Originally created 11/28/02

Zoeller's daughter proves golf isn't just for the guys



CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Fuzzy Zoeller doesn't know why you never hear about daughters of pro golfers following in their father's Foot Joys.

But now there's his daughter, Gretchen, a freshman on the College of Charleston golf team, to break the father-son tradition the Nicklauses, Floyds and Millers celebrate on the golf course.

And the Senior PGA Tour rookie couldn't be prouder.

"I even put her back on the men's tees," Zoeller said. "And she'll still beat the guys, which is great."

Zoeller said he explained to his three daughters at a young age that they would need the game to compete in the business world.

"It's hard to do business when you're playing tennis," Zoeller said.

Sonnye, 23, Heide, 21, Gretchen, 18, and his son, 13-year-old Miles, all play golf.

And Gretchen, a four handicap who drives the ball about 250 yards, has modeled her golf etiquette after her father, the loose-lipped, crowd-pleasing, class clown of the pro tour.

Zoeller brings golf to a different level with humor, Gretchen said. The flamboyant 2002 Senior PGA Championship winner still carries a bright yellow duck with sunglasses as a head cover.

College of Charleston coach Jamie Futrell said recruiting has become easier with the name Zoeller on his roster but Gretchen didn't mention her father in their first correspondences.

"She doesn't put herself above everybody else because of her dad's status," Futrell said. "Her personality is infectious optimism. Everyone's happy to be around her."

"If it wasn't fun, I wouldn't play it," Gretchen says, acknowledging that her father can boom a drive 40 yards past hers.

Zoeller plays golf with his daughter often, though she's beaten him just once.

"I thought it was the greatest damn thing in the world," he said. Gretchen - who shot one under from the men's tees - took advantage of Zoeller's even par from the professional tees at a course in their hometown of Floyds Knobs, Ind.

But it's not all fun when you're Fuzzy's daughter.

Some people still regard the Zoellers as racist after Fuzzy said that Tiger Woods - who became the first black to win the Masters - should not serve fried chicken and collard greens at the Masters champions' dinner.

Zoeller later insisted he was joking, but no one laughed as he lost major endorsement deals with Kmart and Dunlop.

If people aren't calling Gretchen racist, they're calling her spoiled and snotty, she said.

"It doesn't matter who's on my team, they ask about her first," Futrell said.

But the corporate communications major knows how to win over her opposition - just like her father.

"You smile at them and say, 'Oh, how are you doin'?' You kill them with kindness and make them realize that, 'Hey, I'm just like you all,"' she says.

Futrell said Gretchen, who crushes the ball even though she's just 5-foot-2, will be one of the best players around after she gets more experience.

The young Zoeller hopes to improve her game by playing year round, and she's optimistic about making a career of golf. If not, she'll go into real estate.

"There are girls out there that can beat the pants off me," she said. "And I know that. I'm not the best golfer out there just because I'm Fuzzy's daughter. I'm just Gretchen. I want to go out and have a fun time."

Zoeller said he was just another father - though he's used to people fawning over him - when he saw Gretchen's first college match at the Bay Tree Classic in Myrtle Beach earlier this season. She tied for 65th, scoring 78 for a low round.

Gretchen said her father doesn't preach, he just watches from behind the ropes. "Everyone thinks that when you have a father-figure in the sport that they're going to drill you," she said. "The only way he's going to tell me something is if I ask."

Four-time major championship winner Raymond Floyd is no stranger to watching golf on the other side of the ropes. He said his sons - Raymond Jr., 28, and Robert, 26, who plays professionally - were never pushed to play but loved the game, while his daughter, 23-year-old Christian, never picked up the clubs.

"My daughter absolute abhors golf because my sons were so into it that the dinner conversation was absolutely golf every night," Floyd said. "My sons lived and breathed it every minute, so the discussion at dinner was always golf. My daughter didn't like that, so she stayed very distant from golf."

Floyd said he never wanted his children to compete at a professional level.

"It's too difficult for the kids to try to follow a successful father," he said.

Zoeller supports Gretchen's decision to go to college, which is about 630 miles away from home, because he wants her to fulfill her dreams, whether it be on the golf course or not.

In her best tournament of the season, Gretchen tied for 11th place, scoring 78 and 76, in the Cougar Fall Invitational in Mount Pleasant.

"She has a very big heart with a lot of tiger in her tank," Zoeller said. "Golf teaches you more about yourself than anyone else can."