When Tiger Woods joined the PGA Tour in 1996, sponsorships grew, purses grew, and golf became cool. Sounds a lot like when Jan Stephenson joined the LPGA Tour in 1974. Stephenson was the tour's glamor girl. The Australian was on the cover of just about every magazine, golf related or not. When the tour needed a player to court potential sponsors, it called Stephenson. Crowds grew, purses grew, and the tour was cool.
Stephenson is now 58. She won 16 times on the tour and another 14 times internationally. She is two wins short of being automatically eligible for the LPGA Hall of Fame.
Her playing schedule has slowed, but she has not.
Stephenson recently joined Cypress Run Golf Club in Tarpon Springs and plans on moving from Orlando to the Tampa Bay area soon. When she is not playing on the Legends Tour, a senior tour for women 45 and older, she is producing golf and yoga videos for women over 45, at speaking engagements, doing promotions for Razor Golf of Port Richey and trying to sell a water technology system she has patented that cleanses reclaimed water used for watering courses.
Stephenson also plans to play in some LPGA tournaments next year.
Stephenson has never shied from publicity, good or bad. Get her going on a subject and she'll let you know exactly how she feels.
Here's an example:
On being the LPGA's sex symbol in the 1970s and '80s: "The commissioner that we had (Ray Volpe) came from the NHL, and he got the whole marketing thing. He'd have me seen at Club 21 (in New York City), or every town we'd go into, I'd be seen with the quarterback or whoever was single at the time. Suddenly there was a photographer there, and it was on (the Associated Press wire service). It was fake, but it was great. It made the tour seem glamorous. I remember being at a grocery store, and there was a Star magazine. My parents and I were in line, and the headline said something like "Sports Superstar Dating Quarterback.'' We'd think, 'Huh, wonder who that could be. Oh my gosh, it's me!' It was so weird.
"A lot of people thought that was who I was, but if you know me, I'm really a homebody. I remember one time I took a red eye to a tournament, and when I got there I was so tired. I was sitting on my bag on a hole, and there were two groups waiting on the tee. I fell asleep right there on the golf bag, and I could hear people saying, 'She's been out all night with somebody.' They had no idea I was on a red eye from Sweden doing some PR thing. They thought I was such a party girl."
On other players' resentment of her status: "There was some controversy. A lot of the older players thought it was sexist and degrading, and thought it wasn't about how they could play. The commissioner came in one day and said, 'Wait a minute. You should be getting down on bent knees every time she walks by because of all the publicity she's done for free and because of the big galleries she's bringing in.' It finally got through. At first they did not like it. When I'd walk into a locker room, there'd be silence because they were talking about me. I let the commissioner know that was happening, and he straightened them out. And I think winning shut them up."
On her appeal to sponsors: "My endorsements were just through the roof. I was making more than some of the PGA guys. I knew Ben Hogan. I was playing his equipment. But I had an endorsement from another company. I came to his office. He said, 'They want to pay a little thing like you that much money?' He said, 'That's ridiculous. Go for it.' ''
On dealing with male admirers: "My parents would laugh. My mother would be in the gallery at tournaments, and she would listen to the comments. She'd tell me all the things she would hear. She said they were saying I was engaged to three guys. One time my mom said there was a guy who was saying he was secretly married to me. … He didn't know it was my mom. She said 'I actually know for sure that you're not married to her.' He said, 'No, it's a secret.' And she said, 'No. If it was true, I'd be your mother-in-law.' She had the police escort him out. I had a lot of stalkers.
"I'd get so much fan mail and hate mail and just weird mail. The other girls would be like 'Jan gets so much mail, and I get nothing.' So we'd sit in rain delays and open this fan mail. The girls would say, 'Hey, Jan, here's another (marriage) proposal.' We still laugh about that on the Legends Tour."
On not being in the LPGA Hall of Fame: "It's a big disappointment. I don't think I'm going to get voted in. It's too political. Unless I have the support of media people, the right people, then I'm not going to get in.
"The hardest part is I'm in a funny category. I've won 14 international titles and 16 in the U.S. They're saying they can't count international because I wasn't a member of any international tour. But in those days there wasn't a European Tour or an Australian Tour like they have now. … I did so much work for the (LPGA) Tour. Now they're like, 'Oh, that doesn't count.' ''
On giving the LPGA tour one more shot: "I really miss it. I watch it now, and I think, 'I can still do that.' … I'm going to play a few LPGA events just to see. The problem with that is, if you're not playing a lot, you're going against these girls who play all the time and work out. You're already behind because you don't have the distance. You develop distance by playing every week."
On whether she can still win on the Tour: "It would have to be the shorter, tighter courses, like they play in the majors. I would think I could do it there. … I'd have to only focus on those. I've won four times on the Legends Tour. I love being in contention.''
On not having a Senior Women's Open: "(The United States Golf Association) has 13 championships and not one for a Women's Senior Open. When we approached them about it, they said, 'Well, we have extra money, but we gave it to the LPGA.' That's why the LPGA Championship is so much more (prize) money than any other major. … They said, 'Who wants to watch a bunch of old women play golf?' (USGA president David Fay) is trying to back off that now, but he said it.
"The problem is, by the time they get (a Women's Senior Open), we'll all be too old to play in it. It really should have been 10 years ago. It's strange that (the LPGA) treats you like this unwanted stepchild. The PGA is exactly the opposite. I think the LPGA is missing out by not supporting (the senior tour) and embracing us. They could've made some money on us. But I'm not the commissioner.''
On Paula Creamer, one of the LPGA's new glamor girls: "It's great to see. Paula is very much along the same line (as Stephenson). She's winning, and she's cute. They've given her a lot to do, and she enjoys it. The thing is, she does a lot more for herself than the tour, but that's what you have to do. It's different now. I was just naive and asked to help, and I did it. Nobody knew who I was, and it was good for everyone.''