Jones swings into new phase

LPGA veteran reflects on near misses, next steps with Golf Channel

Golf

June 04, 2006|By DON MARKUS | DON MARKUS,SUN REPORTER

GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP, N.J. -- The 2005 season was winding down and the way Rosie Jones had it figured, so was her career on the LPGA Tour. As well as she was playing, as competitive as she was, the injuries weren't going away. Nor were the tour's upstarts, some of whom were young enough to be her daughter.

`Everything as far as my body goes is screaming at me, `What are you doing to me, just stop,'" Jones, 46, said one afternoon last week, standing on the practice tee at the Marriott Seaview Resort and Spa before the start of the ShopRite LPGA Classic.

"It's not allowing me to practice and play as much as I want, as much as I need to be able to be competitive out here. The courses are also getting longer and I'm getting older and it's time. I've had my heyday, I know that, and I don't want to remain out here when I'm not competitive."

There was something very persuasive that drew Jones back to the tour this year.

`You make $600,000-something, it's hard to say, `Now I'm going home,'" Jones said.

The countdown toward retirement has begun anew, as the aches and pains of playing professional golf for all her adult life - and tournament golf since age 11 - have returned. The preparation for her life after the LPGA Tour has already begun.

Jones, who will play in this week's LPGA Championship at Bulle Rock Golf Course in Havre de Grace, has signed on to serve as an analyst with The Golf Channel at six events this year. She has also considered becoming a coach of sorts to some of the young players just starting to find their way.

The transition from full-time professional to part-time tour visitor has been more difficult than Jones imagined.

"I didn't think it was going to be that hard," Jones said. "All of a sudden there are a lot of emotions because you have a lot of your ego and your ability wrapped up in who you are as a golfer. When you start to change that, you start to feel the things that you're going to miss."

Although not a Hall of Famer based on the number of victories (13), Jones has had a memorable career. Two of the most lasting memories came early on, when Jones nearly won the 1984 U.S. Women's Open in her second full season on tour and then when she won her first tournament in 1987.

The near miss in the Open came when Jones, playing in the final group, bogeyed the last hole of regulation at Salem (Mass.) Country Club to lose by a stroke to three-time Open winner Hollis Stacy. The victory came at the Rail Charity Classic when she beat Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez by a stroke with a birdie at 18.

"The first win kind of put me over to the next level," Jones said. "It may not be the greatest moment of my whole career, I've had so many I can't just name one."

And the biggest disappointment?

"Never winning a major," said Jones, who finished second three times, most recently at last year's Kraft Nabisco, and third four times. "A lot of times I finished great and somebody just came out and finished better."

In a strange way, Jones thinks she might not have had as good a career as she did had she beaten Stacy in the 1984 Women's Open.

"That one to me isn't a big disappointment because I didn't want my first win to be a U.S. Open," said Jones, who also carved a reputation as a tough team player in the Solheim Cup. "I think that would have been hard to back that up. I don't think I was ready for that kind of responsibility, to be that kind of champion."

Going into the broadcast booth, or roaming the fairways as an on-course commentator, hasn't been as easy as Jones figured it might. Though often thought of as outspoken, Jones understands that speaking her mind over the airwaves is different that seeing a quote or two in a newspaper.

"It's like golf for me, I always had to work a little bit harder at it," said Jones, who grew up in Southern California and played collegiately at Ohio State. "I have a lot to learn, I have a lot to work on as far as being on the other side of the microphone."

And how would Jones like to be remembered as a golfer?

"I'd like to be remembered as a player who'd just never give up," Jones said. "A lot of determination even though I didn't have the game that other players had, maybe I didn't have the talent to hit the ball as well but I was [sure] going to get it in the hole. I did that for a long time."

don.markus@baltsun.com

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