When Jan Stephenson left her world Down Under in 1974 at the age of 22, she not only quickly rose to the upper echelon of the LPGA with her excellent golf game but also quickly turned the LPGA marketing world upside down with her good looks and winsome ways. By 1979, when Bo Derek starred in “10,” Jan Stephenson was an acknowledged 10 both on and off the golf course.
In her brilliant career which started with the Rookie of the Year award, Stephenson earned 16 LPGA victories, including three majors, accompanied by 15 European/Australian/international victories. In addition she won the 1983 JC Penney Mixed Team Classic with Fred Couples and three events on The Legends Tour, the LPGA’s counterpart of the Champions Tour.
Stephenson was honored among GOLF Magazine’s 100 Heroes during the 1988 Centennial of Golf in America celebration; at the LPGA’s 50th Anniversary in 2000, she was recognized as one of the LPGA’s top-50 players and teachers. In retirement, she became the first woman pro to design golf courses, embracing “green” technology in her architecture. She currently represents Razor Golf equipment and the Jan Stephenson Signature Series, has developed her own line of jewelry and clothing, and is now a player in the wine industry. She even participated in Australia’s “Dancing with the Stars” in 2011.
Stephenson has also been active in charity work and has accomplished just about everything she has set her mind to, except getting into the World Golf Hall of Fame, and she is working on that feat now.
Corresponding with her stellar golf achievements, of course, has also been her status as golf’s first sex symbol, a notoriety, Stephenson says, that LPGA commissioner Ray Volpe encouraged to market professional women’s golf. Her long, curly blonde hair, makeup touches, eye-catching apparel, and striking figure made her a PR dream. And made LPGA events great crowd pleasers when she appeared.
Who can forget the Maxfli golf ball bathtub photo of Stephenson posing “au naturel” surrounded by dozens of DDH’s? Or her later poster that displayed her charms and was autographed by Jan, “Play a round with me”? What about the provocative cover of “Sport magazine” in 1977? Or even Stephenson in her revealing nightgown pose for the LPGA’s “Fairway” magazine.
Although few men complained about anything Stephenson did with a golf club or without, she became embroiled in controversy both among her peers and with the role of “sex” in sports. In addition, her personal life took on soap-opera characteristics with a bitter divorce and an insanity defense, all while she was winning her LPGA Championship in 1982.
ESPN has just released an 11-minute documentary that examines her impact on the women’s golf scene, and Jan is writing a tell-all autobiography that will set the record straight in all respects.
As Nancy Lopez stated in a recent interview by Mechelle Voepel for ESPN, “Jan was somebody the crowds loved, and she showed that back to them.”
So, enjoy the following “show” because, as you will soon understand, there’s a lot more to Jan Stephenson than what you can see!
NEGM: What are you doing in the wine industry?
JS: That’s a good question because I’ve had a lot of men ask me that. Apparently, wine making is basically a man’s world, so here I go again, hopefully, breaking another barrier. I have always enjoyed a good glass of wine, but I didn’t realize until I retired from the LPGA Tour how popular wine is among golfers. On the Legends Tour we have what we call The Cellar Club, so, after we play, we break out our favorite bottles of wine for tasting and talking.
I’m from near Hunter Valley in New South Wales which is famous for its white wine, and several of my friends own wineries. I took a course on how to judge wines and was just fascinated by the whole process so I decided to get into the business. I found a winery in Paso Robles, California, a very “in” area, and I found an Australian winemaker from my home town. The perfect combination! It has been really, really fun to learn about and to be involved in all aspects of the production. I’ll even be able to mix my own wines.
My name will be on the labels, using my logo, and I will bottle three fabulous wines: chardonnay, merlot—very Australian—and cabernet sauvignon. I’ll also hit the high end with my unique Jan Stephenson Reserve. The first shipments will be in October to the big distributors and grocery stores.
NEGM: What do you miss most about the LPGA Tour?
JS: I miss the competition, without question. At first, I missed the players like Pat Bradley, Nancy Lopez, and Beth Daniels, who I played against for years. Now, however, that’s why I, and so many of my contemporaries, play in as many of the Legends Tour events as we can. It’s like a reunion about once a month.
NEGM: Who were your closest friends on Tour? Do you still stay in touch?
JS: Cindy Rarick is my closest friend, and we still room together a lot on our golf travels. I talk to Hollis Stacy almost every day. And Dawn Coe Jones. We, and several others, all live in Florida and enjoy getting together to play matches.
NEGM: Favorite courses in the Northeast? Elsewhere?
JS: I loved Wykagyl in New Rochelle, NY, and playing in Boston at Ferncroft and Blue Hills. There’s something about these traditional courses that I find wonderful. Plus it’s always nice to be there in the summer time.
I am an Alister MacKenzie fan so Cypress Point, the Cal Club [San Francisco], and New South Wales GC—all without significant change since their creation—are high on my list.
