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JANE GEDDES : Late Start Helps Her

March 05, 1987|SHAV GLICK | Times Staff Writer

Jane Geddes is the United States Women's Open golf champion, the winner of last week's Women's Kemper tournament in Hawaii and the leading money winner on the LPGA Tour this year with $77,175 in four tournaments.

It doesn't figure.

Geddes, an athletic-appearing freckle-faced blonde, never swung a golf club until she was 17. In 1978, in her first year at the University of North Carolina Charlotte, her scoring average was 89 strokes.

At age 26, she won the Women's Open. It was her first tournament victory, other than a couple of mini-tour events on the East Coast when she was preparing to join the LPGA. Many of the women she defeated had played more years as juniors and amateurs than Geddes had played in total.

"Perhaps it worked to my advantage, to have played so little," Geddes said after arriving from Hawaii to start play today in the $250,000 GNA/Glendale Federal tournament in Glendale. "A lot of the girls had great success as amateurs and some suffered burnout, and others had terrible letdowns when they didn't set the world on fire when they turned professional. I didn't have any of those hang-ups."

After Geddes defeated veteran Sally Little in an 18-hole playoff for the Open championship at the difficult NCR course in Dayton, Ohio, someone suggested that with so little experience she might suffer the same fate as two recent champions--Kathy Baker in 1985 and Janet Anderson in 1982--and never win another tournament.

"I was drained, having to play an extra day at Dayton, but when I went to Boston for the next tournament, that fact stuck in my mind," Geddes said. "I was determined to win just to prove my point, right away."

Geddes birdied the final two holes for a 68 to beat rookie Deb Richard for the Boston Five championship.

"I was so exhausted that I didn't even play a practice round. On Sunday, before I teed off, I told some friends I'd like to post a 70 on the scoreboard, sit in the clubhouse and take what it gave me.

"Getting that second win, though, completely turned my career around. It was such a boost for my confidence. Winning any tournament makes you feel like you can do anything you want, but winning the Open and then coming right back the next week and winning again was almost too much."

Until she was 16, Geddes lived in Huntington, N.Y., where her athletic talent was limited to playground sports. The break that turned her to golf came when her father was transferred to South Carolina and he purchased a home alongside the Kings Grant Country Club course in Summerville, near Charleston.

"I wanted to be a tennis player, but everyone my age was already playing on the national level," Geddes recalled. "I felt like I was too old to be competitive, so I was looking around for something to do when my folks suggested I try golf. My parents didn't play, but we lived on the course, so it was easy to take lessons and practice.

"Beth Daniel lived in Charleston, and she won the U.S. Amateur that year and there was a lot about women's golf in the paper, so it seemed interesting."

Geddes was a senior in high school at that time, and in the fall she enrolled at UNC Charlotte.

"They had a small golf program and I played some, but my scoring average was 89. That summer, though, I went home and worked with (pro) Derek Hardy at the Country Club of Charlotte. I got good enough to transfer to Florida State as a walk-on.

"I dropped my average from 89 to 75 and made the team. They were starting to build and had two other girls, Barbara Bunkowsky and Lisa Young, who are on the tour."

In 1981, Geddes' senior year, Florida State won the AIAW (now the NCAA) championship and its No. 3 player began to think a little about becoming a professional.

"I couldn't decide whether to try golf or stay in school and graduate. I had gone for four years, but I had one semester to go for a degree. I decided to try the mini-tour and see how I did. When I won three tournaments, I knew I was going to Houston for the qualifying school."

In the 72-hole qualifier, she made it easily, joining Juli Inkster, Kathy Baker, Mary Beth Zimmerman, Cathy Hanlon and Denise Strebig as rookies. All but Geddes had been junior phenomenons. Baker had won a national junior championship, Hanlon and Strebig the Southern California title, and Inkster was a three-time U.S. Amateur champion.

"Compared to most of the players out there, I guess I'm still sort of a rookie," Geddes said, smiling. "But I don't feel like it now. Every success I've had has been like a new rung on the ladder. I'm fortunate that I've never had the ups and downs that hit most players. Everything's been up so far, but now, if I have a down period, I think I'm mature enough to handle it."

Slumps, of course, are an inevitable fact of life for athletes, but Geddes has yet to meet one.

After winning two tournaments and $221,255--fifth best--last year, she started this season by finishing second in her third tournament and winning her fourth, the Women's Kemper. She was 12 shots under par for 72 holes.

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