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.
Debbie Massey was named LPGA rookie of the year in 1977.
COLOR PHOTO: ANDY LYONS Players like Kerr hit the tour running. [Cristie Kerr playing golf]