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March 22, 2014
THE MODERATOR:Â It is my absolute pleasure to welcome probably the greatest group I have had to probably interview in my entire life, I'm feeling a little inadequate with this group.Â I would like to thank all of you for coming in, what a special week, to my immediate front here, our founder this is week, Marilynn Smith and Shirley Spork.
In the back, Patty Sheehan, Pat Bradley, Kathy Whitworth, Renee Powell, Nancy Lopez and Betsy King, thank you for also joining us, our pioneers and Hall of Famers this week, thank you.
So I will get started.Â Marilynn, let's start off with you, right here in front.Â You've seen this event from its very infant stages, from the beginning and then you're here in the fourth year, what is most impressed you out of the past four years of this very special event?
MARILYNN SMITH:Â This tournament, I think the thing is the girls all approved of it after the first year.Â Some of them really didn't understand it and didn't want to play in it and now they are all for it.Â It's a sensational tournament and to have all these girls here, it's special, and to honor the founders, we have a lot of good founders.
Unfortunately Louise is not well enough to be with us and Marlene is busy moving and we send our best to them, we miss them.
SHIRLEY SPORK:Â The two of us are the tail end of the dog.Â We were very fortunate to get together in the beginning and we had a tremendous desire to compete but we didn't have anywhere to compete.
Through the efforts of friends that were financially able to putt up prize money, we were able to play tournaments, and because of the Babe and her talent, she really didn't have anywhere to play, and it's through her efforts, really, she wanted a tour so she could compete.
So because of her she got the ball rolling, and we came along as her other pigeons and followed her.Â In the beginning it was somewhat difficult to convince the public, actually, that women had that great of talent in golf.Â They had observed amateur players and a lot of your Hall of Famers played great amateur golf.Â I think Marilynn came out of the college system where you were not supposed to compete as an individual in our era.Â In the 50s, schools wanted intramural play.Â They did not want individual sports.Â So we were an oddity and had to fight to say that an individual sport was important.
THE MODERATOR:Â Â I watched you speak with the documentary group; what do you think that movie will hopefully do in terms of spreading the word of how special of a journey you guys have had?
MARILYNN SMITH:Â Well, it's chronicling the history and people 50 and a hundred years from now will know what happened and that's wonderful.Â They have interviewed Marlene and they are going to interview Louise, too.Â I think they are going to try to get a few other people to interview.Â It's really a wonderful thing and they are doing a great job for us.
THE MODERATOR:Â Betsy in terms of seeing the Tour evolve since when you played up until now, what has most stuck out to you in terms of tournaments, players, anything that has really evolved into what the Tour has turned into today?
BETSY KING:Â I feel very fortunate because when we came out, the founders were still competing a little bit.Â I know Patty Berg played and Louise Suggs played in several event that I played in; so we have that connection with the founders that we actually know them, and yet the Tour had already grown at that point.
So obviously what it is today is just so different, the world aspect of the LPGA is probably the biggest change and it's even changed since I retired in 2005.
So with the tour playing so many events outside the United States right now, but obviously it's the persistence that the founders had; that they never gave up; that even though they had to do all aspects of a tournament from handing out the checks and setting up the golf course and making the rulings, really, somebody asked me during the filming of the documentary, what do you think motivated them to keep at it, and I think it was two things, probably the love of the game that they had at the time, and they really were like a family.Â And they cared about one another and so they were in this together to make it succeed.
So I'm thankful that they preceded me and gave all of us that are sitting here on this second row, the opportunity to play and compete at something that we love to do. Obviously we were rewarded a lot more financially than they ever were.Â So I just am honored and thankful to be here today.
THE MODERATOR:Â What does it say to have the top five players committed to being spokes women to grow the game?Â In how good of hands is the current game in terms of growing it?
NANCY LOPEZ:Â It's important for every player, not just the five ladies that are ambassadors to promote the game and help the young generation care about the LPGA Tour.
As I watched the trailer that they showed me about‑‑ I was crying, of course I'm a cry baby, but only cry when it means something.Â But I think that this story should have been told a long time ago.Â It's a shame that it has not been‑‑ these ladies and the founders that were alive before so many times together and there should have been something done at that time.
