Kettering, Ohio | Goodbyes are hard, especially when you know it’s the end of an era; When the page is forever turned; When farewell is an example of a living legend. The legacy of eighty-three-year-old JoAnne Carner has stood the test of time, as should the 43-time LPGA Tour winner and 8-time USGA resume champion. And while the Hall of Famer may not be as well known as contemporary LPGA Tour players today, she still draws a small crowd at the US Women’s Open—her only project in competitive golf these days—as fans watch with interest, in awe of the length Big Mama is old and grateful to see a glimpse into the past, up close and personal.
But after four years playing the Senior Women’s Open and four years after chasing an elusive story, Karner says it’s time to ditch the competition, this time for good.
“I keep thinking I’m going to cut, and that was the goal all along,” the two-time US Open champion said on Wednesday. “So I keep working on my game. I think that’s it at last. It’s just hard work trying to start the whole game. I’ve let it go really bad.”
However, bad is a relative term, especially in golf. Karner started the week at the NCR Country Club in Kettering, Ohio by shooting her life, a 10-plus tour that was highlighted by a birdie in the par-3 15th. She then did the same in the second round, shooting another 83, the fifth time she had shot her life at the Women’s Open. This is far from terrible by anyone’s standards. But “Great Gundy” still expects more from its game, no matter how much golf fans and the rest of its peers like it.
“A lot of people talk to me while I play, and even the players all congratulate me,” Karner said. “I’m not very excited about it because I shot an 83. But it’s good to hear from them.”
Honestly, no one in the field really cares what you’re going to launch this week. They were just happy that she was playing, with so many players and codes going up in amazement to introduce themselves and pay their respects. We shared a few stories about how Karner made them laugh, gave them swinging advice that changed their game forever, or helped them feel welcome on the LPGA Tour while others stood in amazement and admiration, enjoying every moment they had in Karner’s aura.
But what has been more evident than anything else is the true love this group of women have for this mother and the appreciation they have for everything she has given the game over the years.
“We were in Oakmont for the Open Championship, our first two players, and she’s right there on this horrific lie, and I said, ‘You didn’t hit her there, did you? “She’s a unique person, and I told her I was very fortunate to have played in her time because she was really great,” says Helen Alfredson, the 2019 US Open Women’s Champion.
Ten-time Grand Prix champion Annika Sørenstam is still rumored that Karner kept competing and wonders if she, too, would defy father’s time and turn 83.
“Whenever I hear about JoAnne, it makes me laugh. She’s just such a fun person and her own personality. She’s done so much for the game,” Sorenstam said. “I think it’s amazing that she’s here. I think it’s great for the game, and it just shows off the longevity of the game that she has but also her passion. I’m not sure what I’m going to do at 83, but to be there playing the US Open I think it’s great.”
Ms. Laura Davis defeated Karner and Ayako Okamoto at the 1987 US Women’s Open to win her first LPGA Tour title, but she remembers getting some short game advice from Big Mama not long after that victory during her first event as a rookie on the tour.
“I remember in Florida in my first tournament when I went on the tour the following year, I was just in the dugout and Joa Ann was swerving, and she gave me some advice. For me that was the best thing ever, someone less than two years before I beat her in a playoff and she had Time for me and Trish Johnson that were there,” Davies said. “For me, JoAnne has always been one of my favourites. A lot of girls here will give tips, but JoAnne is a genius in the short field of her game, and she loves spreading that knowledge. For me as a newbie that year, that was a great thing.”
Karner herself isn’t sentimental, and that was the case on Friday as she sat in the flash zone for one last post-tour interview. She has no interest in going back as a starter and hasn’t been sad about playing her last competitive 18 holes. There were no words of wisdom to leave behind or regret the missed opportunities, although she would have liked to see an open women’s tournament for seniors played soon.
In true JoAnne fashion, it was just the candid truth, a scathing review of the current state of her game mixed with a bit of pride for what she had managed to achieve on the golf course, even her lackluster 83s.
“(I am proud of) it all,” Karner said when asked to think about her career. “But right now at my age, I guess. Shoot my age, which is horrible. I do better than that at home. It’s been really hard work this year trying to improve my game. But I wouldn’t let it go that bad at first. .
“I enjoyed everything about her, even a bad game of golf. I mean, I was trying just like in the old days, it just wasn’t really there. But friendships and everything, it’s great.”
For the next step, Karner is looking forward to playing some golf with her older sister, Helen, who at 91 has been walking every hole JoAnne played this week in Dayton. For now, there’s a strong brew and some career thought in one.
Karner claims she didn’t say goodbye, and who knows? Perhaps you will finally find “the hatch” and be back next year in Portland. But don’t bet on it. It really is the end of an era, the chapter is over, the last penetrating hit.
Nothing more than a salute to you, Big Mama. Thanks for everything.