Originally created 05/04/04

Big Mama just won't act her age



STOCKBRIDGE, Ga. - JoAnne Carner could have been down in the Bahamas, drinking a beer and reeling in some fish from her beloved boat.

Instead, she arrived at the tee on a rainy morning - an umbrella in the right hand, a cigarette in the left - to compete with women young enough to be her daughters. Or, for that matter, her granddaughters.

"I get with these kids," Carner said in that raspy voice of hers, "and I don't feel my age. I feel closer to their age."

The Hall of Famer turned 65 last month, the customary year to find a rocking chair and start collecting Social Security checks. But Carner doesn't think of retirement. Not when she's having so much fun.

This past weekend, Carner set a record for being the oldest player to make a cut on the LPGA Tour. The previous mark? Well, that belonged to Carner, too - she made the cut at the first major of the year, the Kraft Nabisco Championship.

That makes her 2-for-2 in 2004, a good start to a year in which she hopes to play about 10 times and show all these JoAnne Carner-wannabes a thing or two about staying power.

"I'm just absolutely amazed that she's 65," said 29-year-old Becky Morgan, who played with Carner in the first two rounds of Chick-fil-A Charity Championship. "I just hope I'm still able to swing a club when I'm 65. Forget about still being out here on tour."

Here's a little perspective. Sunday's winner, Jennifer Rosales, was born in 1978. That same year, Carner earned the 22nd and 23rd wins of a career that didn't get going professionally until she was 31.

Carner picked up the last of her 44 LPGA victories nearly two decades ago, winning twice in 1985 when she was 46 (one year later, Jack Nicklaus became the oldest Masters Tournament winner, also at 46).

For 18 years, Carner was the oldest player to win on the women's tour, but Beth Daniel claimed that title by about 2 months last July at the Canadian Women's Open.

Carner has little chance of recapturing the record - she finished last among the 90 players making the cut at the Atlanta-area tournament - but she has every intention of putting the cut record out of reach.

"Beth Daniel wiped out my record for being the oldest winner," Carner said. "This is my consolation."

She's a physical anomaly, staying fit with a routine that definitely puts her at odds with health-conscious players who munch on Powerbars and turn the workout trailer into a second home.

While waiting to tee off Sunday, the other members of Carner's threesome - Tonya Gill and Kelly Robbins - chipped and putted on the practice green right up until their names were called.

Carner, meanwhile, got in another cigarette, chatted with her caddie and glanced up a few times at the threatening skies. Then it was time to play.

"I don't get tired or anything," she said. "Well, I do huff and puff up some of these hills."

Carner, who first played on the LPGA Tour as an amateur in 1962, looked as though she was about done a year ago. For the first time in her career, she failed to make a cut.

After seven tournaments, she called it a year, disgusted with herself for shooting an 84 at Kingsmill.

Eventually, she discovered a flaw in the way she was holding her right arm on the downswing. Retirement could wait. It was time to go back to the course.

Carner still has the same smooth swing, just a bit slower. Carner has committed to play three of the next four weeks, and she also plans to tee it up at the LPGA Championship.