PALM HARBOR — Jan Stephenson has been the face — the pretty, cover-of-magazines face — of the LPGA Tour since the 1970s. She is credited with raising the popularity of women's professional golf not only by her style, but her substance as well.
Stephenson was the Glamour Girl of the Tour for more than two decades, but she could play. The Australian won 16 times on tour between 1976 and 1987. One of her unofficial victories came in 1983 at the JCPenney Classic, when she teamed with Fred Couples at Bardmoor Golf Club in Largo.
Now Stephenson, 57, hopes to have the same effect on the Legends Tour, which is 9 years old and hoping to expand on its six-tournament schedule.
"We're pioneers for both tours," Stephenson said Thursday. "We kind of got the (LPGA Tour) going in the '70s and now we're starting again. A lot of the younger players tell us, 'Get that Legends Tour going. You're doing it again for us.' "
Stephenson is in town to play in the Legends Tour Open Championship, which begins today on Innisbrook's Island Course. She lives in Orlando and works as a course designer. She admits her business doesn't allow her to play much golf, which is why she looks forward to tournament week.
Not only does she get to play, but she gets to be reunited with former LPGA Tour members.
"It's totally different now," she said. "We definitely have more fun on this tour, or I do anyway. Take me and Pat Bradley. We hardly ever spoke when we played together before, but now we're friendly and we go out together a lot more. We're so appreciative to be playing again that it's totally changed our attitude."
That doesn't mean they aren't competitive once the tournament starts.
"We're still brutal to each other," Stephenson said, laughing.
Stephenson has played in 21 Legends Tour events and has three wins. She is the tour's leading money winner with $283,339 earned.
Stephenson still keeps up with the LPGA. She said the tour needs what it had when she played — golfers with personality whom fans can identify with.
"It's totally changed from when we played,'' she said. "It's big business out there. It doesn't have as much of a family feel as when we played. It's such a world tour now. Building up the personalities is harder now that there are so many international players because nobody knows them.
"It will help now that Michelle Wie has won. The new commissioner has a star he can work with. But we're the names you know. We all have different personalities."
Notes: Nancy Lopez was scheduled to play this weekend but had to pull out because of personal reasons. "She's devastated," Legends Tour CEO Jane Blalock said. "She really wanted to play in this tournament." … Laura Shanahan-Rowe qualified Thursday at the Island Course for the last spot in the field. … Before today's pro-am, Innisbrook resort owner Sheila Johnson will sing the national anthem.
Transitions award: The Transitions Championship, played at Innisbrook, was honored by the PGA Tour this week at the tour's Tournament Advisory Council meetings. The tournament earned an award for most improved on-site presentation, for creating excellent on-site spectator experiences and sponsor branding opportunities.