RANCHO MIRAGE — JoAnne Carner, LPGA Hall of Fame player, will observe her 46th birthday on April 4, which coincidentally is the day of opening-round play in the $400,000 Nabisco Dinah Shore golf tournament at Mission Hills Country Club.
And, on Sunday, April 7, Carner hopes she has accomplished a first in her career--a victory in the Dinah Shore, one of the major tournaments on the LPGA circuit, and the $55,000 first prize that goes with it.
A winner of 41 tournaments lifetime, Carner said recently that she could not understand why she has not been able to win this tournament.
"I like the Mission Hills golf course and I've retired the trophy when they played that match-play tournament (the Triple Crown) there," Carner said. "But sometimes when I really want to win a certain tournament, I have a tendency to put too much pressure on myself. Then I press too much."
Carner, a two-time U.S. Women's Open champion, has played well on occasion in the Dinah Shore event. She finished a stroke behind winner Kathy Whitworth in 1977. She tied for fourth in 1983.
And, last year, after tying for the lead after three rounds with Pat Bradley and Dale Eggeling, Carner shot 74 and tied for fifth with Sally Little.
"I really didn't play that well all week (last year)," Carner said, "but my putter kept saving me. Then on the last day, it deserted me."
Carner said she wants to be the first LPGA player to win $2 million--Whitworth barely beat her to the $1 million plateau.
"It would mean a lot to me to be the first player out here to win $2 million. It would be nice to be first in something."
Actually, she is withing striking distance, currently with winnings of $1,830,704, counting $41,456 earned in five 1985 events.
The $1.8 million-plus places her 15th on golf's all-time list, men or women. At that amount, she recently supplanted Gary Player for 15th place.
Carner was reminded that she could take home a $1-million bonus if she were to win the Dinah Shore and the $200,000 J&B Scotch Pro-Am at the Desert Inn course in Las Vegas April 18-21.
"I'll tell you something about that bonus," she said. "It's the greatest pressure put on anyone in golf, but it sure would be a nice retirement fund.
Now in her 15th season on the tour, the five-time U.S. Amateur champion says she is over the back problem which plagued her most of last year when she missed nine of the last 10 tournaments.
Still she finished ninth on the money list with $144,900 despite competing in only 18 tournaments. It marked the 11th consecutive year Carner finished ninth or better in money earnings.
She won twice in February of 1984--the Corning tournament and the Elizabeth Arden event--extending the LPGA's longest active string to at least one victory in 12 consecutive seasons. When she won the former, she became the oldest player to win an LPGA event.
Her 41 tour wins ties her for sixth place on the all-time list with Patty Berg, just one behind another Hall of Famer, Sandra Haynie.
Carner went home to Florida last September with her back problems. "Actually, I hurt my back in the very first tournament in 1984. . . . I hit a tree root and hurt a muscle in the small of my back. It's the bottom vertebra which rotates the upper back. Along with muscle spasms, the back would stiffen on me.
"I've got a short backswing anyway and with my back stiffening, well . . . it was ridiculous. When I was able, I practiced a lot last fall and winter and made a few subtle changes in my swing.
"I used to fire and fall back. Now I don't do that. I have more control over my swing and I've eliminated ducking at the bottom of my swing."
When asked about retirement, Carner laughs and says: "I can't retire. I'm still winning. Besides Don (her husband) and I still have to pay for a 42-foot boat we just bought."