The jump into Poppie’s Pond has become a tradition like no other in the women’s game. The winner of the Masters might get a Green Jacket but the women have the leap into Poppie’s Pond, a jump that has become the trademark of the year’s opening major.
There have been somersaults, cartwheels and cannonballs. Lorena Ochoa even went in with a Mexican mariachi band.
It all began with Amy Alcott, one of only three-time winners of the (now) ANA Inspiration, the others being Betsy King and Annika Sorenstam.
Her first success came at the 1983 (then) Nabisco Dinah Shore, the tournament’s first year as a major.
Five years later, the Californian doubled up for her fourth of five major victories and it was then that the future Hall of Famer and her caddie began a culture that now forms the centrepiece of the prize giving.
Dinah Shore’s name was on the tournament from 1972 to 1999, what do you remember of her?
She was a very special woman. She wasn’t just a singer/actress/TV personality, she was kind of a trailblazer for women’s golf.
She loved having her name on the event and loved women getting some recognition. It was hard for women to get much attention and you couldn’t not be a friend of hers. She was a great gurehead and I was lucky enough to develop a friendship with her.
What do you think she would make of the women’s game today?
She would be amazed how global women’s golf has become and the reach to so many different countries. She would be so pleased at the growth.
From a selfish standpoint I think she would hope that more American players would be winning!
And what was the course like in the 80s?
The trees were obviously smaller and it played a bit shorter but it grew every year. The rough is very thick now so there is a real premium on accuracy. The greens aren’t tough to putt on and, once you get the ball rolling, you can make a lot of putts.
I grew up in southern California and it was always the first Major so you were even more excited than normal.
I always liked the course, it didn’t favour a particular shape of player but you did need to be a good shotmaker and I was good at that.
The par-5 18th always gets the headlines, how did it play back in the day?
I never went for it in two. I was longer than average but I would always play it as a three-shotter.
And the jump into the pond?
It was my idea and my caddie, Bill Kurre, went along with the whole thing. We just took off and jumped in.
It was a moment of exuberance and excitement, I no idea it would create such a stir and tradition. Everyone now has their own style and it is a wonderful moment.
The water back then was very dirty, now it is a full-on pond. I actually get letters all the time asking why it wasn’t named after me, who knows.
(The water was named in 2006 after the tournament director Terry Wilcox – Poppie was what his grandchildren called him).
And you were joined by Dinah Shore herself when you won the tournament for a third time in 1991?
Dinah always wore white trousers with her red Kraft jacket and, when I was hitting my third shot, I could see her in black pants behind the green. So I was pretty aware that she wanted to go in! Luckily I had a nine-shot lead.
She knew that my mother had just passed away and she knew how close we were. So if I won again she would come in.
The stars were aligned, I felt like I was manoeuvred around that course. It was bigger than myself, something amazing going on and it was like it was meant to be.
I don’t know that you ever get over a parent dying. I was still in shock probably but I knew I needed to get on with my life. My mum was always very proud of me and, that week, I felt very calm and peaceful.
That was the last time I won. I won by eight shots and it was a tournament record. Talk about being grateful. What a way to go out. And ’91 was the best dive.
You retired in 2008 but then played in the 2013, 14 and 15 ANAs. Any chance that you will be back there this year?
I don’t know that you ever retire. People ask if I’m going to play. I’m 61 now and they will still ask me. I came back and played again, it is always a last-minute thing but I think I have had my time.
Going back to when you first started out, I was reading that you had a very famous sponsor when you turned pro?
I grew up in Los Angeles and, although I wasn’t really a country club kid, I got to know a lot of the Riviera celebrity members like Rita Hayworth and Peter Falk.
My golf teacher got together 15 people to put up $1000 apiece to help me in my first year, one of whom was Dean Martin. So I got to know Dean, we would have lunch and I would watch him hit balls.
I think he liked the idea of sponsoring someone talented. Most people sponsor someone and never get their money back but I made $26,000 in my first year and 54 the next.
So I could pay them back with a percentage, which was unheard of, and still have $8,000 to start my third year.
Dean Martin was one of two people who didn’t take any of the money back, he was just glad to help and just wanted to give me a start