One of the hardest working golf professionals of her time, WGHOF member Jan Stephenson recalls her final few victories on the LPGA Tour before personal loss and a violent mugging led to a premature end to her illustrious career. Jan proudly relates her involvement is starting the LPGA Legends Tour and her participation in the Handa Cup competitions. Among her many accolades, the "call to the hall" in 2019 from Nancy Lopez might be her favorite. Since retiring from the game, she has been quite active with her Crossroads Foundation and her many business ventures. Jan Stephenson concludes her life story, "FORE the Good of the Game."
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"FORE the Good of the Game” is a golf podcast featuring interviews with World Golf Hall of Fame members, winners of major championships and other people of influence in and around the game of golf. Highlighting the positive aspects of the game, we aim to create and provide an engaging and timeless repository of content that listeners can enjoy now and forever. Co-hosted by PGA Tour star Bruce Devlin, our podcast focuses on telling their life stories, in their voices. Join Bruce and Mike Gonzalez “FORE the Good of the Game.”
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Jan started her winning golf career at an early age, winning 6 consecutive State Schoolgirl Championships in her home country of Australia. She was selected to represent her State in the National Women’s Championships when she was 15 and won the Australian Foursomes Championship with Diana Thomas. She won all the trials for the World Team representation, including the State Stroke Play Championship and the State Match Play Championship, but was not chosen to represent the State. The Australian Ladies Golf Union cited that Jan as too young to represent her country, even though she had won the Trials. This was a devastating loss to Jan, but turned out to be the best lesson for her. The Australian Media used this to jump on Jan’s “Band Wagon”. Realizing that she would never be chosen to represent her country, Jan turned professional and joined the Australian LPGA in August of 1973.
She won 5 of the last 10 events including the Australian LPGA Championship and the Ladies Australian Open. Jan joined the US LPGA tour in 1974 and won Rookie of the Year Honors. In 1975 Jan was invited to play in the Inaugural Moroccan Open. Jan won the event and added another National Open title to her resume. During 1976, Commissioner Ray Volpe immediately saw that Jan could be the new “face” of the LPGA. “She has sex appeal and talent. What more could we ask for”, Volpe said. He proceeded to utilize Jan for programs for the new tournaments and promote this “new image” for the LPGA. Jan traveled around the country meeting potential new sponsors and attending press conferences for new events. Jan broke through in 1976 and won in the US. For the next eight years Jan was the “face” of the LPGA for marketing purposes. In 1978, Jan made an instructional video call, “How to Golf” which is still the 3rd largest selling instructional video. In 1978 she teamed up with David Graham to represent Australia in the World Team championships. They won the event and started the popularity of Australian’s in golf. Dunlop, her golf ball sponsor, produced a calendar featuring Jan. A bathtub of golf balls with Jan in the tub, seemingly nude, created huge publicity for Dunlop and golf and is still to this day, something the world identifies with Jan.
In 1981, Jan won the World Ladies Championship in Japan and became the first Australian to win a golf tournament there. Jan went on to win three LPGA Major Championships including the, Peter Jackson (Canadian Open) Classic (1981), The LPGA Championship (1982) and the US Women’s Open (1983).
In 1983, Jan was married and for the next few years she concentrated on her family life more than her golf. It was during this time that she spent a great deal of time with her father-in-law’s company, Landmark Land, learning the golf course design business with Pete and Alice Dye.
In 1985, Jan was invited to participate on the European LPGA tour in the French Open. She won the event and added another National title to her list. At that time she became the first woman to win on Five continents.
Jan teamed up with Greg Norman to win the 1985 Australian Festival of Sport event against, Mark O’Meara and reigning US Open Champion Kathy Baker.
In 1987, Jan was enjoying her best year and was the leading money winner. After winning the previous tournament, she was leading the St. Petersburg Classic by 5 shots with one round to go when a car ran a red stop light crashed into her car. Jan sustained serious head and back injuries as well as breaking her ribs on the left side. She had to sit out most of the year and tried to come back prematurely. This was very bad for her health.
In August, she played an exhibition with Jack Nicklaus. When Jack realized that she was playing with broken ribs, he gave her advice that she credits her comeback. He insisted that she withdraw from competition and let her body heal and just work on short game until there was no pain from the injuries.Â Her parents and caddy took off the next 2 months and she worked on her short game and rehab, ready to return the last three events of the season.