Because for them to do what they did for us, and we were even further down the road, I'm very grateful to them, because they did love the game; because I stopped and thought, I would have done that if I would have been in their shoes at that time.Â I hope that I would have, because I love golf that much.
But I think that it's important for all our players to always give back and not be selfish, and not think it's just all about them; but to always know that there's no reason for anyone to have a golf tournament for us, really.
If they really stop and think about it, all these people work all year long to put together an event for them when these ladies had to putt an event on for themselves; and to sign autographs and give back 100 percent and be good to the sponsors and be good to the press; it's their place to do that.Â It's a job and it's a great job‑‑ and I say job, because it's really more of a fun job, I know that it was for me.
All of our players need to always do that and I look at the players up here who I totally respect because they were great ambassadors for the LPGA Tour and what they did, and the competition and the way they were on the golf course, they were all professional whether they won or loss, they always acted like true women, and true competitors, and I'm very proud to be a part of the LPGA.
THE MODERATOR:Â Â Renee, what was your initial reaction when you got the phone call that you would be honored as a founder and pioneer of the LPGA, what was your reaction?
RENEE POWELL:Â It was something that was very, very special.Â I didn't see it coming, and very pleased to be a part of this.Â I think I was very fortunate to know 11 of the 13 founders and first new about the LPGA when I was 12 years old.Â Didn't realize that there was such a thing as lady professional golfers.Â First met Marilynn Smith back in the 1950s before some people were probably born but back in the late 1950s, so to be, to, have met Marilynn then and Shirley later on; but to have met her then and now to be sitting on stage with her to be a part of all this, to be recognized as one of those who fell in line behind them, because they were so amazing and we owe them all such a great deal of thanks, because that's the reason we are all able to putt LPGA behind our name.
And you know, so often, people think that they acquire and do things on their own, but every one of us stands on the shoulders of those who came before us, and those 13 ladies; and we are very, very fortunate to be in the presence of two right now.
So when I received that call, I was very surprised.Â I was very much in awe.Â You don't think of yourself as a pioneer.Â You just do.Â And especially if you love the game of golf and if you have a passion for it, you do what you do, and you try to make everything better.Â These women definitely tried to make it better, and they loved it and we are all so much better for it.Â So it was indeed something that was very special and I'm very happy to be here and like to just really thank Marilynn and Shirley both for all that you have done and also Marlene and Louise and the other ladies that are probably all looking down on us and cheering this tour on.
THE MODERATOR:Â Â Kathy just the other day at breakfast we were speaking about junior Solheim Cup, and you were captain this past summer.Â Let's talk about the Junior and amateur ranks that you have obviously been able to see firsthand and just the talent pool that will probably hopefully be coming up for American golf, the Americans have been fighting their way back, and to being up on top of the leaderboards into the winner's circle, where do you see the future that's hopefully going to be coming up for USA golf?
KATHY WHITWORTH:Â Well, that's pretty obvious I think because they are everywhere.Â I just finished a junior tournament in Fort Worth that turned into‑‑ has evolved into a really nice event, and Paula Creamer has come through there, Christina Kim, Brittany Lang, so we see a lot of the players coming through that event.
And then to be with the Junior Solheim this last year; but I think it's pretty obvious that junior golf is where our future has always been and there's more and more programs and opportunity for young people to play and thanks to the LPGA and started to over the years and continue to; and opportunity has all been the thing I think for anybody and whether it's golf or whatever it is, and if they just have that opportunity and the chance to see.Â Of course, this is what I've always felt that way about our founders, I was able to meet almost all of them except Babe.
So I came along at a very opportune time to meet these ladies, but always eternally grateful to them because they are the ones that gave me the opportunity.Â For junior golf, though, gosh, the teaching and what they are able to, the access to good instruction and gosh, what they can do now, you think about when I first started and I know with Renee‑‑ and I have to say this.Â When I found out Renee was going to be honored, as well, that is just so great.Â This woman, she truly might not be a founder but in a way she is a founder and she's just‑‑ she paved the way and opened a lot of doors, and we could have been in a world of hurt.Â But we weren't because of Renee and Althea.Â And I have to say I'm just really proud that Renee is here, and we are going to be recognized together tonight.Â So that's a big plus, besides getting to see Marilynn and Shirley.
