to see Bo Derek after 18 holes in 100� weather. Those cornrows and beads would be history."

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