by Candace Oehler & GW News Services
(Inkster trophy photo credit Rick Sharp)
Sun City West, AZ – Veteran Juli Inkster heads into the LPGA Bank of Hope Founders Cup on the heels of a dominating win at the Legends Tour’s Walgreens Charity Classic held last week at Sun City West’s Grandview Golf Course. The Hall-of-Famer, who competes on both tours, carded an impressive final round 8–under 64 to finish at 12-under par, four shots clear of solo second place finisher Michele Redman.
Rounding out the top five were third-place finisher Betsy King (7-under); first-round leader Barb Moxness (6-under); and England’s Trish Johnson (5-under).
“I was hitting it so bad on the range,” said Inkster, who earned her fourth Legends Tour win and the $30,000 first place prize. “But then I went to the first tee and hit a really great drive, and then a great second shot and that settled me down. I don’t think I missed a fairway.”
Defending champion and first-round Legends Honors Division (players age 63 and over) leader Jan Stephenson shot a final-round 3-over par and lost in a sudden death playoff to Arizona’s Shelley Hamlin.
Stephenson, an Aussie who was the first woman to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated, built an impressive LPGA career resume that included three Major titles, 13 Tour titles and 1974 Rookie of the Year honors. She has continued her winning ways on the Legends Tour, with nearly $370,000 in official earnings.
Along with competitive golf, her multiple business and charitable endeavors keep her busy on two continents. Jan Stephenson Wines, for example, has grown to four varietals, including Jan’s Reserve, and may soon be available in select retail locations (jswinery.com).
She is even more excited about the work of her Jan Stephenson Foundation (janstephensonfoundation.org/au) that recently acquired a golf course in Palm Harbor, Florida that will be renovated for blind and disabled veterans. The focus, she explained, will not be solely on playing the game.
“We want to not just teach them golf, but to get them into the golf business – how to make clubs and all the other facets of the golf business.”
Among the 50 competitors were two Peruvian Legends – Alicia Dibos and Jenny Lidback, who have known each other and played together since they were teens. They share more than nationality. Both celebrate birthdays in March, and became US Citizens (Dibos in 2004, LIdback in 2003). They have been teammates in the ISPS Handa Cup Team World, and even finished within a stroke of each other at the Walgreens Charity Classic – Lidback T31 (+5) and Dibos T33 (+6).
Each made her way to the LPGA Tour via completely different routes, however – Dibos via Q School, and Lidback after an All-American career at TCU and LSU.
The 57-year old Dibos left Peru in 1989, and played European and Asian Tours before making it through Q School and beginning her LPGA career in 1963. Although she never took home a trophy, she did record 14 top-10 finishes.
Along the way, she caught the attention of Tom Nieporte, head professional from 1978-2006 at historic Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, NY. Nieporte, who passed away in 2014, hired Dibos 15 years ago as his assistant golf pro and, six years ago, she was appointed Director of Instruction.
It is a notable position at a remarkable club. Winged Foot has hosted five US Opens (with number six scheduled for 2020) and a PGA Championship. The West course is ranked #10 on Golf Digest’s list of “greatest American courses,” while the East course is in the top 100.
According to Dibos, landing at Winged Foot was a combination of a little luck and timing – being in the right place at the right time.
She speaks fondly of Nieporte and the influence he had on her post-LPGA career.
“I always say there were two great things happened in my career – one was to qualify for the LPGA and the other was to have met Tom Nieporte. Those were two life changers for me and I am very happy.”
She still manages to fit in a few Legends Tour events, and has notched two wins, 13 top 10’s, and earned nearly $200,000. But, it’s the social aspect of the Tour that draws many of these players back to the field of competition.
“It’s wonderful to be here because all of the players who played with me on the LPGA are here now,” said Dibos. “We have a wonderful time, we are friends forever. I love being here, competing.”
While Dibos developed her skills in Peru, her friend Jenny Lidback moved to the US, where she dominated junior golf and was named 1981 Junior Golfer of the Year by Golf Digest. Her successful college career began at Texas Christian University (TCU), where she was a two-time All American and member of the 1983 NCAA Championship team. After transferring to Louisiana State University (LSU), she went on to win seven individual collegiate titles, along with Player of the Year and All-American honors.
Her 13-year professional career included eight Symetra Tour wins, one LPGA Tour win and one Major, the 1995 DuMaurier Classic.
In 2000, she was honored as “Peru’s Golfer of the Century.”
“Not many people have that title,” she said facetiously.
Now a North Scottsdale resident, Lidback enjoys the Legends Tour, but recognizes her priorities have changed and, as a result, so has her game.
“I love to compete, but my brain doesn’t quite want to compete 100% anymore, so I struggle with that a bit,” she explained. “And it is such a mental game. So the trust is not always there. When I was in the LPGA, it was 120% golf. Golf, Sleep, Eat. Now, it’s not my priority but I still love to compete.”
After ending her professional career, Lidback spent five years as a high school substitute in Atlanta, where she taught Spanish to special education students. These days, she enjoys the Arizona life of yard work, pickle ball, horseback riding, and outdoor activities.
She also has a therapy dog she takes to senior citizen residences every week. It’s something that gives her tremendous satisfaction.
“We visit and try to put a smile on somebody’s face. The minute we walk into their rooms, they start smiling. And they’re so grateful. I hope someone will do that for me someday, bring a pet to me when I can’t have one.”
The Walgreens Charity Classic drew LPGA Legends from all over the nation and it’s easy to understand why they traveled to compete in an event that does not offer a huge purse or high profile media coverage. The atmosphere is competitive, yet casual and social, and fans treat the golfers as part of the Sun City West family of active older adults.
Want to walk inside the ropes? What ropes? There are none, except between the 18th green and scoring tent. Marshals? Nope. No fences separating homes from the fairways. No courtesy cars or special parking for the pros. Noisy gas carts. No standard-bearing walking scorers, course maps, or electronic scoreboards either. Scores are tracked by volunteers using iPads linked to web-based electronic scoring.
The merchandise is high quality and extremely reasonable ($20 for a polo), the players are extraordinarily friendly, and the galleries small, but enthusiastic.
Ninety-six of the top 100 LPGA players are competing this week for a $1.5 million purse at the Bank of Hope Legends Tournament that honors the founders of the LPGA. It is appropriate to take a moment to also honor lesser-known Legends like Dibos and Lidback for all they have done to pave the way for tomorrow’s Legends.
For more information about the Legends Tour, visit www.thelegendstour.com