And I was there, not at the very beginning, but I was close, and I remember some of those meetings we used to have and some of these‑‑ yeah, you know, it got pretty wild.Â The fun part of this, Nancy writing a book, so it's probably going to be X‑Rated, we'll have to, she said her publisher has been having a hard time.
But anyway, the fun part about being a‑‑ I mean, the fun times that we did, but any time we would have a meeting, and these women were the leaders and Marilynn was president when I came on the Tour, and so she was terrific.
Well, they all were terrific to me, and so it was ‑‑ and of course, then to be a member then, you just filled out an application and sent in 25 bucks and you were in.Â They needed warm bodies and I was one of them.
But they were terrific but what I remember about the early meetings, of course, was that eventually everybody, because these were very strong personalities, they had already in their own right had developed their own career, and so when they came together as a group, it was‑‑ you got 13 women that are just, they are all bosses, and they have all had their own career, it was pretty exciting.
But the decisions they made was always for the better of the group and I think that's one ever the reasons it continued to be successful, and everybody was still trying to pull together and make it happen, and I was just really‑‑ I think back on those days, and I can't help but smile every time because it just brings back great memories, and I'm just happy I came along when I did.Â It's great to see where the LPGA is today, and the future looks great, playing all over the world.Â It's just‑‑ and you've got great leadership I think, and it's on its way.Â So it's great fun to watch.
Q.Â Pat, would you guys ever have dreamed of the dynamic of the Tour of what it is today in terms of globe decision, the number of countries represented, all the different backgrounds these girls come from?Â Would you guys ever have dreamed of that?
PAT BRADLEY:Â I know when I joined the Tour, my first trip overseas was back in December 1975 in Melbourne, Australia.Â I had to go to a globe and find out exactly where Australia was.
But yes, it's an amazing journey, and we were all part of our own little journey and to see the game of golf become global, that's probably, you know, what it was, the very least, you know, in our day, we thought global was going from Arizona to California, but it is global and that's the great thing about this game, the parameters are not within a certain, you know, area or dynamic.Â It's throughout the world.
I can only imagine the reception that our players get when they travel overseas; when we used to go to Japan, my first Japanese player that I met and knew and played against was Chako Higuchi and when we would go over there, it was unbelievable.Â She had to eat in a separate dining room because she was such a rock star, and Ayako Okamoto was the same way.
So it is amazing, but I have to tell you, I started this game at 11, and I was an old lady, basically, compared to our young little girls today picking the game up.Â But being a professional golfer and being a part of the LPGA Tour, I have to honestly admit, it was my father's dream; my father was an avid golfer, he wasn't a great golfer.Â He caddied as a youngster with his brothers.
But, my dad knew the Marilynn Smiths, the Patty Bergs, the Babe Zahariases, the Louise Suggs; he knew all those great women and he wanted his daughter to try to aspire to walk the fairways with these great women.
So being a country bumpkin from Massachusetts, our season was about that long, but I went to school down in Miami.Â I went to a junior college, Miami Dade North and then I transferred to Florida International University, graduated.
But the first two pros that I ever met, one was Marilynn Smith, I met her at a barbeque at my coach's home, and I think you were just playing around the corner at Berdine's (ph), and I was just a little freshman college player, didn't know much about anything.
And then Patty Berg came and spoke at a tournament dinner and from that moment on when I met these two great women, I said, you know, I want to, they have made me want to aspire to follow in their footsteps.Â I can't be in their footsteps because you just don't do that; but to follow their footsteps.
And I thank them, because what they did for the game of golf, you know, my father got in it and my father passed it onto me and it became my dream.Â I am very, very fortunate to have had the career that I have had and it's because of these women who really, you know, had the blood, sweat and tears.Â There was not a lot of fanfare or balloons going off or fireworks going off when they did anything, and so I am a very lucky woman to have had the moment I have in the game.Â And of course now I'm watching my nephew do his thing and having a ball watching him.
Q.Â Our big theme the past couple years, what do you see within the next five years, or what do you hope to see in terms of the state of the LPGA, whether it be tournaments, purses, what do you think need to be done or should be done in terms of making it healthier or bigger in terms of exposure?
PATTY SHEEHAN:Â I can't even remember what that question was.
