The ANA Inspiration will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year.
The LPGA couldn’t offer up a more posthumous honor to Dinah Shore’s memory than to recognize every winner of “her” event as a major champion.
The tour couldn’t acknowledge the importance of “The Dinah's” history more dramatically than to retroactively crown the winners of the first 11 events as major champions.
It would be a testament to the impact Shore immediately made on the women’s game.
“It was probably a major from its first day,” said LPGA Hall of Famer Donna Caponi, who like so many in the game will miss watching the ANA Inspiration this week with its postponement. “It was such an important event right from the start.”
The ANA got its start in 1972 as the Colgate-Dinah Shore Winner’s Circle, but it wasn’t designated as a major until 1983.
“It really bugs me that they don’t go back and retroactively make it a major,” Caponi said. “It’s something they really ought to consider. They did it with Augusta National, and it really doesn’t make sense to me that they don’t do it for 'The Dinah.'”
Caponi won the Colgate-Dinah Shore Winner’s Circle in 1980.
The game’s veterans still call it “The Dinah,” in honor of Shore, who teamed with Colgate president David Foster to almost immediately make it a rival to the U.S. Women’s Open as the most important event a female player could win.
“I wanted to win it more than the U.S. Women’s Open,” said Marlene Hagge, one of the LPGA’s 13 founders.
Hagge wasn’t alone feeling that way. She said Mickey Wright coveted the title as among the most important she won, though Wright’s 1973 victory isn’t counted among her 13 major championship titles.
“In my heart, I consider it one of my majors,” said Sally Little, who won the title in ’82, the year before it was officially designated as a major. “For players in my generation, it was always like a major. It was just very special.”
Judy Rankin’s LPGA Hall of Fame record shows she won 26 LPGA titles, three Vare Trophies for low scoring average, two LPGA Player of the Year awards, but no majors.
Rankin’s peers know better.
She won “The Dinah” in 1976.
“It had enormous importance to players and the game early on,” Rankin said. “It was instantly a big deal.”
This writer asked Sandra Palmer if the title she won at the “The Dinah” in 1975 should be considered a major.
“It is considered one of my major championships, isn’t it?” Palmer said.
Informed that her title wasn’t upgraded to a major, Palmer was surprised.
“Are you sure?” she said. “Well, I’ve certainly considered it one of my majors.”
That may be the best evidence of just how coveted winning the title was right from its start. The game’s best players remember it differently than the LPGA officially does.
“The Dinah” was more of a spectacle than the U.S. Women’s Open in ’72, and it created more buzz than the LPGA Championship and the Titleholders did back then, back when the LPGA had just three designated majors.
There was Dinah’s $110,000 purse, almost three times as large as the U.S. Women’s Open ($40,000). There was network TV right from the beginning, back when so few LPGA events were televised. There were Shore’s celebrity friends, with Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and many others playing in the pro-am. There were galleries that dwarfed the U.S. Women’s Open’s. And there were Foster’s Colgate company commercials, using LPGA pros to sell his products and hype the event in the months leading up to the tournament.
“That one event single-handedly changed the face of women’s golf, the way the public perceived women’s golf,” said Jane Blalock, who won the inaugural title.
If the LPGA were to retroactively make “The Dinah” a major from its start, Blalock would satisfy the criteria for the tour’s Hall of Fame. With 27 career victories, Blalock met the points requirement for inductions when she retired, but she also needed to win a major, a Rolex Player of the Year Award or a Vare Trophy to be enshrined. She didn’t claim any of those.
Blalock’s Hall of Fame status promises to get some attention in any look at retroactively designating Dinah winners before ’83 as major champions. That first event Blalock won was just 54 holes, not the 72 holes that it became the very next year. Also, Blalock’s lawsuit against the tour after she was suspended in ’72, after being accused of improperly marking her ball in an event, remains a sore spot among some players of her generation. She won relief in her antitrust suit, with the controversy motivating the LPGA to overhaul the nature of the tour, with the LPGA’s first commissioner being hired in the wake of the legal battle.
But that really ought to be irrelevant to the larger question of whether “The Dinah” was a major long before it was designated as such.
Caponi is right about all the men who were retroactively designated as major championship winners.
When Horton Smith won the first Masters in 1934, he didn’t know it was a major.
When Gene Sarazen hit “the shot heard around the world” in the final round at Augusta National in 1935, holing out a 4-wood for albatross at the 15th hole on his way to winning, he didn’t know it was a major, either.
It wasn’t even called the Masters back then.
It was the Augusta National Invitational.
Those were among a host of victories that were retroactively honored as major championship triumphs, with the term “major championship” not emerging as an official designation until the modern era.
That’s the funny thing about majors. There’s a bit of mystery in how they officially became designated as such in the men’s game, and in who designates them. The “majors” weren’t categorized the way they are now until Arnold Palmer won the Masters and the U.S. Open in 1960 and announced his quest to complete a “Grand Slam” by also trying to win The Open Championship and the PGA Championship.
“The idea really came out of what Arnold Palmer did pursuing the idea of a modern ‘Grand Slam,’” historian Martin Davis said.
Smith and Sarazen might not have known they were winning a major when they won at Augusta National, but Caponi believed in heart, mind and soul she was winning a major when she claimed the “The Dinah” 30 years ago.
So did Sandra Post when she won back-to-back in 1978 and ’79.
“It’s funny, because a lot of people think I’ve won three majors,” Post said. “They’ll say that, and I have to tell them, 'Actually, I didn’t,’ but I feel like I won three majors.”
Officially, Post’s eight LPGA titles include one major, the 1968 LPGA Championship.
The women’s game isn’t like the men’s game. While tradition, media and public sentiment decide what is and isn’t a major, LPGA commissioners have a history of designating majors.
John Laupheimer was the LPGA commissioner when Nabisco took over sponsorship of “The Dinah” and declared it a major as part of the new contractual agreement.
Ty Votaw named the Women’s British Open to replace the du Maurier as a major beginning in 2001.
Mike Whan designated the Evian Championship as the tour’s fifth major beginning in 2013.
There would be challenges if Whan were to decide to retroactively designate winners of “The Dinah” before 1983 as major champs. These things are never easy. He would likely have the winners of the Evian Championship before 2013 wondering if their titles should turn major. That would vault Laura Davies into the LPGA Hall of Fame. She’s two points short of qualifying for induction but would gain four HOF points with her Evian titles counted as majors.
But the Evian’s roots aren’t nearly as steeped in greatness as “The Dinah” was right from the start.
And Whan would likely have winners of the Women’s British Open before 2001 wondering if their titles should turn major. As historic as the Women’s British Open sounds, its roots also aren’t as steeped in greatness as “The Dinah” was.
The truth is, no women’s major compares to the spectacular nature of the ANA Inspiration’s birth and its immediate impact on the women’s game.
“The Dinah” was a major game-changing event for women’s golf as soon as the first tee shot was struck 49 years ago.
“It was great from the beginning,” Hagge said.