JoAnne “Big Mama” Carner was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame 36 years ago. She hasn’t walked a course since 2004. She was asked yesterday, before the first-ever USGA Senior Women’s Open, if she had hit the gym to prepare. “Do I look like I hit the gym?” she replied.
Carner, 79, took a long, deep drag on her cigarette before teeing off, driving the ball 225 yards. And over the next 18 holes, something remarkable happened.
Carner shot a 1-under on the back nine at Chicago Golf Club to finish a six-over 79, shooting her dang age. She had four birdies along the way, including on the 421-yard par-5 18th.
And she was not impressed.
When asked if she was pleased with the score, Carner shook her head emphatically.
“No, I just hit some atrocious shots,” she said. “Like golf 101.”
“Really, I can shoot this course under par,” she said.
Carner is a national treasure. With 43 wins on the LPGA tour from 1969–1985 (including two majors), “Big Mama” kept playing well into her 60s, and not even only on the Legends Tour—she became the oldest woman to make an LPGA cut in 2004.
She’s an absolute legend among her peers, even those peers a half-century younger. Watch them rave about her in this piece that the Golf Channel aired a couple of years ago.
Carner is nine strokes back of the leader, Elaine Crosby, who is 19 years younger. She’s certainly got some hurdles Crosby doesn’t. Carner found out this week that her trusty wedge was ruled nonconforming, even though she’s used it forever—it’s just been that long since she played in a sanctioned event. And Carner’s group was warned on the ninth hole for slow play. “I normally play fast,” she joked. “I walk slow right now.”
Carner used to have a joke teed up for when people asked her when she’d finally call it quits. “I’ll retire when I shoot my address,” she’d tell them. Her address was 30-30.
Before the tourney started, Carner said her goal was to make the cut so she could play the entire weekend. That’s entirely realistic—the top 50 players plus ties will be on the right side of the cutline. Through 18, Carner is tied for 50th.