Sage players fill out the field
Top LPGA golfers put decades into game
All hail the power of the fortysomethings, or late thirtysomethings, on the LPGA Tour.
Here's the story of four older, er, mature golfers preparing for the U.S. Women's Open, July 3-6, at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club.
Jones, 43, has finished sixth or better in the last four tournaments, winning at Augusta, S.C. She ranks fifth in LPGA money this season with $436,905. She has 13 career wins, and nearly $7 million in earnings, and has played her best golf in the past five years.
Juli Inkster, 42 and already in the LPGA Hall of Fame, has some flattering comments:
'Rosie is the best. She has more heart than all of us put together. She doesn't hit it far, but she is a huge grinder. She has been out here 20 years, and it's not easy to stay at the top of your game.'
Jones averaged 236 yards off the tee last year Ñ 150th on tour. Obviously, all parts of her game need to be clicking Ñ and she can't have a sore toe, which bothered her in 2002.
'I've been hitting the ball well, but I've been fighting with my putter a little bit this year,' Jones says. 'I threatened my putter a couple times with another putter. I let another putter ride in the bag for a couple holes but didn't use it. I haven't changed my putter in five, six, seven years.'
Remember when Davies, 39, was the longest hitter by far on the LPGA Tour? She now ranks ninth at 276 yards per drive.
'I'm hitting it as well now as I ever have,' she says. Yet the 20-time winner hasn't won since 2001, and she has only 14 top-10 finishes in the last 46 events. Even so, she's pocketed $181,560 this year.
Equipment has leveled the playing field. 'It hasn't helped me in any way,' she says. 'I hate the 7, 11 and 13 woods. I think they should be banned. It's not the pure sense of the game.
'The game to me is two or three woods, a set of irons and a putter. Equipment is helping players become better than they might be. I'm not on a crusade. I couldn't care less. But go back 10 years and there weren't these clubs helping, and the better ball strikers would come to the front more often.'
She has 34 career wins and, at age 47, plans to play a full schedule this year. She has won $90,443 in 11 events Ñ missing seven cuts. It's a decent take, but nothing compared to Annika Sorenstam, who already has passed $1 million.
Unlike Nancy Lopez, King is still active and playing decent golf. She lost 15 pounds in the offseason through nutrition, weight lifting and Pilates.
'When you're 25, you don't have to do anything,' King says. 'At 47, you have to work your head off to stay the same. And there are more aches and pains. You sleep wrong, and you wake up sore.
'Physically, I can still play. I hit the ball as far as ever,' she says. 'I just don't hit the ball as consistently.'
Pepper, 37, should still be in her prime, but injuries have slowed her in recent years. She had wrist and back problems in 2000. Last year, she underwent shoulder surgery and didn't play until June. Then she played in one event and re-injured the shoulder in the U.S. Women's Open.
The 17-time winner hopes that the karma will be better at Pumpkin Ridge. Pepper tied for 17th with three 70s in last weekend's LPGA event in Ohio, her highest finish of the year. She has won just under $60,000 this season.
'It was a hard year (in 2002), but I actually enjoyed my year off,' she says. 'It wasn't like I got up every day and said, 'Geez, wish I was out on tour.'
'To be welcomed back by the fans like I have been, it's been neat.'