Even at 80, Carner’s Competitive Fire Still There May 17, 2019 | Southern Pines, N.C. By Ron Sirak

JoAnne Carner's second U.S. Senior Women's Open start reminded her once again how much she loves competing. (USGA/Chris Keane)

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The list of accomplishments explains why JoAnne Carner is in the World Golf Hall of Fame: Eight USGA titles in three different championships, to begin with. But there is much more to Carner that makes her a legendary figure. She never stopped loving golf; she never stopped working for the game, and she never stopped competing – even now.

On Friday at the Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club, after the second round of the 2nd U.S. Senior Women’s Open, the 80-year-old Carner, who missed the cut after rounds of 82-85, said that she would stay around for the weekend and may be back next year. The fans who cheered her every step mde it clear they want her back.

“Why not,” Carner said with a twinkle in her eye when asked if she would play in the Senior Women’s Open next year. “I have to think about it, but I had a good practice session yesterday and it’s just so much fun to play. I don’t have the yips and as long as you don’t have the yips you can compete.”

Last year, at Chicago Golf Club, Carner had the honor of striking the first ball in the U.S. Senior Women’s Open, a fitting honor for the woman affectionately known as Big Mama. But Carner was far more than a ceremonial competitor, playing the final five holes one under par to shoot her age – 79 at the time.

By the numbers, her career is impressive: The eight USGA titles include one U.S. Girls’ Junior; two U.S. Women’s Opens and five U.S. Women’s Amateurs, making her the only woman to win all three of those championships. She played on four United States Curtis Cup teams and was recipient of the Bob Jones Award, the USGA’s highest honor.

But not measured by the numbers is her heart and the passion she brings to the golf course every time she plays. Carner attracted fans to the women’s game with her towering tee shots and natural ability. She once said she developed her easy, powerful swing and quick pace of play during night golf in Kirkland, Wash., where she grew up, squeezing in however many holes she could under the moonlight after working in the snack shop.

Carner, who remained an amateur until age 30, still managed to win 43 LPGA tournaments, eighth most in the history of the 69-year-old tour. In 2004, at the age of 65, she made the cut in what was then the Kraft Nabisco Championship (now the ANA Inspiration), making her the oldest player to make the cut in an LPGA event, and she did it in a major no less.

When Carner was asked before the 2018 U.S. Senior Women’s Open what her expectations were for the week, she said, in her typically straightforward manner: “Well, there won’t be a WD next to my name.” Which meant that she would play all the holes she could and not withdraw. Carner always plays all the holes that are available to her, and she always plays to the fullest of her ability.

That week in Chicago, she walked 18 holes for the first time since making that cut 14 years earlier, and despite the fact that she was a smoker, a habit she kicked recently after 56 years. “I had acupuncture treatment,” she said. “If I tried to smoke my ears would hurt,” she said with a silent laugh that lit up her face.

Asked early in the week at Pine Needles if she had been walking, Carner said: “Yup, 50 steps a day from my cart to my ball.” And then she went out and walked two practice rounds and two competitive rounds because that’s what competitors do.

Asked on Friday at Pine Needles what keeps her competing, she said: “You go to the range and you find something and you get excited,” she said. “But an hour and a half practicing for me now is hard on my body. And this is not an easy course to walk. But it is a fin game to play.”

Spoken like a true champion.

Ron Sirak is a Massachusetts-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA digital channels.

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