Stephenson feels she didn't help her cause Nearing retirement from the LPGA Tour, the onetime pinup of women's golf looks back.

Posted: June 05, 2002

WILMINGTON — Jan Stephenson gets a kick out of the reaction from LPGA Tour players of a younger generation when they talk about the things she did to promote a sexier image in women's golf.

"They go, 'We can't believe you did stuff like that,' " Stephenson said yesterday. "They go, 'We heard you were naked in a tub of golf balls.' They thought it was funny. I'm like, 'Well, that's what they wanted to promote the tour.' "

Before Anna Kournikova, there was Jan Stephenson. The difference is, Stephenson had talent.

The native of Australia posted 16 victories on the LPGA Tour, including three different majors, leaving her one major short of a career Grand Slam. She won more than $3 million in a 28-year career.

Stephenson is 50 now. She has announced that this will be her last season on the LPGA Tour. She continues her quiet farewell tour this week in the McDonald's LPGA Championship at DuPont Country Club.

She will play her competitive golf on the Women's Senior Golf Tour after this season, but she has plenty more to keep her occupied, such as golf-course architecture, and designing golf clubs for women and a new line of fashions for the young female golfer.

A renaissance woman who, along with her other interests, would like to break into broadcasting men's (not women's) pro golf events, Stephenson probably won't be remembered for her golf as much as for her status as the sexy look of the LPGA Tour.

In 1978, in her most notorious pinup, she posed nude in a bathtub full of golf balls. She said she still receives the poster in the mail from people asking her to autograph it. But that and other poster and calendar poses caused her grief as well as attention.

"I don't know if it's because everything is more open today sexually - look at Britney Spears," she said. "The young girls can't believe all the flak I got from that. They go, 'You mean the girls didn't like you doing it?' And I say, 'No, not at all,' even though it worked for the LPGA.

"If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't do what I did. I did so much for the tour. If the commissioner called and said he needed me to meet a potential sponsor and play golf with him, I'd take a red-eye in and I did it for free. I don't get credit for it. It doesn't put me in the Hall of Fame. The only thing that puts you in the Hall of Fame is winning tournaments, and I really feel that took away from my golf."

Stephenson's last victory on the LPGA Tour came in 1987. She probably could have won more but for a 1990 incident in which she was mugged outside Miami Arena after a Heat game. That left her with a broken left ring finger, an injury that still affects her in cold or damp weather and forced her to change her swing.

She will be eligible for election to the LPGA Hall of Fame by a veterans' committee but doubts that the voters will choose her.

"That would have been my own personal goal," she said. "I don't think I'm popular enough to get voted in, because the girls that are on the committee were from my era when I did the calendars and posters. I don't think they appreciate what I've done."

Stephenson once was offered more than $100,000 to pose for Playboy but turned it down. She said she talked with Jill McGill, the winner of an online poll conducted recently by Playboy, before McGill rejected the magazine's offer to pose nude.

"I told Jill she should do it," she said. "I've always said they should take the top five girls on this tour and they should all do a shoot and split the money. There's some girls out here who are really good-looking."

Stephenson is excited about life after the LPGA Tour, especially her new passion, golf course design. She opened Walkabout Golf Club in Mims, Fla., in January, and is working on another course in Bowling Green, Ky.

Her new line of golf clubs is built to help women hit the ball farther. Then there is her fashion line, in which she has brought in companies such as No Fear and Ocean Pacific to create a look for the young female golfer.

Contact Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or jjuliano@phillynews.com.

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