I think that in the next five years, what I would like to see is purses going up dramatically so that we could start to see maybe getting closer to equality with the men's tour.
You know, these ladies are out there working just as hard as the guys do.Â They spend as much time as the guys do out there.Â They spend probably as much money, if not more, trying to get to where they need to get.Â You know, they worked very, very hard and I just don't see that the purses are increasing anywhere near where they should be.
So, that being said, I'm just thrilled to be here.Â I'm thrilled that they would invite me here.Â I always am very in awe of the ladies that started this tour, and the guts and fortitude and passion that they showed in making the LPGA Tour happen.
These are great ladies, and I can't even believe that I did as well as I did in the LPGA Tour and I'm looking up to these ladies and they showed me, you know, wonderful ways to be.Â They showed me how to be a lady and they showed me how to be gracious, and not that I was every single time, but I tried my best.
I want to thank them from the bottom of my heart, because originally, when I was a little kid, and I started playing golf around my house at 3, I never knew there was an LPGA Tour, all I knew was that there was Olympics and so when I was little, I thought I would be an Olympic ski racer, but as I grew older and started getting better at golf, then I paid more attention to the LPGA Tour and learned about these ladies and they truly are an inspiration to me as well as all of these ladies here that are sitting up here.
I'm always just so in awe of the gang that I get to be shoulder to shoulder with.Â So again, thank you, and I'm going to pass this Mike on.
MARILYNN SMITH:Â I'd like to tell a story about Althea Gibson.Â She was the first black American to play on our tour and a great golfer, she didn't start golf until they was about 40.Â As you know, she was a great tennis player and I used to play some golf rounds with her and she was quite a nice person.
But there was a tournament in Texas, I won't mention the name of the city, that would not allow her to go into the clubhouse.Â Lenny Wirtz was our tournament director at the time, and we all decided to move the tournament to a different venue and that's what's always been a class of the LPGA; that you remember, the men, didn't they have something in there, that only Caucasians to play, until 1960‑something.
So we are so thrilled that Althea came and played and Renee and I met her at the tournament; like you say, she was following us, and I happened to say hi to her and we became friends ever since.Â And she's done a remarkable job for the LPGA.Â She's a fantastic person.Â That's the story about Althea.
SHIRLEY SPORK:Â I'd like to comment as an officer and as being president, I think Kathy being president of the LPGA, we had to do‑‑ you two had to do all the financial decisions.Â You had to gain press approval and when we would travel, we had to wine and dine the press when we didn't have much money to wine and dine the press.
And we had‑‑ we'd have a press meeting and hopefully one or two showed up, as we gather a little more money, we could have a little more gifts to give out.Â So we became more known.Â Marilynn Smith and I used to go to radio stations and go to circuses.Â We've gone to baseball‑‑ boxing matches.
MARILYNN SMITH:Â Can I tell a story about the boxing match?Â It's in my book.Â Buy my book and read it.
When Babe passed away in 1956, public relations became very important to keep our tour together, so I would hit golf balls in Major League ballparks like St.Louis, Cincinnati and Washington, D.C. and hit the ball from home plate to center field and get on the mic and ask the people to come out and watch us play.
Well, Shirley and I were going to a boxing match in land over, Maryland and this one fella was just pulverizing the other fella, it was just awful.Â Well, I got squeezy and I couldn't go under the rope if she paid me $1million, but Shirley, she got right through there, crossed through the rope and got the microphone and talked about our tour and you'd better come out and see us play.
We did that all around the country‑‑ we didn't go to boxing matches thank goodness but we did a lot of public relations work to try to get people aware of the golf and how well the girls played.
SHIRLEY SPORK:Â Because we wanted to promote our group, we all contributed.Â We didn't have cell phones and so at the end of the tournament, on Sunday we are getting ready to travel to the next stop.Â We'd have to stop at a pay phone and call AP and Golf World and give them the results of the tournament.Â Someone had to keep the mail in a little box and if you didn't play that week, we took the box to the next tournament and then got your mail.Â It was like the little circus going down the road.
We are very honored to have Kathy Whitworth win 88 golf tournaments.
THE MODERATOR:Â Â Have a great rest of the week and we are all honored to have you here, as well.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports