Catching Up With ... Janet Anderson

1982 Women’s Open champion now head professional at city-owned Aguila G.C. in Greater Phoenix

By David Shefter, USGA
February 14, 2012

Even though Janet Anderson (left) is the head pro at Aguila G.C. in suburban Phoenix, the 1982 Women's Open champion relishes the few opportunities she gets to teach the game. (Steven Gibbons/USGA)

Laveen, Ariz. – It’s a little before 9 a.m. on a crisp early December day when Janet Anderson arrives at Aguila Golf Course in the southwestern outskirts of Phoenix.

Although the sun has been up for more than an hour, the parking lot is mostly empty. Overnight rain coupled with a bleak forecast have created a series of tee time cancellations.

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Anderson, 55, the only head professional Aguila Golf Course has had since the Gary Panks-designed municipal layout opened in 1999, has plenty of items on her agenda.

The Phoenix City Team Championship, a 72-hole competition played over two weekends on four city-owned courses, is scheduled to start at Aguila the following morning, and it’s weighing heavily on Anderson’s mind. She reviews pro shop protocol with Lisa Bourgeois and Henry Federico, two of her nine part-time employees. Fresh range balls have arrived and will be available for the competitors. Clocks need to be calibrated and properly positioned to help players reach the first tee on time.

As the head pro, Anderson will also be required to be at the first tee to introduce each participant. There was once a time when it was Anderson being introduced to the masses, but that was in another life.

Today, customers know Janet Anderson as the head professional, not the 1982 U.S. Women’s Open champion. In fact, there are virtually no reminders at the golf course of her remarkable accomplishment 30 years ago at Del Paso Country Club in Sacramento, Calif.

The only memento is a small plaque hanging inside her cramped office. It’s a question-and-answer story by Arizona Republic golf writer John Davis a few years ago about Anderson’s only triumph during a 20-year LPGA Tour career.

“Every once in awhile somebody brings it up,” said Anderson, who still has a signed flag from that Women’s Open as well as the gold medal. “It’s in my past. I live my life here now and I am very happy.”

The title might say head professional, but Anderson really is a general manager. Virtually her entire job centers on the business of the golf course, which averages 60,000 rounds a year. Rarely does she find time to give a lesson or play.

Some days Anderson might be working the cash register. On other days, she could be riding the range-ball picker or doing maintenance work. On this particular day, Anderson needed to repair some electrical cords for the golf carts.

Back in the office, where a signed Ben Roethlisberger photo from Super Bowl XL hangs just to the right of her computer, Anderson plows through dozens of receipts. One of her core responsibilities is handling point-of-sale transactions – tee-time and product revenue – for all eight of Phoenix’s municipal golf courses, including Aguila and its adjacent par-3 layout.

While she talks with a visitor, a regular arrives for his weekly game. “Where’s Glenn at?” Anderson asks. “He’s always the last one here,” comes the quick reply.

Most of the course’s clientele are retirees, but Aguila Golf Course, which is part of sprawling Cesar Chavez Park and shares its name with a local high school, caters to a mix of golfers. Anderson said it’s not uncommon to see a Lexus parked next to a Pinto, or golfers in blue jeans and a t-shirt pulling their hand carts.

“We’re a public golf course,” she affirmed. “We don’t really have a dress code.”

In a way, Aguila Golf Course has brought Anderson back to her blue-collar roots. She grew up 40 miles north of Pittsburgh in West Sunbury, Pa., where her father, Francis, worked for Armco Steel. Francis Anderson was an outstanding athlete in his own right, good enough to earn a tryout from the Pittsburgh Pirates. Francis turned down the offer, choosing family over possible major-league stardom.

He eventually gravitated to golf when he could no longer play baseball at a competitive level, joining the middle-class Armco Country Club. Janet, the younger of two sisters, followed both of her parents to the golf course and quickly fell in love with the game. But she rarely competed outside the confines of the club. Her high school didn’t have a golf team for boys or girls.

She later attended Slippery Rock Teachers College in West Sunbury and played on the men’s team. Anderson had aspirations of becoming a teacher until she first served as a substitute. When she witnessed the rowdy students and chaotic atmosphere, her career goals immediately changed.

At that time, she had struck up a personal and professional relationship with Armco C.C. golf professional Chuck Alex. He saw potential in Janet and in 1977 she dropped out of Slippery Rock after 2½ years to focus on her game. She advanced to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Women’s Amateur that summer, losing to Nancy Hager Hammer, 3 and 2. Ironically, the champion that year was Beth Daniel, who would be one of the principals of that 1982 Women’s Open.

Anderson eventually married Alex and successfully navigated LPGA Tour Qualifying School that fall. Just prior to the final round of Q-School, Anderson’s father was being prepped for bypass surgery, but her mother purposely waited for her to complete the tournament before calling her daughter to avoid any distractions. The surgery was a success.

“I went home and everything was great,” Anderson recalled. “When I talked to him the day before, he was being shaved for the operation. I just never knew.”

