My Shot: Carol Mann

Carol Mann

Carol Mann, photographed July 22, 2006,

Ben Van Hook

October 2006
Going to great heights with a Hall of Famer on funny shots, bizarre people and fan mail from prison.

Age 65 • The Woodlands, Texas

You say I'm 6-foot-3. I say I'm 5-foot-15. Either way, until Long Jim Barnes was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame, I was the tallest person, man or woman, in the hall.

One thing about being tall and a woman: I get a lot of stares from little kids in the supermarket. Johnny Kerr, the old NBA great, told me his approach was to tell kids he was a jockey for a dinosaur. I figured out my own answer. You know how most houses have a growth chart in the form of a giant ruler that measures in inches? Well, I like to ask children how tall they are, and when they answer something like, "34 inches," I tell them, "Well, I'm 75 inches tall." That just blows their little minds.

Early in my career, the agate results of the tournaments I played were posted on the bulletin board in the locker room at the Baltimore Country Club, where my dad was a member. The results were posted under a headline that read, "Rip Mann's Daughter." After I won the U.S. Women's Open, my dad walked into the locker room one day to see his buddies had posted the results of his performance in the B flight of a club tournament under the grand heading, "Carol Mann's Father."

The greatest shot of my life? That's easy. At the 1965 U.S. Women's Open in Atlantic City, I came to the 16th hole with a one-stroke lead. The 16th is a shortish par 4 with trouble everywhere—a marshy area on the right with a water-filled ditch running through it, with out-of-bounds a bit farther to the right. The ditch then ran across the fairway in front of the green. Now, I had a bad cold that week, and a doctor had given me cold medicine laced with codeine. I don't know if it was the codeine or what, but on Saturday night I had the worst nightmare of my life: I was on that 16th hole with the lead and pumped ball after ball out-of-bounds. Just awful. Later that day, there I was on that 16th hole with a one-stroke lead, woozy from antihistamines, adrenaline pouring through me, my heart pounding something terrible. I felt exactly like I was in that dream. I was almost paralyzed, I was so scared. I chose a 3-wood, and sure enough, I hit a big push-slice toward that ditch. My ball stopped on the slope on the opposite side of the ditch, directly in front of a big pitch mark and three feet from the O.B. stakes. After that, I laid up, made a 20-footer for par, parred the 17th, then birdied the 18th and ended up winning the Open by two. That tee shot—a big push-slice that just missed going out-of-bounds and left me with no shot to the green—was the best of my career.

I was sitting with Bob Murphy in an airport one day, and mention of somebody's divorce came up. He said a little sadly, "Carol, I graduated from tour school with 29 other guys, and all of us wound up getting married. Of the 30, only two of us are married to the same woman." The divorce rate on the PGA Tour is very high, and I bring it up only to throw in that marriages on the LPGA Tour are maybe even more complicated. The fellow has to be subservient to his wife's career but strong at the same time. It's a tough combination for both parties.

We were in a foreign country playing in a tournament once, and it was an important event for the LPGA. A lot rode on it for us in terms of future events because the sponsor wanted to do business in that country. As part of the event, we got to meet the leader of the country. The players spent a lot of time with him. One night, a young player phoned me, very upset. Somebody had knocked on her door and handed her a gift, a very expensive ring, from this guy. She wanted nothing to do with him, but she was terrified that if she sent it back, it could jeopardize the LPGA. "What should I do?" she asked. My reply was simple: "What do you want to do?" She replied, "I want nothing to do with this guy." I said, "There's your answer. You have to act on it." And she did: She sent the ring back. Things turned out fine, but that's a hell of a place to be in, isn't it? Imagine any men's event where a huge deal hinged on whether a player took a romantic offer from a person of importance. That's the sort of problem only the LPGA had to deal with.

In 1973, a few months before I became LPGA president, I spoke with the USGA's executive director, P.J. Boatwright, about increasing prize money for the 1974 Women's Open. In trying to explain the difficulty of raising the purse, P.J. told me some things he probably shouldn't have. Among them was the fact that ABC, the network covering the men's U.S. Open, offered the USGA additional money if it didn't have to televise the Women's Open and the men's U.S. Amateur. The network told the USGA those two championships were money-losers. When I passed that information along to the other players, a group of dissidents formed, and they became very vocal. Several threatened to boycott the '74 Women's Open, and I believed there was a strong possibility that if a dissident decided to play and won, she would use the championship as a platform to embarrass the USGA. At that point we just couldn't afford any bad publicity.

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