JoAnne Carner is 43 now. She's obviously on the back nine of her career, older than Billie Jean King by four years, older than Jack Nicklaus or Lee Trevino, almost as old as Gaylord Perry, and she says she isn't even thinking of retiring.
But you've got to retire sometime, JoAnne.
"I'm not going to retire," says Carner firmly. "You retire. I'm never going to retire."
Few people seem aware that in her own quiet way Carner is now playing the best golf of her life. Last year she earned more money than all 18 rookies who qualified for the tour in 1981 and in the last three years she has won more tournaments than anyone else on the circuit. With her next tour victory, her 35th, she will automatically qualify for the LPGA Hall of Fame. Yet the question is always the same: When are you going to quit? "Quit?" snorts Carner. "I'm just getting started."
Carner might be the best woman ever to put hands on a golf club, but she has too often been in the wrong place at the wrong time. During the 1960s, before her marriage, she was JoAnne Gunderson and knocking 'em dead fin the amateur circuit, winning five U.S. Amateur crowns. They called her The Great Gundy, and when she occasionally ventured out onto the pro circuit, she was just that. In six pro tournaments The Great Gundy won once and finished second twice. But women's golf was different then: Starvation City. "They were a tough bunch," Carner says. "They'd try and needle me on the practice tee. So I'd come to the course and not practice. Boy, that really got to 'em. They didn't know that I was practicing somewhere else."
When she finally joined the tour in 1970, she inexplicably lost her swing. By the time she found it again, the tour had changed. There were all these fresh new kids with nice smiles and winning personalities out there: Laura Baugh, Sally Little, Hollis Stacy, Nancy Lopez, Beth Daniel. Women's golf was hot, but Carner was old news.
Last year Carner should have made headlines. By late in the season she had won $206,648 and was atop the money standings. But the last two events were in Japan, and Carner, a bit of a homebody, decided not to go. Beth Daniel did. In the second tournament she birdied the final hole, finished second and won $19,600. That gave her the money title by $249. Carner read about it in the newspaper the next day at her home in Palm Beach, Fla. Wrong place.
Hardly anyone realizes that Carner is the leading money-winner in LPGA history, with $1,205,132. Kathy Whitworth got a ton of publicity in '81 when she became the first to surpass $1 million in earnings. But Carner, who started 11 years after Whitworth, caught and passed her late that season. Wrong time.
What people have lost sight of (or never had in focus) is earner's unapproachable record over the last 8� of her 12 years as a pro, a span in which she has won $1 million and 25 tournaments. Whitworth, who won her 82nd and 83rd career tournaments this year and thus tied and then passed Mickey Wright for the alltime lead, won 12 titles in the same span. In the last 3� seasons, the comparison is even more dramatic: Carner has 13 wins, Whitworth just three. While the number of titles won by Wright and
Whitworth is monumental, both would admit they had minimal competition when they were racking up most of them.
Carner isn't only durable; she is also unique. She is the only player to have won all three major women's USGA competitions: the Junior, Amateur and Open titles. As an amateur she also was undefeated in five Curtis Cup singles matches, and in USGA match play tournaments she won close to 90% of the time. Last season, in recognition of her invariably sunny disposition, the USGA presented her the Bob Jones Award for sportsmanship. When Carner heard about it, she said, "I thought you had to be dead to win that."