NEGM: Most important wins?
JS: My most important win was my second Australian Open [1973 & 1977]. My mom was my caddy, and I won in a playoff against Pat Bradley. It was just great to win the Open in my home country, have my mom on the bag, and defeat Pat for the victory.
I will always cherish my three majors: the Canadian Open [Peter Jackson Classic] in 1981, the LPGA Championship in 1982, and the U.S. Women’s Open in 1983. My father caddied for me in the LPGA Championship, and the Open was special because my family was there and the conditions were very trying. The Open was hard for me because the USGA course setup demanded patience, which I don’t have. We suffered through seven-hour rounds, it was so hot [Tulsa, Oklahoma], and the course [Cedar Ridge CC] was so difficult.
Another great win was the Hennessy French Open in 1985.
My first big tournament was the World Ladies in 1973 as an amateur. I finished in the top 10 against the best professionals in the world, the players I had been reading about, but I wondered if I could ever beat them. My victory at the World Ladies in 1981, therefore, was quite the accomplishment because I had won the tournament that had introduced me to the world’s best.
NEGM: The Legends Tour must be a fun mulligan.
JS: Yes, certainly that’s a good way to put it! But, unfortunately, it is almost too late a mulligan for me—I need a Super Senior division—but I have a lot of fun competing against both my old rivals and the 45 year olds.
NEGM: What do you see as the biggest difference between your LPGA Tour and the Tour of today?
JS: Definitely, as competitors, we were all much friendlier. You know, 30 to 40 years ago, when there wasn’t a lot of money in the purses, we had to be much more personable in the pro-ams to keep the major sponsors and corporations happy. The players were also all pretty close, much like a family, and we did many things together off the course. Now it’s more a big business as the players bring along their entourage of managers, swing gurus, agents, and trainers.
NEGM: Dream Foursome of today? Of any time period?
JS: I’d love to play with Clint Eastwood, as I never have, and he has done so much for golf. I think we should be a twosome because, to tell you the truth, throughout my life, I have played with just about everyone else that I have wanted to!
I’d love to play with Ben Hogan again. He could never figure out my golf swing, so I’d like to discuss it with him. I’d obviously love to play with my dad again. I’m a big fan of the Wright brothers. We’ll add Wilbur and Orville to the list. Finally, we’ll make this an outing. I’d choose Ronald Reagan who called me when I won the U.S. Open.
NEGM: What about your golf course design and “green” innovations in their construction?
JS: Australians have always been very conscious of the environment and very “green” way before it became the “in” thing to do. I have made a study of golf course architecture and served as an intern to Pete and Alice Dye for several years. I have also invested a lot of time and money into learning about water purification, aquaculture, and recycled golf paths.
The biggest disappointment in my golf career is that I haven’t had the breakthrough in golf course architecture that I desired. I did design six courses and thought I was off and running—and then the real estate and golf course economy took a plunge, and I was hit hard.
I’m very disappointed in America and the world because they say they want to be “green,” but they really don’t when it comes to spending the extra money, even though the technology would pay for itself over time.
NEGM: You also direct corporate outings and charity events.
JS: Yes, I do take pleasure in that part of my life because I have learned so much over the years about how to get things accomplished. I have always been holding the torch for women, and I do a lot of personal and corporate work for women’s organizations and charities.
I have been very pleased with my “Jan for Juniors,” which is on sound financial footing and encouraging more juniors to succeed at academics and golf. I started Jan Stephenson’s Crossroads Foundation to assist women and children who are at crossroads in their lives but need help in making decisions and implementing them.
The corporate outings and charity events that I do always donate proceeds to local organizations that benefit the less fortunate.
NEGM: Do you have any golf-related superstitions?
JS: No, not at all, except I don’t play #3 golf balls. I never seem to score well with them. So, I’m not superstitious because it’s bad luck!
NEGM: Do you think you can get into the World Golf Hall of Fame?
JS: My chances are getting better and better as people in the know are realizing now that I really do have the credentials. At the time of my retirement, my 15 European/international victories were not recognized, only my 16 LPGA wins, which I think is very unfair. I was really in no-man’s land. I am on the ballot now, and with the change in eligibility rules and with new executive committees, I am hopeful.
NEGM: Do you still get comments about your DDH Maxfli golf ball bathtub scene?
JS: Of course! I still get fan mail like crazy. I think it’s pretty funny I get that much attention over that picture at my age, but it’s still good PR, and I’m still pleased that people remember. In fact, I have had the suggestion to do a new golf ball bathtub photo, this time holding a glass of my new wine.
Visit Jan Stephenson’s website at www.janstephenson.com
Help Jan into the World Golf Hall of Fame at www.janstephenson.com/index.php?page=hall-of-fame
See the ESPN documentary at www.espn.go.com/video/clip?id=11259109WHAT'S YOUR REACTION?