Anderson’s first couple of years on the LPGA Tour were uneventful, but she began showing promise in 1981 when she tied for second at the Columbia Savings LPGA Classic and earned $66,663 for the year.

In 1982, she carded a final-round 67 at the Mazda LPGA Championship, providing a glimpse of what would happen later that summer in California.

As the U.S. Women’s Open approached, Anderson hardly was considered a favorite. JoAnne Gunderson Carner was gunning for a ninth overall USGA title, which would tie her with Bob Jones for the most all-time. Certainly, Nancy Lopez, Daniel, Donna White and Sandra Haynie were also considered favorites. Carner and White had claimed Women’s Amateur titles on the Del Paso C.C. layout, Daniel was a two-time Women’s Amateur champion and Haynie had claimed the 1974 Women’s Open title.

But Anderson felt comfortable as the championship approached. “I was hitting the driver superbly,” she said.

b_SecondInsideJanetAnderson1982WomensOpen 
Janet Anderson's finale-round 68 gave her a six-stroke win at the 1982 U.S. Women's Open. (Joann Dost/USGA) 

She opened with a 2-under-par 70, one shot behind leader Carner. She followed with rounds of 73-72 to stay in touch with the leaders. Daniel, who carded three consecutive 71s to start the championship, held the lead at 3-under 213, one ahead of Carner, who struggled to a 75 in Round 3, and two in front of the surprising Anderson.

That night, Anderson called her husband back in Florida, but by that time, her marriage had begun unraveling. Alex astonished her by telling her she had no chance of winning.

Anderson was able to channel the anger at the lack of support in the final round. She went back to her book and fell asleep.

Sunday began like any other for Anderson, although she admitted to waking up a bit earlier than normal. She read for a bit before heading to the course, where she enjoyed tea inside the clubhouse with Carner.

“I loved that clubhouse,” said Anderson. “The stained glass windows. It was really beautiful.”

Though the focus was on the final pairing of Carner and Daniel, Anderson was nervous on the first tee. She was paired with easy-going Carole Jo Callison, who helped keep Anderson relaxed. “She was such a hoot. She was so funny. She had like five pieces of bubble gum in her mouth and blowing bubbles. She was a good pairing for me.”

It also helped that Anderson knocked her wedge approach to the first hole within 10 feet for an opening birdie. She would birdie the third hole as well.

By the turn, Anderson was in the hunt, but hadn’t glanced at a scoreboard.

On the 10th tee, she hit a perfect drive when a catcall came from the gallery: “Well, you certainly got away with that one!” 

At the time, Anderson had an unorthodox backswing that featured a loop at the top. It wasn’t textbook, but it worked for her, and she was finding plenty of fairways and greens during the final round.

“I wouldn’t say anything was spectacular, but she knew how to get herself around the golf course,” said Barbara Romack, the 1954 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion who grew up at Del Paso C.C. and was in attendance that week. “She was pretty steady … [and] she was hitting the ball quite well and very solidly.”

Meanwhile, Carner and Daniel were struggling one group back.

Daniel had started with a pair of birdies, but on the par-5 eighth green, she called a penalty on herself when her ball moved after she addressed it. The resulting bogey-6 started her freefall and strokes started slipping away. At the par-5 13th, Daniel pushed her second shot under a silverberry tree, which led to another bogey. Carner three-putted the 13th green to fall out of contention, and when Anderson birdied the challenging 15th hole, the competition was all but over.

Even Romack thought the championship had been decided at that point, and she headed back to the clubhouse to see the finish.

At the 18th tee, someone informed Anderson she had a five-shot lead. She was stunned at what she was hearing.

“My hands were shaking so bad,” said Anderson. “I took the club back and actually made contact with one hand. [The shot] was fine. It was right down the middle. That’s all I needed. I knew I could make 6 from there and still win. It was a great feeling.”

Anderson carded a final-round 68, the best score of the week on the 6,342-yard layout. Only one other player (Lopez) bettered 70 that day. Anderson won by six strokes and was the only golfer to finish in red figures, carding a 5-under 283 to earn the first-place check of $27,315.

When she called her husband later that night, “He told me he knew I could do it,” said Anderson.

Incredibly, Anderson would never win another tournament.

Oh, there would be close calls. She tied for second the following year in Orlando and tied for third twice in 1984. In all, she would post 52 top-10 finishes, but the Women’s Open was her only victory.

“It’s kind of amazing [she didn’t win again],” said good friend and fellow LPGA Tour alum Shelley Hamlin, who posted three victories during her career, but no majors. Hamlin also played on two USA Curtis Cup Teams (1968 and ’70). “She did have a unique swing. It [required] a lot of timing. [Chuck Alex] could bring out the best in her. But shortly after that [Women’s Open win], they got divorced and it took her to 1984 when she finally went to [another] teacher.”

