Big Momma Keeps on Trucking

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LPGA logo for LeaderboardsSTOCKBRIDGE, Ga. -- JoAnne Carner could have been down in the Bahamas, drinking a beer and reeling in some fish from her beloved boat.
 
Instead, she arrived at the tee on a rainy morning - an umbrella in her right hand, a cigarette in her left - to compete with women young enough to be her daughters. Or her grandchildren.
 
'I get with these kids,' Carner said in that raspy voice of hers, 'and I don't feel my age. I feel closer to their age.'
 
The Hall of Famer turned 65 last month, but she doesn't think about retiring. Not when she's having so much fun.
 
This weekend, Carner broke the record for oldest player to make a cut on the LPGA Tour. The previous mark? Well, that belonged to Carner, too - she made the cut at the first major of the year, the Kraft Nabisco Championship.
 
That makes her 2-for-2 in 2004, a good start to a year in which she hopes to play about 10 times and show all these JoAnne Carner-wannabes a thing or two about staying power.
 
'I'm just absolutely amazed that she's 65,' said 29-year-old Becky Morgan, who played with Carner in the first two rounds of the Chick-fil-A Charity Championship. 'I just hope I'm still able to swing a club when I'm 65, forget about still being out here on tour.'
 
Here's a little perspective. Sunday's winner, Jennifer Rosales, was born in 1978. That year, Carner earned the 22nd and 23rd wins of a career that didn't get going professionally until she was 31.
 
Carner picked up the last of her 44 LPGA Tour victories nearly two decades ago, winning twice in 1985 when she was 46 (one year later, Jack Nicklaus became the oldest Masters winner, also at 46).
 
She is still on the LPGA Tour because there is no senior tour for women. While Carner wants to keep playing, the 64-year-old Nicklaus recently said this probably is his last season of competitive golf.
 
For 18 years, Carner was the oldest player to win on the women's tour, but Beth Daniel claimed that title by about 2 1/2 months with a victory at the Canadian Women's Open in July.
 
Carner has little chance of recapturing the record - she finished last among the 90 players making the cut at the Atlanta-area tournament - but she has every intention of putting the cut record out of reach.
 
'Beth Daniel wiped out my record for being the oldest winner,' Carner said. 'This is my consolation.'
 
Carner stays fit with a routine that definitely puts her at odds with health-conscious players who munch on Powerbars and turn the workout trailer into a second home.
 
While waiting to tee off Sunday, the other members of Carner's threesome - Tonya Gill and Kelly Robbins - chipped and putted on the practice green right up until their names were called.
 
Carner, meanwhile, squeezed in another cigarette, chatted with her caddie and glanced up a few times at the threatening skies. Then it was time to play.
 
'I don't get tired or anything,' she said. 'Well, I do huff and puff up some of these hills. Atlanta's always a killer.'
 
Carner, who first played on the LPGA Tour as an amateur in 1962, looked as though she was about done a year ago. For the first time in her career, she failed to make a cut. After seven tournaments, she called it a year, disgusted with herself for shooting an 84 at Kingsmill.
 
'My caddie asked me if I wanted to go to the practice range,' Carner recalled. 'I said, 'What for? To work on everything?' So I went back, bought a pack of cigarettes and quit for the year. I didn't have the faintest idea what I was doing wrong.'
 
Eventually, she discovered a flaw in the way she was holding her right arm on the downswing. Retirement could wait. It was time to go back to the course.
 
Carner still has the same smooth swing, just a bit slower. The ball doesn't go quite as far, but she can hold her own with a wedge. Most important, she still has confidence in her putter.
 
'I never had the yips,' she said. 'Even when I three-putt, it never bothers me.'
 
Carner has committed to play three of the next four weeks, and she also plans to tee it up at the LPGA Championship in June. She briefly considered trying to make the U.S. Women's Open for the first time since 1997, but she wasn't interested in going through a 36-hole qualifier to get into a tournament that she won twice in the 1970s.
 
Besides, she'll probably be in the Caribbean by then - fishing, snorkeling and acting a little closer to her age.
 
'I try to do all my playing early, so I can go fishing in the summer,' she said. 'I always take the boat over to the Bahamas two or three times in the summer. That makes it comfortable for me.'
 
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