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Founders honoree Haynie connects LPGA generations

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She ached to win.

In Sandra Haynie’s case, that’s not a figure of speech.

Haynie’s compulsion to win burned so savagely it almost ate a hole in her stomach in her prime, back when she dug greatness out of the dirt with such unrelenting passion her body couldn’t take it anymore. She ate baby food to soothe an ulcer, but when she couldn’t find anything to ease the growing pain in her left hand she walked away from the tour. At 34, she left unable to feel the last two fingers of that hand. She left chasing greatness so hard that her fingers weren’t all she numbed with her uncompromising drive. She left in 1977 unable to enjoy the chase anymore. She walked away with 39 LPGA titles having proven herself beating Mickey Wright, Kathy Whitworth, Joanne Carner and all the greats of that era, but she also left looking for a peace that her passion to win would never accommodate.

In her four years away from the tour, Haynie didn’t just fix her hand with a surgery. She fixed her heart and mind in a new pursuit. She found the peace she was looking for helping another player deal with the demons that chasing greatness creates. She found it as a mental coach and manager, helping Martina Navratilova develop as a tennis champion.

That experience would also lead Haynie back to the LPGA to forge a more satisfying ending to her career.

Haynie returned to the tour in 1981, this time determined to enjoy what was left of her journey as a professional golfer. She came back and won the Henredon Classic that year. In 1982, she won the Rochester International and then a week later claimed a major championship as her 42nd and final LPGA title, winning the du Maurier Classic as her fourth major.

The LPGA is celebrating this Hall of Famer’s remarkable career this week at the JTBC Founders Cup.

Haynie, Shirley Englehorn and Jan Stephenson are this year’s tournament honorees.

“It’s going to be a special week,” Haynie said. “I tell you, though, it’s making me realize how much time has passed.”

Haynie, 72, remains active in the game, teaching in Dallas, where she lives. She still plays Legends Tour events once in awhile and also follows the LPGA closely. She is Ilhee Lee’s swing coach. Haynie says she makes it to about four LPGA tournaments a year to work with Lee, but she doesn’t mingle much with players. She’s looking forward to doing so this week.

Founders Cup festivities will bring back a lot of memories for Haynie, and the chance to share how she discovered joy in the game late in her career.

“I had been my own worst enemy, in a way, the first part of my career,” Haynie said. “I was putting so much pressure on myself, internalizing things. It was all about trying to be the best I could be. I think I played with a love of the game, but not with a joy of the game.”

Haynie said when she returned she was able to enjoy the game in a way she hadn’t before. She took time to see a bigger picture, to relish the tour experience and atmosphere.

“I was in a completely different place,” Haynie said. “I was really able to embrace things, doing something again that was such a huge part of my life. I wasn’t fighting being extra nervous in the morning. I wasn’t feeling excessive pressure. That was all self-induced, and when I came back, I played with a different perspective. I had a good time.”

While Haynie has met some of today’s LPGA pros in her time with Lee, she isn’t recognized by the youngest players, many of whom know little about the breadth and scope of Haynie’s success.

“My goodness, could Sandra putt,” Englehorn said.

The Founders Cup gives today’s players a chance to pick the brains of Haynie, Englehorn and Stephenson.

“I’ve met some of the players out there on tour today, but we don’t necessarily get to have much dialogue,” Haynie said. “This week will give me a chance to meet more players, to visit with them and talk about things. I look forward to that.

“Personally, I wish we had more opportunities like this for players from the past, who helped the LPGA through hard times to better times. There’s an awful lot of history that is being ... I don’t want to say lost, but put aside, and this week gives us an opportunity to share some of those things.”

Haynie has a lot of history to share because her career spanned so many generations of great women players. As a teen phenom growing up in Fort Worth, Texas, Haynie was invited to play nine holes with Babe Zaharias, one of the LPGA’s 13 founders. At 15, Haynie played in her first LPGA event. At 17, she turned pro and joined the LPGA, and at 19 she broke through in spectacular fashion to win for the first time. She beat Mickey Wright in a head-to-head final-round duel, claiming the Civitan Open in Austin, Texas.

“That was a great moment,” Haynie said. “To win your first one, that’s special, and to beat Mickey, made it even more so. I so admired her and loved playing with her.  I always learned something playing with her. That will always be one of my highlights.”

What was Wright like?

“She was so kind, so gentle, so immensely talented,” Haynie said. “I wish she had played a little longer, but she did everything she wanted to accomplish. It was wonderful to watch her and to be a part of it.”

When Haynie rejoined the tour, she competed against another great generation, against Amy Alcott, Nancy Lopez, Pat Bradley and Patty Sheehan.

“To feel like your game was good enough to hold up against some incredible players, that’s nice to look back on,” Haynie said.

And nice to share those memories with yet another generation.