I remember meeting her later by chance at Pings practice range in Phoenix and thinking, Hmm. Glad I reserved final judgment.
I found that not all of Dotties warmth comes from her competitive fire (for which she has never made any apologies, by the way). Much of it comes from her genuineness, her passion for the game, and her willingness to talk with any fellow golfer. For someone like that, retirement because of injury at the age of 38 must be especially difficult.
Pepper withdrew from the U.S. Womens Open Thursday when the pinched nerve that has been savaging her back and neck started to make her face go numb. Understandably, she held back tears as she left the stage of our national championship.
'Injuries have made a game that was really fun a job,' she said.
If Dottie had ever had a job in the sense that most people use the word, she would have owned the company within a year. She is constitutionally incapable of lack of enthusiasm. As bad as her injuries became, I doubt golf was ever really a job for her.
Pepper grew up in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and joined the LPGA Tour in 1988. She won 17 times, including two Kraft Nabisco Championships (1992, 1999). She won three other times in 1992 and came in second 24 times in her career. She played on six Solheim Cup teams, going so far as to paint her nails red, white and blue. She got the European teams goat so thoroughly that they used her image on a punching bag.
(Solheim Cuppers shouldnt have been surprised. Dottie attended Furman University, where she was a three-time golf All American. She was inducted into Furmans Hall of Fame in 1992. Lest she forget her alma mater, she named one of her dogs Furman. Now, thats dedication.)
Her enthusiasm and near-maniacal drive to win got most of the press, but behind the attitude was a solid game, the kind that makes one endorse the old maxim, It aint braggin if you can back it up. For that reason, any heightened exuberance in the patriotism way was overlooked, or quickly forgotten.
Even though her playing days will soon be over (she will play a handful more events this summer), golf would benefit by having Dottie Pepper around. She plans to seek broadcast opportunities (indeed, she will work the Womens Open this week from a new side of the microphone). Its easy to imagine her as a successful college coach, or as a spokesperson for nationwide programs designed to increase participation. Theres simply too much energy there to let it go to waste, as long as Dottie is willing.
When your body says No, it doesnt matter how big your heart is, said a downhearted Pepper when she made the announcement.
I beg to differ. A heart this big should always be welcome in the world of golf.
COURSE DESIGN POLL: Id love to hear your opinions on these informal rules of thumb in golf course design: 1. If possible, arrange the routing so the players encounter three wind directions in the first four holes; 2. An interesting course has a short par-3, a long par-3, a short par-4 (maybe even drivable for really skilled players), a long par-4 that will have many players looking for a chip-plus-one-putt to make par, a reachable par-5, a par-5 that cannot be reached in two under any circumstances by most players, and twelve other holes as the designer sees fit; 3 Courses that do not have the configuration set forth in No. 2 are still good because [fill in blank].
Send me your impressions at email@example.com, and well discuss them in a column soon. Thanks.