Pioneer Beth Daniel Reflects on Her LPGA Journey

The theme of The Founders Cup, the annual LPGA Tour event honoring the 13 courageous women who formed the Ladies Professional Golf Association, is “Past, Present, Future.” For LPGA and World Golf Hall of Fame member Beth Daniel, who will be honored as an LPGA Pioneer at this year’s event in Upper Montclair, N.J., that’s more than a slogan or a tagline. It has always been the heartbeat of the women’s game.

“I was fortunate to come out on tour in 1979,” Daniel said. “But prior to that, there was an LPGA tournament at Moss Creek near Hilton Head, S.C., and they invited a few amateurs to play in it. Because I was from Charleston and had won the U.S. Women’s Amateur, I got invited. That tournament was the first time I was ever paired with Mickey Wright, which was an incredible experience and an unbelievable honor.”

In her rookie year, Daniel played with Wright again at the Corning Classic in New York. One incident from those long-ago rounds still stands out in Daniel’s mind to this day. 

“It’s hard to explain how good of a ball-striker she was,” Daniel said of Wright. “She was quite a perfectionist. But I also remember that she was pretty easy on herself on the golf course. I’m not sure that was the case after the round and in practice, but on the golf course, she didn’t beat herself up.

“In Corning, on the very first hole, she hooked her tee shot into the rough. A marshal pointed to the ball, and (Mickey) hit an incredible shot out of the rough onto the green. Then, when she got to the green, she quietly said, ‘That’s not my ball. I hit the wrong ball back there.’ So, she penalized herself, walked back and made double bogey.

“But she didn’t appear annoyed or anything, and she ended up shooting under par for the round. A lot of players would have gotten upset, and it would have affected the whole day. But she didn’t seem to let it bother her at all. As a young player, I remember being incredibly impressed by that.”

Others helped Daniel in her journey that saw her capture 33 LPGA Tour wins, including one major title, the 1990 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. She was also the 1979 Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year, a three-time recipient of the Vare Trophy and a three-time Rolex LPGA Player of the Year.

“I knew Louise Suggs,” Daniel said. “The Founders were tough women. They had to be to do what they did. Here you have 13 women who decide they’re going to start a professional tour and see how things go. But they were also really smart.

“They didn’t have anything back then. The Founders would get to the course on Monday, put ropes around the tees and greens, and then, whoever the treasurer was, had to stay after play and write the checks.”

They also had a responsibility to help the next generation, which they did in many big and small ways. Pam Barnett, who won once on the LPGA Tour before a wrist injury sidelined her career, mentored Daniel, and then helped her through many of the questions a rookie always seems to have. Later, Barnett became a teacher in Arizona, and Daniel would regularly stay in her house when traveling out west.

Barnett wasn’t the only big sister who helped Daniel. Carole Jo Callison and JoAnne Carner were tremendous assets to many young players in that era, but especially to Daniel.

“I was really long when I first came out, but my short game was not very good,” Daniel said. “JoAnne and Carole Jo took me aside and said, ‘We’re going to teach you how to hit a wedge.’ They changed the whole way I played my wedges. As a result, I became a pretty darn good wedge player. There were some players who got mad at them for helping me because, before, I was unable to take advantage of my length if I had to pitch the ball.”

Ironically, one of Daniel’s Tour wins was the 1982 American Express Sun City Classic, which she captured in a playoff over Carole Jo Callison.

“I certainly tried to return those favors and help whatever young player wanted my help when I was playing, and even now,” Daniel said. “I used to give out my number to everyone and say, ‘If you need anything, please give me a call.’ Some did, some didn’t.

What surprised me a little was that 90 percent of the calls I got were about caddies. Almost every young player has an issue with that.

“But when I’m giving advice to young players now, it’s that the Tour is not like amateur golf. You have to be careful with your schedule. Don’t overdo it and wear yourself out, physically and mentally. Develop a rhythm and a schedule that works best for you so that you can play your best golf in the big events.

“Also, put yourself in a routine where you practice certain things and then get out of there. The tendency of young players is to hang out all day at the golf course because they see other players out there. Find your routine. Work on what you need to work on, and then rest. That’s going to do you a lot of good in the long run.

“The final thing I’d say is, practice like you play. Even today when I hit balls, even though it means absolutely nothing, I go through my pre-shot routine. I pick a target, walk into the ball, do my waggles and swing. If you’re out there just hitting balls, when you get to the golf course, your brain tells you, ‘Wait a minute, this is different. It must mean more.’ You have to practice in a way that simulates what you’re going to experience on the golf course.”

She watches a lot of young players now. A graduate of Furman University, Daniel is a student of the collegiate and amateur game, although she wishes today’s college coaches would get out of the way and let the kids learn on their own. “That’s what college is all about, learning things, not just in golf but in life.”

She’s also the 2024 Junior Solheim Cup captain and plans to attend some AJGA events over the summer to meet with her players. But she won’t put any pressure on them. She has seen that before and is very cautious about it today.

“I never said anything about my expectations of Nelly Korda,” Daniel said. “I think Nelly is doing now what was expected of her. But you have to be careful with expectations. I would never want to put any additional burden on her or any player.”

Past. Present. Future. All will be honored during this year’s Cognizant Founders Cup, proceeds from which will benefit the LPGA*USGA Girls Golf programs. But those who came before this generation will understand it more than most.

“Every year, I watch the Founders Cup and see the Pioneers sitting there,” Daniel said. “It’s amazing who has been up there. And it’s quite an honor to be listed as part of that group.”