Hall of Famer Amy Alcott won 29 LPGA tour events, including five majors,… (Michael Robinson Chavez…)
According to varying opinions, guided by one's level of cynicism, Amy Alcott either created a landmark branding moment for the women's golf tour, or a silly cliche.
It was back in 1988, when she decided, moments after sinking her final putt on the 72nd hole of the Dinah Shore Classic she had won, that she would take a celebratory dive into a greenside pond. That was 24 years ago. The tournament is now called the Kraft Nabisco, it is still an LPGA major, it will begin at Missions Hills Country Club on Thursday for the 41st year, and the Amy Alcott pond jump is still a big deal.
So is Alcott.
She is 56 and started easing off the tour in the late 1990s. But she does not let grass grow under her feet. Monday morning, standing alongside the pond that may have made her as famous as her golf shots did, she grimaced and bemoaned the fact that she had withdrawn just Sunday from playing in this week's tournament. As a three-time winner of the event, she has a lifetime exemption, and a quick conversation with her left the impression that she might use it into her 90s.
"I'm not sure I did the right thing, withdrawing," she said. "I love to play so much, and I can still play, you know. I wonder if I could still get back in . . ."
She lives in Pacific Palisades, belongs to Riviera and Bel-Air country clubs, still plays a lot and once shot a 68 from the white tees at Riviera. That shouldn't be a surprise for somebody in the LPGA Hall of Fame, who has five major titles and 29 total wins on the LPGA Tour. The only surprise might be that she didn't blossom from country club stock.
"My parents didn't play golf," she said. "I grew up watching it on TV and pushing a golf ball around the lawn into empty soup cans."
She joined the tour in 1975 and was able to qualify in her first season for the Dinah Shore.
"To actually be here, to play here when I was 19 years old," she said, "was unbelievable."
It took her eight years to win the event, and five more to win it again. It was the victory in '88 that triggered the tradition that, like it or not, has made its way into sports lore alongside the Indy 500 winner's drinking milk and football coaches' getting Gatorade poured on their heads.
"I didn't know what I was starting," Alcott said. "It was totally unplanned, a moment of exuberance.
"I looked at my caddie, Bill Kurre, and said, 'Bill, we're going in the water.' He knew me, knew how I loved a show, so he was ready. I grabbed his hand and in we went."
Newspaper photographers and local television caught the moment and had the sense to go with it. A key to judging news is seeing something different. This certainly was. It was a "SportsCenter" moment before "SportsCenter" took complete ownership of such things.
But the Pond Jump didn't have real legs, so to speak, until 1991.
"Dinah Shore and I had become good friends, and it was the year my mother had passed away," Alcott said. "She kept telling me I could win the tournament again. And she said if I did, she'd go into the pond with me this time."
Alcott's 1988 leap had not been copied by the winners who followed her the next two years, Julie Inkster and Betsy King. Shore hoped to keep the tradition alive, and Alcott, walking toward the 18th green with a huge lead on that last Sunday in 1991, her thoughts on her mother, knew she was about to get wet again.
"I could see Dinah, at the back of the green," Alcott said, "and she was wearing black pants. She never wore black pants, always white. As I got closer, she kept edging forward. She said to me, 'Don't go in without me.'"
With the celebrity of Shore involved — she died just three years later, five days shy of her 78th birthday — the really big splash for women's golf had been achieved. And it goes on, usually with positive boosts for the LPGA Tour.
Annika Sorenstam has celebrated with cannonballs. Lorena Ochoa gathered her family and hauled them in. Some have gotten away with a quick toe dip. Dottie Pepper won twice and came down with a serious ear infection after one leap. Last year's winner, Stacy Lewis, dragged her mother along and her mother injured her leg on entry. Tour star Yani Tseng won two years ago and said she was more apprehensive about making the leap than making her putts.
With Alcott, it is just another activity to keep her close to the game she loves. She recently was part of a victory by the Gil Hanse design team, of which she is a part, that won the rights to design the Olympic golf course for the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro. The Hanse team beat out the design teams of Jack Nicklaus-Sorenstam and Greg Norman-Ochoa.
Outspoken as ever, Alcott said, "The male-female team was my idea and I think Jack and Greg used my idea. I need to be careful about telling my ideas."
Alcott said she ended her part of the Hanse team presentation before the International Olympic Committee with a quote from Steve Jobs: "Design is not how something looks or feels, but how it works."
To some, the winner's leap into Poppie's Pond on Sunday at the Kraft Nabisco is starting to look and feel old, but as far as Alcott is concerned, it still works.
"I tell all the players to show emotion," she said. "The public loves that."