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Rock Music and Sand Traps : Young Golfer Polishes Her Game in a World of Her Own

July 10, 1986|GARY KLEIN | Times Staff Writer

Jennifer Steiner likes to block out the world when she works on her golf game at the Palos Verdes Country Club.

When she practices--sometimes for eight hours a day--Steiner's headphones are as instrumental to her workout as her putter. She spends hours hunched over putts and chip shots of various degrees of difficulty while the music carries her away.

"This game is all mental," Steiner said. "You have to be in your own world. So when I practice, I don't listen to hard rock. That would throw off my concentration."

Dire Straits

Steiner likes to work out accompanied by the music of the rock group Dire Straits--an appropriate choice, since that is the condition that fledgling members of the Ladies Professional Golf Assn. are often thrown into when they begin to play the tour.

Steiner, 22, decided to turn professional in June after she won the L. A. City women's championship at Rancho Park Golf Course. It was the second time in three years that Steiner had captured the amateur title--a feat achieved by just two other golfers, one of whom was Laura Baugh in 1970 and '72.

The LPGA tour is where Steiner is hoping to land after playing this summer on the Women's Professional Golf mini-tour in California and the Futures tour in Florida. The WPG tour begins next week with the McCullough Pro-Am Tournament at the Sierra View Country Club in Roseville.

"These mini-tours are great for experience," said Tom Anton, Steiner's coach. "There is a huge transition from playing for a trophy and playing for money. When you're standing over a four-foot putt, you're thinking about the difference between eating a hamburger and eating a steak."

Steiner's long-range goal is to win enough money on the LPGA tour so that she doesn't have to worry about where her next meal is coming from.

Major Challenge Ahead

The quest begins in August when Steiner enters a sectional qualifying tournament in Wichita, Kan. She will be trying to secure a spot in the LPGA Regional qualifying school Oct. 14-17 at Sweetwater Country Club in Houston. If she makes it to the school, she will battle 150 other women for the 20 to 30 spots that become open every year on the LPGA tour.

"The LPGA school is a lot of pressure," Steiner said. "If you can handle it, you get through. If not, it's try again next year."

Steiner was confident before the L. A. City championship and she is even more confident now.

She has been working for the last year with Anton, a teaching professional at Woodley Lakes Golf Course in Van Nuys. Anton, 30, has played professionally in tournaments all over the world.

Goal: Creativity

"We talk about course management," Anton said. "I'm just trying to whack her on the side of head and get her to be creative. It's how you play this game that can be fun."

It certainly didn't start out that way for Steiner. A professional golfer was the last thing she aspired to be as a 13-year-old growing up on Long Island. Steiner, whose three brothers caddied at the local country club, was more interested in basketball, lacrosse and track and field than in lugging a bag of woods and irons around the golf course.

"My dad got me started," Steiner said. "He dragged me out there and I hated it. I didn't like golf because I wasn't good at it."

A year later, she was on her way to her first tournament in California.

Steiner, who moved to California at 17 and competed for Palos Verdes High and UCLA, played as an amateur in the U. S. Open last summer at Baltusrol Golf Course in Springfield, N. J. She shot rounds of 84 and 77 and missed the cut, but came away with valuable experience and her first exposure to tour players.

She Met the Champ

"JoAnne Carner came walking into the locker room and she asked me, 'Do I look as terrible as I feel?' " Steiner said. "I walked out of the place and wanted to say, 'Did anyone see that? She was talking to me.' "

They were also talking about her when she finished the L. A. City Championship with a birdie, bogie, birdie and eagle. Steiner was reinforcing her decision to turn professional after the tournament with each succeeding stroke.

"I've always wanted to be in the Hall of Fame in Pinehurst," said Steiner, who consistently drives the ball 230 yards down the fairway. "I went there once and it took me three hours to get through everything."

It sometimes takes considerably longer to get on the tour, much less into the Hall of Fame, for Steiner and other young golfers taking a whack at professional golf.

"This isn't like a Mary Lou Retton who is going to reach her peak in her teens," Anton said. "She's not going to reach her peak until her late 20s or early 30s. Most golfers aren't the superstar successes until their late 30s."

Plenty of Worries

Said Steiner: "The big thing is dealing with everything else besides the game. Being out on your own, taking care of yourself, making sure you're earning enough to cover your expenses."

A player on the LPGA tour can expect to shell out between $25,000 and $35,000 in expenses if she wants to play a full schedule. The payoffs for winning a tournament have been growing steadily the past few years and Steiner figures it's worth the struggle.

"The 7 o'clock tee times I can do without," Steiner said. "But there's no feeling like playing well for an extended period.

"There aren't many people who get a chance to do what they like best and make a living at it."

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