MIAMI — As she enters her 17th year on the LPGA Tour, JoAnne Carner is striving for perfection.
Not that Carner, a winner of 42 tournaments who this year can become the first woman golfer to pass the $2 million mark in career earnings, expects to achieve it. It's just that she has found striving for perfection is the only way to be the best.
"You have to want to win," said Carner, who has won the Vare Trophy for the lowest stroke average five times. "And if you want to win, you stay in there and practice totally different. What I try to do is chip every ball in the hole. You're not going to do it every time, but that's the attitude you have to have.
"I won't let myself out of the bunker until I hole one out," she said. "I do that with everything I do and a lot of times I have to stand there longer than I want, but I stay sharp and constant."
Carner, known as "Big Momma" on the tour, has been consistent. She has won at least one tournament every year since 1974, an LPGA record. She has won less than $100,000 only once since 1976, and that year (1979) she won more than $98,000.
She was the tour's leading money-winner three times, and last year won two tournaments and $141,941.
"I think the main (reason for the consistency) is the fact that I have paced myself more so than most people," she said. "Most people when they take two or three weeks off, they go hit golf balls every day or play every day.
"But not me. And I do get nervous. I don't know how well I'm going to play. But I need the break."
Carner, 46, joined the tour as a 30-year-old rookie in 1970. Since then, she has won $1,931,189, and is just over $68,000 away from topping the $2 million mark, which she wanted to do last year.
"That's really what I'm striving for," Carner said of the $2 million in earnings. "I strived for it last year, but I was sort of up and down on my game and I didn't play well most of the year. It was a goal of mine last year. As it now stands, Pat Bradley ($1,794,197) is closing in, but I plan to get there ahead of her."
Carner was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame last November, and made it into the LPGA Hall of Fame in 1982 by winning the World Championship of Women's Golf in suburban Cleveland for her 35th career win.
"I would have to say my 35th win at the World Championship in Cleveland where I finally made it into the LPGA Hall of Fame," was the highlight of her career, Carner said. "I kept choking and blowing tournaments trying to get in. It's so hard to get in our Hall of Fame and I did it the way I wanted to do it, win a world championship by a couple of shots. It was perfect."
Since she joined the tour, the prize money has grown tremendously, enough so that Nancy Lopez earned more than $400,000 last year alone. Carner, who earned $14,000 in her first year on the tour, sometimes still has trouble relating to the increased money.
"I remember 1974 when I had the opportunity to be the first woman to win $100,000 and the pressure got to me and I collapsed," she said. "Now of course, Nancy won well over $400,000. It's hard to relate to then and now."
Carner said she has had to make adjustments in her game as the courses and players improve. One thing that has stayed constant is her attitude on the course.
"I think I've kept a little humor out there with most of the players," she said. "I laugh at myself as much as everybody else ... It's also telling someone who has blown a first-place finish or money that I have done the same thing and am willing to admit it.
"I try to be nice to everybody else. I don't know why, but I've always been that way."
After going over the $2 million mark, will there be anything else left for Carner to accomplish?
"I've never won the LPGA championship . . . and I'd really like to win one more Open," said Carner, who has two U.S. Open titles. "I've played well in several, finished second several times, but I've never been able to break the ice and win that third one."
Carner, who suffers from tendinitis in both forearms, said she sometimes thinks about retirement and has cut her schedule a little, but said she will keep playing as long as she keeps winning.
"I cut back on my schedule," she said. "I'd like to enjoy the money I've earned and relax. But I realize you have to play about 20 events (per year) to stay on top of your game.
"I'm just going to play it by ear," Carner said of retirement. "What happens is I always win a tournament every year. As long as I can still take on the kids, I'll be out there playing."