by Bob Robinson
The phone call was a surprise – from a member at Eugene Country Club – in the mid-1960s. The club was playing host to the Pacific Ladies Classic, a tournament on the burgeoning LPGA Tour. I was early in my career as The Oregonian’s golf writer.
“I know you are going to be here to cover our tournament,” the caller said. “If you are interested, we would like you to play in our pro-amateur. It would give you an opportunity to become familiar with the course the gals will be playing.”
I replied that I would love to participate, so long as there were no strings attached as far as my coverage was concerned. He laughed and assured me that there would be no extra expectations in that regard. Then he told me that I would be playing in a foursome with Carol Mann, one of the most popular LPGA stars at the time.
My memory raced back to that pro-amateur after I learned of Mann’s death on May 20, 2018 at her home in Woodlands, Texas. She was 77.
Mann had a reputation as one of the most devoted players in promoting the tour and as one of its most fun-loving characters. Entertaining stories flowed from her that day. At one point, she talked about her height – 6-foot, 3-inches.
“I like to call myself 5-15, not 6-3,” she said.
I was aware of her tradition of kissing any male member of her pro-am foursomes who made a net eagle. I didn’t give it much thought, though, because with my modest skills and 15-handicap, I wasn’t likely to make a birdie (and net eagle) on the challenging Eugene CC layout, since remodeled extensively.
Anyway, we came to the 18th hole, then a lengthy par-5 with its green in front of the club’s pro shop. It was surrounded by spectators and, since the tournament was being televised regionally, there was a temporary TV tower. I could see a TV photographer at work as we approached.
I happened to have hit two decent shots and was in position to be on the green with my third. I managed to do so and the ball ended up about 25 feet from the cup. It was a birdie possibility (a slim one, in my mind), and I had a handicap stroke on the hole.
“Knock it in, partner,” a smiling Mann said as we prepared to putt.
Then, to my surprise – and I’m sure to her surprise, too – I rolled the ball into the hole. Several spectators cheered and Mann came bustling toward me. She wrapped her arms around me and gave me a juicy kiss on the forehead. Embarrassed, I heard laughter from the gallery and saw the TV photographer with his camera aimed in my direction.
The kidding I took from my friends was off the charts and I wondered how my boss, Don McLeod, might feel about it. After all, he had assigned me to be in Eugene to work. As it turned out, he did hear about my TV “appearance” and he, too, needled me.
“I was disappointed to hear that you didn’t return her kiss,” he said.
Today, a lot of golf fans don’t realize or don’t remember what a great player and supporter of the game that Mann was in the LPGA’s pioneering era. She claimed 38 LPGA titles, including two major championships. And, as Steve Eubanks wrote in the Global Post: “Her dramatic 1965 U.S. Women’s Open victory at Atlantic City Country Club vaulted women’s golf into the television era.” She won 10 times in 1968 and eight times in 1969.
Off the course, she served as president of the LPGA from 1973 to 1976 and had a lot to do with guiding the LPGA into its modern era with the hiring of its first commissioner, Ray Volpe.
Over the years, I made a couple of other net eagles in competition. None was nearly as memorable as the one that earned me a kiss on the forehead from Carol Mann.
Bob Robinson started covering golf for the Oregonian in the mid-1960s. He has covered 24 major championships, two Ryder Cups, and more than 30 LPGA Tour events. During his career, Bob has been named the Oregon Sportswriter of the Year, and has been awarded the Dale Johnson Media Award by the Oregon Golf Association and the Distinguished Service Award by the Northwest Golf Media Association.