(LPGA Women's Network, Author: Steve Eubanks)
Her trips don’t include playing much anymore. A lot of times Rosie Jones hits the road without her clubs. Jones, who won 13 times on the LPGA Tour and was the kind of player Juli Inkster called “a bulldog,” misses the competition. That’s why you see her occasionally at Legends of the LPGA events. But three weeks shy of a 65th birthday, she has other priorities.
“I just got back from the state (of South Carolina) high school championship where a girl I’m mentoring won by 11 shots,” Jones said with as much joy in her voice as she had during her playing career. “High school golf might not seem like that big a deal, but when you see those girls competing and being part of a team, it means an awful lot to them.”
Jones knows. She played college golf at Ohio State, an experience she credits with her ability to make it on the LPGA Tour. Now she is leading girls in the game, some to college golf, but all in the development of life skills.
As part of that journey, Jones enlisted a group of Legends to help with an event she created at her home club, Moss Creek in Bluffton, S.C.
The Women’s South Carolina Golf Association Junior Golf Foundation High School Invitational, played in early October, featured 72 players from 15 South Carolina girls’ high school teams as well as 12 individuals.
Jones, along with Clarissa Childs, Jackie Gallagher-Smith, Cathy Johnson-Forbes, Leta Lindley, Michelle McGann, and Hall of Fame member Hollis Stacy, acted as starters, rules officials, scorers, and mentors.
“Moss Creek was really involved in women’s golf back in the 70s and 80s,” Jones said, speaking of the Moss Creek Women’s Invitational, an LPGA Tour event from 1976 until 1985. Stacy won that event twice in 1980 and 1983.
“I played in it a couple,” Jones said. “We also hold two college tournaments here. We also had a Legends event here.
“But my passion is to mentor young girls. Right now it’s girls in that high school age range. There are a lot of programs for younger girls,” she said, giving a nod to LPGA*USGA Girls Golf, which has shepherded more than a million girls into golf in the last 30 years. “And you have competitive outlets like the AJGA. But there is this gap when these girls are in high school when they really don’t have any mentoring or coaching. I’ve always been involved, but I needed to figure out how to make a bigger impact.
“So, I reached out to the Women’s South Carolina Golf Association. Part of their Foundation’s mission is to help girls with equipment and entry fees and travel expenses when they’re traveling to play. We decided to throw this high school invitational but put a mentoring element into it.
“The focus was to bridge a gap between generations. A lot of the Tour players who came before me didn’t go to college because there weren’t any women’s teams or any scholarships available. My age and younger, we went to college on scholarships.”
Stacy, age 69 and a three-time U.S. Women’s Open champion, went to Rollins College, a small school in Winter Park, Florida, that became a juggernaut for women’s golf in the pre-Title IX days, not because of golf scholarships (there were none) but because of the influence of alumnae like Peggy Kirk Bell, Marlene Streit, Jane Blaylock and Alice Dye. Stacy’s younger sister, Martha Leach, played college golf at Georgia in the early 1980s, after the advent of Title IX. With that history Stacy has remained a huge advocate for women’s college golf, encouraging girls to stay in school and hone their games.
Jones is right there with her. The event at Moss Creek featured a pro-am and a reception in addition to the clinic.
“The main focus was to get time with the players,” Jones said. “The Legends really showed a passion for helping those kids. We had a back-and-forth session between the kids and the pros about all kinds of things, from how hard the game is, to how to persevere when you’re playing bad. There were so many great messages, like not identifying yourself with your scores, and not letting the game beat you down. We showed the girls how we, as pros, get ready. Then we talked to them about how to deal with your emotions and how to handle yourself in a disciplined way.
“My focus is on helping these girls get more confident. Sure, some of them aspire to play college golf and that’s great. But they can all use the values and discipline they learn in golf in every aspect of their lives going forward.”
The residents at Moss Creek loved it. “Our members and staff are still smiling and talking about the special weekend,” said Jody Rolfe, who was part of the tournament committee and also a Moss Creek resident.”
“You see the joy in these kids’ faces,” Jones said. “I’ve been at a lot of high school events. It’s so much fun seeing them cheer for each other and talk around the scoreboard; seeing the parents there being supportive, it’s really fun to watch.
“We just haven’t been spending enough time with our high school kids. So many of today’s golf scholarships are going to international players because they have been mentored through their national programs. Here, we kind of lose them at the high school level.
“This won’t change that completely. But it is a start. And I’m thrilled to be a part of it.”