And now the end is here, and so JoAnne Carner faces the final curtain.
The 83-year-old shot her age for the fifth time at the U.S. Senior Women's Open Friday at NCR Country Club. But after missing the cut, the 43-time LPGA winner announced that this would indeed be her swan song.
"I never say goodbye," she said, "but goodbye!"
Why isn't she giving it another run?
"It was too hard work this year trying to get my game in shape," she said after back-to-back 10-over 83s.
Arguably the greatest women's player in USGA history, Carner has high standards for herself and wanted to go out on a higher note — even though most would say shooting your age two days in a row isn't too shabby.
Full-field scores from the U.S. Senior Women’s Open
"I wrapped (these two days) up, but I didn't wrap them in a good enough package," she said. "I just fought it all day, and I couldn't hit the shot when I wanted. Just simple shots."
Carner might not have been fully pleased with her play, but she was – mostly – appreciative of the support she received this week.
"I get a lot of people talking to me as I play," she said, "even the players all congratulate me. I'm not very enthusiastic about it because I shot 83. But it's nice to hear from them."
Carner is one of five people to win three different USGA events, sitting alongside Tiger Woods, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Carol Semple Thompson.
The first of her eight USGA championship titles (the second most all-time) came at the U.S. Girls’ Junior in 1956. She followed that by winning the U.S. Women’s Amateur in 1957, ’60, ’62, ’66 and ’68. Then Big Mama, twice, added the crown jewel — the U.S. Women's Open, in 1971 and '76.
The U.S. Senior Women's Open wasn't introduced until 2018. Though Carner became the oldest ever to play a USGA championship last year, she also might be the only person to have won four USGA titles if the tournament was contested earlier in her life.
"I waited for the Senior Open forever," she said. "I had a chance to set the record for USGA wins, and for 20 years they had the men's senior but never the women's, so I missed out on 20 years of play."
However, even without that feat, nobody can doubt Carner's profound impact on the sport.
"JoAnne has always been one of my favorites," Hall of Famer Laura Davies said. "Just the generosity. She's just a unique of — a lot of the girls out here will give tips, but JoAnne is a genius in the short game area of her game, and she likes to spread that knowledge on."
Now at the end, how would Carner sum up her career?
"Sum it up? Have you got an hour? I've had a fantastic career," she said. "Starting public links golf, daughter of a carpenter and a housewife, and used to hunt golf balls to pay for golf and take the neighbor kids to the movies and whatnot.
"Then from there, you start taking a club to knock the weeds down to hunt the golf balls, and from there, we could play at this little nine-hole public golf course after the paying customers, so I learned to play moonlight golf with two of my sisters played at that time when I was young, and then the neighbor boys.
"From there, just progressed."
Blossoming into one of the greatest ever.
And she did it her way.