Jan Stephenson Relieved to Earn World Golf Hall of Fame Entry
By Lisa D. Mickey
LPGA veteran player and Legends Tour co-founding member Jan Stephenson admits she is relieved to be earning entry into the World Golf Hall of Fame this June.
Stephenson will be inducted in a ceremony coinciding with the U.S. Open Championship in California at Pebble Beach Golf Links in mid-June along with the late Peggy Kirk Bell, Retief Goosen, Billy Payne and Dennis Walters.
“I got passed over a few times and I was starting to think it was never going to happen,” said Stephenson, a Sydney, Australia native and current resident of Tampa, Fla. “But I’m really excited and I think I will appreciate this and truly savor it more now than if I had gotten it five to 10 years ago.”
Stephenson was an accomplished amateur in Australia, winning eight titles before turning pro and launching her LPGA career in 1974 – earning top rookie honors that season. She went on to record 32 professional wins worldwide, including 16 LPGA Tour titles, with three major championships at the 1981 du Maurier Classic, the 1982 LPGA Championship and the 1983 U.S. Women’s Open.
She helped found the Women’s Senior Golf Tour in 2000, which became The Legends Tour, where she has won six tournaments and posted 23 top-10 finishes. She has also played eight times on the World Team in The Legends Tour’s Handa Cup competition.
Stephenson became eligible for World Golf Hall of Fame induction when a change to qualifying criteria more broadly considered nominees’ worldwide wins, impact and merits during respective eras.
“I was ahead of my time because I won a lot overseas, but for many years, those international wins weren’t recognized, which made it tough,” she noted. “It’s nice to finally get in on the merit side once they changed the rules.”
The Australian bought a golf course two years ago in Palm Harbor, Fla., and she now owns and operates Jan Stephenson’s Tarpon Woods. She offers special programs and instruction for disabled military veterans and first responders, as well as for blind golfers at her course. Last October, she hosted 50 blind golfers from ages 14-80 for National Blind Golf Day.
“It’s a lot of work, but it’s very rewarding,” said Stephenson, who has also been involved in golf course design.
A member of The Legends Tour’s Hall of Fame since 2013 and a member of the Sport Australia Hall of Fame since 1985, Stephenson’s interests are diverse. She has a wine brand and owns a rum distillery. An image influencer on the LPGA in the 1980s when she embraced sex appeal to attract interest in the women’s tour, the Australian has never been shy to try new things and take new steps – including her 2011 appearance as a contestant in Australia’s “Dancing With The Stars” television show.
“I’ve had like three careers and three lives,” said Stephenson, who was honored with the Order of Australia Medal in 2018 for her contributions to the game of golf.
Stephenson credits both her parents and Hall of Famer Ben Hogan as influences in her golf career. Her father “worked the night shift just so he could take me to play golf before and after school,” she said. And Hogan provided a steady influence early in her career while she lived part of the year in Fort Worth, Texas – also Hogan’s home city.
“He would try to give me a lesson, but I was like, ‘Can’t I just watch you hit balls?’” said Stephenson, who initially played with Ben Hogan clubs and, during her off-season, would visit the factory where the clubs were made to try to learn more about their technical merits.
Stephenson is as committed to seeing The Legends Tour grow as she was nearly 20 years ago when she and a group of veteran LPGA players pooled their resources and brainstormed about how to make competition available to players after leaving the LPGA Tour.
“The LPGA Tour has become so young in recent years, so The Legends Tour has allowed veteran players to continue their careers after competing full time as LPGA Tour members,” she added. “We’re all older now and we don’t compete as much as we once did, but many of the names that built the LPGA Tour are here and people still want to see the stars they know.”
Stephenson added that she feels “really lucky” that her LPGA career tenure allowed her to play with such Hall of Famers as Patty Berg and Mickey Wright, to Donna Caponi, JoAnne Carner and Kathy Whitworth, and later with Nancy Lopez, Patty Sheehan and Beth Daniel and finally with Annika Sorenstam, Lorena Ochoa and fellow Australian Karrie Webb.
“I feel so fortunate that I was able to play for so long and with so many fantastic golfers,” she added. “Karrie Webb is probably the greatest Australian golfer who ever played, so it’s really nice to know that our country has been so well represented.”
Stephenson will make a public appearance at the Seattle Golf Show Feb. 16-17, at CenturyLink Field Event Center. She will discuss her Hall of Fame induction, as well as her return to the Pacific Northwest to compete in the Suquamish Clearwater Legends Cup presented by The Boeing Company. That Seattle-area event is set for June 5-8, at White Horse Golf Club in Kingston, Wash., one day before her Hall of Fame induction dinner in Pebble Beach.
While she currently spends a lot of time orchestrating and playing in charity events, Stephenson jumps at the chance to compete in Legends Tour events each season and is looking forward to the Legends Tour’s Washington tournament.
“There’s still nothing like competition,” she said. “Sometimes I just can’t wait to play.”