As the induction of Jan Stephenson—the ‘It Girl’ of professional golf—into the World Golf Hall of Fame draws nearer, Essential Golf takes a look at the life and career of the woman who disrupted the game like never before.
Full name: Jan Lynn Stephenson
Born: December 22, 1951
Hometown: Sydney, Australia
Turned pro: 1973
Professional wins: 20
Inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame: 2019
As a teenager, Jan Stephenson began her iconic career by winning five consecutive New South Wales Schoolgirl Championships in Australia, from 1964. Her success was followed up by three straight wins in the New South Wales Junior Championship. Stephenson turned pro in 1973, winning the Wills Australian Ladies Open and joining the LPGA Tour the following year. She was named LPGA Rookie of the Year with a 28th-place finish on the money list.
Stephenson’s first LPGA victory was the 1976 Sarah Coventry Naples Classic. She won all of her majors in consecutive years, during her most productive period in the early 1980s: the 1981 Peter Jackson Classic (the du Maurier Classic), the 1982 LPGA Championship and the 1983 US Women’s Open. Her final wins on the LPGS Tour came in 1897.
While she continued to play LPGA events throughout the 1990s, her play was hindered by a mugging in 1990 that left her ring finger broken in two places. From 1990 onward, she never finished higher than 30th on the LPGA money list.
It was as an established LGPA player that Stephenson became famous for her glamour, as much as for her skill on the course. In an event that disrupted both the tour and the game of golf, Stephenson appeared on the cover of SPORT magazine in 1977 wearing a thin, pink linen shirt tied at the waist. Among the headlines on the cover was “Sex in Sports—A Key to Winning.” The face of a new-look LGPA Tour was catapulted into fame—golf’s very own pin-up superstar. Stephenson took criticism for her sex appeal and continued to appear in more risqué magazine shoots.
She urged the LPGA Tour to embrace her approach to marketing, saying: “Look like a woman and play like a man.”
Stephenson went on to win on the Women’s Senior Golf Tour (the Legends Tour), a tour that she helped found, and in 2003 she became the first woman to play on the Champions Tour at the Turtle Bay Championship, where she finished in last place.
Stephenson was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1985 and her success will see her honored at the World Golf Hall of Fame Ceremony on June 10, 2019 in Pebble Beach—the week of the men’s U.S Open Championship.
LPGA Tour wins
- 1976 Sarah Coventry Naples Classic
- 1976 Birmingham Classic
- 1978 Women’s International
- 1980 Sun City Classic
- 1981 Peter Jackson Classic (the du Maurier Classic)
- 1981 Mary Kay Classic
- 1981 United Virginia Bank Classic
- 1982 LPGA Championship
- 1982 Lady Keystone Open
- 1983 Tucson Conquistadores LPGA Open
- 1983 Lady Keystone Open
- 1983 U.S. Women’s Open
- 1985 GNA Classic
- 1987 Santa Barbara Open
- 1987 Safeco Classic
- 1987 Konica San Jose Classic
- 1973 Australian Ladies Open (ALPG)
- 1977 Australian Ladies Open (ALPG)
- 1981 World Ladies Golf Tournament (JLPGA)
- 1985 Hennessy French Open (LET)
- 1985 Nichirei Ladies Cup (JLPGA)
From the story of how she gave up a relationship with a certain Donald Trump in order to concentrate on her career, to strong rumours that fellow Aussie superstar Margo Robbie has agreed to play her in the movie story of her life, Stephenson can certainly boast of an exciting life.
Known for her philanthropic work, Stephenson is also an Ambassador for blind and disabled golfers through ISPS Handa and has acquired Tarpon Woods Golf Club in Palm Harbor through her Foundation: Jan Stephenson’s Crossroads Foundation. The course provides initiative for blind, disabled and wounded veterans and first responders.
She was awarded recognition by the Military Order of the Purple Heart in October 2017 and her Foundation was also awarded the Charity of the Year by the Palm Harbor Chamber of Commerce in September 2018. Stephenson was awarded the Order of Australia Medal in March 2018.
Considered the first female touring professional to enter the golf course design business, Stephenson has also produced an exercise video for people with arthritis and is an honorary chairman of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
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See also: The Life and Legacy of Billy Payne