Jan Stephenson is a former LPGA Tour champion. She doesn’t want anyone to ever forget that.
Stephenson also was a groundbreaker for a sport that had historically been dominated by men. It was in 1981, ’82 and ’83 when she won consecutive majors that catapulted her career.
More than 30 years later, Stephenson’s touched down here in Greenwood, promoting the Women’s Health Classic, a Symetra Tour event that will be held at The Links at Stoney Point May 9-14.
The tourney’s promotion, led by Stoney Point owner and chairman Jim Medford, consisted of a Master Chef cooking competition and a wine tasting, featuring some of Stephenson’s wines among many other things.
But one of the more important people in all of this remains Stephenson, who was a pioneer for women’s golf and is proud of the heights the sport has reached, considering where it started.
“It’s now more of a big business for the younger players,” Stephenson said. “It’s great. They’re making more money, we didn’t make much back then. And it’s opportunities for them to be true athletes, and is certainly more accepted for women to be a professional athlete. We were still struggling with something new to be a professional athlete and have something new.”
But as known as Stephenson was on the course, she was known just as much off it.
Stephenson was the first player to introduce “sex appeal” into a sport that was considered prim and proper.
For example, there was the infamous bathtub photo with only golf balls covering her body that many deemed too controversial and objectified the woman body.
But Stephenson rejects that rhetoric, saying she has no regrets and was creating a brand just like any male athlete would, while also adding that she has the license to do as she chooses with her body.
“I kind of started it,” Stephenson said. “… (It shows) that you don’t have to look like what was considered the old image. … It’s kind of silly to hear (the negative opinions). My dad used to always say, ‘You want to look like a woman and play like a man.’ Why should you try to downgrade yourself? You should try to look as best as you can.”
Stephenson added that there is a double standard in sports that exist with men in sports, because men are able to display their bodies but aren’t demonized the same as women.
And for her, it’s frustrating at times that her golf play isn’t equally talked about.
“(What I wore) always seems to be the focus,” Stephenson said. “They talk about not what I’ve won. I worked really hard.”
Some might be able to see her point. Coupled with her three LPGA major championships, Stephenson compiled 26 professional wins and was the LPGA Tour Rookie of the Year 1974, giving her the clout to mentor some of the younger women once the tournament tees off in Greenwood come May.
Her message to the younger generation of girls competing in the games will be centered on them looking at the large picture outside of golf, something many — aside from her — didn’t see as a possibility when she was competing.
“Our goal now at the Symetra is (to teach) women in golf (that they) need to learn to play golf for business,” Stephenson said. “ …Even if they don’t make it on the (LPGA) Tour, they really need to understand how important golf is, because when they do get out in the business world, they will realize how important it is to be a good golfer.”
Stephenson, along with golf veteran Cindy Rarick and golfing legend Nancy Lopez, will be competing in the Legends Pro-Am during the week of the Women’s Health Classic.