It paid off when she finished second her first event back, the went o n to win the last two LPGA tournaments of the year. The doctors had been telling her that she could not get well until she quit golf and let her injuries heal. “I knew I was playing the best golf of my career when I had been hit and I was forcing a premature return. If it had been anyone other than Jack Nicklaus, I would have ignored them. However, when the greatest player of all time said to rest, now that carried some punch”, said Jan.
Jan went on to finish 1 shot behind in the Pebble Beach Pro Am in November of 1987, which is an event where PGA, Champions Tour and LPGA players compete in the same competition. It was the best finish that an LPGA player ever had, also breaking the Women’s Course record at Pebble Beach.
Jan’s personal life took a toll on her golf career for he next few years. I December her brother-in-law was killed in a car accident, then her father was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
In 1988, Jan was playing very consistently and in the top 10 on the US LPGA money list. She was in contention or within with 3 shots of the lead going into the last round 17 times. However, traveling back to Australia to visit her father on her weeks off left her tired and drained by the last day. Her father, Frank, lost his battle with cancer in December of 1988 and suffered her worst golf year in 1989. Her father had been a large part of her golf career’s success and even caddied for her on the LPGA Tour in 1981 and 1982, including her 2 major championships during that time.
At the beginning of 1990 Jan was ready to overcome her grieving for the loss of her father and return to a full-time schedule. In her first 2 events in 1990 on the LPGA tour, she finished in the to 10. During the week off before the next scheduled event in South Florida, Jan and her husband were guests of the Miami Heat basketball team. While parking the car before the game, Jan was brutally mugged. Her left hand and ring finger were broken in 5 places and her right shoulder was dislocated when she was thrown into the people trying to rescue her. Her husband remained in the car while she was mugged, so Jan filed for divorce shortly after this and set about trying to figure out her future. The damage to her left hand which will never recover has and still is a problem for her golf. She began researching how she was going to play without the use of her left hand grip.
When she went home to her native country of Australia to play in the Inaugural Ladies Masters, she reconnected with friend, a well-respected golf teacher, Gary Edwin. He had success with pros that had experienced physical set-backs and had developed a golf system that emphasized the right side. Jan stayed after the event and learned this new “right sided” method. This was the answer to Jan’s prayers. She had her grips made bigger and put sponges in her glove. It was difficult working with Gary from such a long distance and Jan felt she should try to find a teacher in the United States where the LPGA was based. Jan traveled the country interviewing all the “famous” best teachers in the game. There was not one that believed that with the devastating and debilitating injuries she had sustained from her mugging, that she could return to professional golf.
After struggling with her game, Jan decided to focus on golf course design. She attended courses at the University of Georgia on turf grasses and began work with Dye Designs. In the late 1990’s Jan won a bid to design her first golf course and fashioned the development after her homeland of Australia. The course was called Walkabout Golf Course and the development used Australian names for streets and logos. Even though design was a success Jan missed playing full time and wanted to the give the LPGA one more shot. She called Gary Edwin who was at the British Open and asked if he could return to Australia through the US. He agreed and Jan started her “Right Sided” swing method with Gary. Jan went on to complete the LPGA tour year with 2 second place finishes and well as a playoff loss to Rosie Jones and became the oldest player to earn a spot in the top 30 in the World rankings.
In 2000, along with Jane Blalock, Hollis Stacy and Sally Little, Jan began the LPGA Senior Women’s Tour. They gathered 25 past Champions who donated money to find sponsors. Jan won the first event the, Hy-Vee Classic and Jan has gone on to win many tournaments and was the leading money on the tour. The LPGA would not sanction them as the Official Seniors Tour of the LPGA unless they became an Association. So, it was changed accordingly in 2003 along with a name change to The Legend’s Tour. The Legend’s Tour has grown dramatically with all the names you have known in Women’s Golf. The LPGA Legends Tour remains a bargain for sponsors. Off the course, Jan has gone on to design another golf course in Alabama. She formed a new company, Green tee Systems that includes an irrigation system which utilizes water technology that sanitizes without the use of harmful chemicals. Green Tee Systems and other “green” initiatives such as recycled cart paths, fish farms on the golf course development and grasses that don’t require as much chemical treatments are also being well received. Jan was the first woman “keynote” speaker at the Urban Land Institute’s Annual Convention. Her subject, “The Underestimated Power of the Woman”.