Anderson’s personal life certainly had an effect on her game. Her nearly five-year marriage to Chuck Alex ended in 1983. She also regrets how she handled the ensuing weeks following her Women’s Open victory. She took one week off to celebrate with family back in Pittsburgh, but was back on tour the next week in Denver.

Suddenly, there were more demands on her time for pro-ams and media events. In hindsight, she would have taken a three-week hiatus from the game to recharge.

“It’s something you need to come to terms with and organize your life,” said Anderson. “I didn’t do that well.”

Anderson made it work financially until 1998, when injuries and lack of desire to continue led her to retire. Her last Women’s Open appearance, the final year of her 10-year exemption, had come in 1992 when she missed the cut at Oakmont Country Club in her western Pennsylvania backyard.

By then, Anderson had relocated to Phoenix and she was ready for the next phase of her life.

From Tour To Teacher To Shop Manager 

Anderson had no idea where her life was headed after retiring from the LPGA Tour in 1998. Then the phone rang with a job offer. Would she be interested in working with juniors on a part-time basis at Cave Creek Golf Course, a municipal course in Phoenix? Seeking a new challenge, Anderson accepted. Before long she was giving 15 lessons a week and working part-time in the pro shop.

Within a few months, the Cave Creek head professional position opened up. The job was the only full-time position at any of the city-owned courses. But the city was also set to open its newest facility, Aguila Golf Course, which piqued Anderson’s interest. It’s not often one gets to start from scratch at a facility.

By June of 1999, Anderson was entrenched at Aguila, but as she quickly discovered, the job required much more business acumen than golf skill. Anderson saw her lessons drop off significantly and currently she averages about one a week.

Of course, she was required to work weekends, something she was accustomed to as a touring professional. The only difference was that now she was guaranteed a check every two weeks instead of having to play her way into a payday.

“Now I am working five, six days a week and eight to 10 hours a day,” said Anderson, who manages the nine part-timers as well as a full-time maintenance staff. “We’re a year-round facility, so I rarely get a vacation.

“I [miss] certain aspects [of the LPGA Tour]. I miss the people. I made some good friends through private housing and pro-ams. I miss the camaraderie of the players. I don’t miss waking up in the morning and going, ‘Oh my gosh, what’s going to happen today?’ I’ve just missed five cuts in a row by one shot and I am not getting a paycheck. I don’t miss the preparation, the stomach aches and all of that.”

Anderson still keeps in contact with a few players. She competes once a year in a Legends event in Boston, where she reunites with golfers such as Hamlin, Hollis Stacy and Carner.

Hamlin, who lives near Aguila, occasionally pops by for a quick lesson from Anderson. Both players subscribe to the philosophy of legendary instructor Manuel de la Torre. Both migrated to de la Torre’s teaching through former LPGA Tour player Pam Barnett.

“He really keeps things simple,” said Hamlin.  “With him, it’s all about the club.”

Most of today’s swing instructors focus on how the body reacts during the swing, while de la Torre believes an effective swing is derived from the movement of the golf club.

Anderson uses this philosophy whenever she works with players, whether they are experienced pros or mid- to high-handicappers like Roseanne Wishner. Wishner first came to Anderson 10 years ago following a mastectomy. Her husband, Terry, who happens to be one of Anderson’s part-time employees, recommended she take lessons from a female instructor. One session with Anderson was all she needed.

“She is easy to get along with,” said Wishner, a recent retiree. “She doesn’t take anything too seriously. And as far as being an instructor, she’s able to spot little things and is able to articulate them, which I think is probably the most important thing. I have taken lessons from some other people and they can’t articulate; it’s hard for [the message] to sink in.”

When Wishner started with Anderson, her goal was to break 90 and the two made a friendly wager. Wishner would buy Anderson a bottle of Scotch if she could reach her goal.

When she first started taking lessons from Anderson, Wishner had no idea of her teacher’s background. She didn’t know she had played on the LPGA Tour, let alone won the Women’s Open.

Anderson doesn’t go out of her way to publicize the triumph. If someone brings up the topic, she’ll acknowledge it and move on.

There are just too many other things going on her life now to dwell on the past. She takes care of four cats, three of which came from the golf course (another cat, Mr. B, lives at the course), and she tends a garden that produces zucchini, tomatoes, eggplant, lettuce and onions. When she wants to remove herself completely from the scene, she goes fly fishing, but commitments have limited such excursions in recent years. “Those fish don’t yell at you,” she said. “It’s very peaceful.”

Every month, Anderson adroitly handles a men’s club event at Aguila, where players come from all the city courses to participate. She works with the superintendent to ensure that the course is properly set up. It’s all part of running a golf course.

“I still have my hand in tournaments,” said Anderson, who competed in more than 400 events over her 20-year pro career. “It’s just in preparing them instead of playing in them. It gives me a good point of view on that, too, because I know what I want from a tournament.”

David Shefter is a senior staff writer/content manager for the USGA. E-mail him at dshefter@usga.org. 

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