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Published: Saturday, 8/7/2004

Carner's first title came in Toledo

BY DONALD EMMONS
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

The 65-year-old Hall of Fame golfer was a highly skilled teen who claimed the 1956 USGA Junior Girls championship at Heather Downs Country Club.

It was the first of many triumphs for one of the most successful and revered players in LPGA history.

"That was back in 1956 and I can still remember," she said moments after walking off the 18th green at Highland Meadows Golf Club yesterday afternoon after completing the second round of the Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic.

Carner missed the Farr cut, shooting a 75 yesterday to finish at 11-over 153 for two rounds. The oldest player entered in this year's Farr wasn't particularly satisfied with how her day went.

Although her second round was three strokes better than her first, Carner cited too many mistakes.

"I've been fighting my swing," she said. "I was not swinging well and never did find it. I didn't play well at all."

It doesn't matter that the golfer known as "Big Momma" is nearing her fifth decade playing professionally and her skills with the driver and putter are not as good as they used to be. It doesn't matter that her best days are behind her and she's playing during an era in which the overall competition is as deep and as talented as it has ever been.

The LPGA Tour and World Golf Hall of Fame member remains her own toughest critic and expects nothing less than to play up to her capabilities. Her competitive drive is what has brought her back to the tour this season after quitting midway through the 2003 season because she wasn't pleased with her play.

"Normally I can find it and get something going," she said. "I just fought the swing today and I started making some changes the last nine or 10 holes.

"I finally realized what I was doing. It was a major flaw. It was something I can work on."

Carner is one of the winningest golfers of all time. She produced the kind of amateur success that would rival Tiger Woods' amateur career.

She is the only golfer to ever win the USGA Girls Junior, U.S. Women's Amateur and U.S. Women's Open titles. She collected five U.S. Women's Amateur titles by the time she joined the LPGA Tour in 1970. She has won 43 LPGA Tour championships and has earned more than $2 million over her career.

But her last two tour victories were during the 1985 season - the Elizabeth Arden Classic and the SAFECO Classic at age 46. At the time she became the oldest player to win a tour event.

Carner continues to play because she still enjoys the game. It has always been her passion. Playing on tour with the likes of present stars like Se Ri Pak, Annika Sorenstam and Karrie Webb, she understands it's a new day and time.

"It's so much more stronger competition than in my past," she said. "It's really just tremendous."

Age and injuries have played a role in Carner not playing well. She played only seven tournaments last year before she decided enough was enough.

"Last year I quit," she said. "I was swinging so bad and I had no idea what I was doing. I was doing too many things wrong, so I just quit.

"I just got to where too many thoughts were in my head. I was swinging bad, scoring bad and had no idea of what was the basic problem."

The time away served Carner well. She realized she wasn't ready to retire, returned this season with a fresh outlook and has already played in as many tournaments as she did last year.

The difference this season for Big Momma is she doesn't allow a poor round to completely bring her down.

"This year it's been hot and cold," she said. "I think I'll have to find myself a new putter."

Contact Donald Emmons at:

demmons@theblade.com

or 419-724-6302.



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