I recently had the honor of sitting down with the LPGA legend and NBC Sports golf commentator, Dottie Pepper.
Throughout her career she has been known as a intense, fiery competitor. Few athletes have a more fitting name.
Her passion has kept her at the the top of her profession(s) her entire life. Dottie had an impressive amateur career and in college Pepper was a 3 time All-America at Furman University. During her LPGA career, Dottie went on to win 17 times, including two major championships. Her nineteen under par performance at the 1999 Kraft Nabisco Championship is still a record. Dottie played on six Solheim Cup teams amassing a career record of 13-5-2, winning 70% of her matches.
Injuries ended Dottie’s playing career prematurely at age 38. In 2004 Dottie joined NBC Sports and went on to become one of the most respected on-course commentators ever to walk the fairways. In December of 2012, Dottie decided to retire from broadcasting to move on to new projects both personal and with the PGA of America. And, oh yea, she’s an assistant captain on this years Solheim Cup Team.
As we stood in her kitchen I asked her some questions about her childhood.
CoG: You were raised on a farm. What are some of the chores that you had to do?
Pepper : Our family had a turkey farm in Saratoga Springs, New York. Each year we had about 45,000 turkeys. One thing that most people don’t know is that turkeys are terrified of thunder storms. They freak out and they’ll all try and pile on top of each other. They’ll suffocate each other! So every time there was a thunder storm we would have to go out into the barns with brooms and chase around 45,000 turkeys and to try and keep them away from the corners, piling on and killing each other.
As we moved to her office we shifted the conversation to golf.
CoG: What did being an on-course commentator teach you about the playing and competing that you wish you knew while you on tour?
Pepper : That it’s not rocket-science. It really isn’t.
I think as a player you over-think situations. Where when you take a half a step back, it becomes a lot clearer. Part of the reason why is that because when you are observing the game emotions aren’t so involved and so over driven. All of the sudden the light seems a lot cleared and the options seem a lot bigger and much more obvious. It’s just not as difficult as we think it is.
CoG: Name someone you have seen that we don’t yet know about who you think will be the next big thing on the PGA and the LPGA.
Pepper : On the PGA Tour, as an analyst you’re not suppose to be a fan, but I really am a fan of Bud Cauley. I really think this kid is going to be a rock star. There’s a mentality passed along from his dad who was a NAVY Seal. This kid goes out there—no excuses—and gets the job done. He’s one of only seven players to ever to earn his card through a few sponsors exemptions. That alone puts him in elevated territory. Mechanically his swing is great and he’s found a veteran caddie. Now he’s learning how difficult it is to play that many weeks. Because in college it’s a pretty scripted fall, pretty scripted spring, then in the summer you’re of on your own to figure out where you want to be to make sure you’re prepared for the next season. Well guess what? This IS the season. It’s all the time. I think that has been his biggest adjustment.
On the female side, I would look out for another Alabama product, Brooke Pancake. Terrific kid. Great story. Her dad passed away early so she’s been on her own and had to mature faster than most kids have had too. She was a top-notch student, plus a great player as well. She’s got the qualities to in her first few years to make a Solheim Cup. She’s that good.
CoG: For a high school golfer, male or female, what single piece of advice would you give them to be a successful collegiate golfer?
Pepper : I would tell them to not just play golf. I would tell them to take advantage of the other sports, individual or team, and use them not only to keep their high-school experience complete, but for cross-training. It benefits golfers in so many ways. Golfers can get bogged down with the psychological aspects of the game, because it is slow. Where if you’re on the ski team, or football team or baseball, whatever, there is an instant reaction that ends up helping in golf. A break from golf is healthy. Myself and other professional golfers that came from up north did other things in the winter—we skied, bowled, played hockey, whatever. We played other sports in the winter and that probably helped our longevity.
CoG: Same question about college golfers wanting to go pro—what advice would you give?
Pepper : I would stay in college as long as possible. I really would. It’s not just about where your golf might be. It’s where you are as a whole person. In learning how to get around the country or how to interact with other people. Whether it’s your roommate, your teammates, whether it’s alumni, whatever it might be, I would take that time not only to enjoy the college golf experience but the college education and social experience as well. I see so many players who are in such a rush to get out on tour. I think that is a mistake.
CoG: If you could change anything about your playing career, would you?
Pepper : I’d be more sensitive about playing so many events. When I was at my best I played thirty-five weeks a year counting the LPGA and the “silly season” stuff. I developed some nagging injuries because of that, that later turned into chronic injuries that ultimately led to my playing career being cut short.
CoG: What is your craziest, favorite story you have about your playing career?
Pepper : It was in Japan at the end of the year. I made a 3 week trip over to play in a week of pro-ams and two events that we played that were on the LPGA schedule. We had what we called an “R. I. rule,” meaning “readily identifiable,” when it came to food in Japan. The last night of our trip me and two other girls went to this fabulous restaurant in Tokyo and we toasted the fact that we made it the entire three weeks without breaking the “R. I. rule.” As soon as we did, the shrimp in the basket sitting on the grill moved. They were alive! We all screamed! On cue they started jumping around in that basket. It was so gross!
CoG: Same question about your announcing career. What’s your craziest, favorite story?
Pepper : It was at the 2008 U.S Senior Open at the Broadmoor in Colorado. In the 2nd round during a couple of commercial breaks we hear rumblings that a bear is loose on the course. I ask the guys, “Where is he?” They say he is a couple of holes away, no big deal. Well don’t you know, about five minutes later we have just come back from a commercial break and I see this thing and he is going so fast coming across this hill, down underneath through a bunker and then up over a rise and then directly at me! (See photo.) He was so big and so fast and so gorgeous. The next week a guy from the USGA presented me with a bear that was made at a local shop. Roger Malbie’s comment to me was, “Kid, that was a bad day to wear white.”
Coach of golf commentary: What I like most about this image is that Bernhard Langer (yellow shirt) is just standing casually observing with hands on hips as Dottie Pepper is about to be eaten by a bear!
CoG: Are there any rules in golf you would change if you could?
Pepper : I really don’t like the anchored putter ban, to be honest with you. I really don’t. And here’s why — (the argument) is being used as a “practice round” for (the future argument about) the golf ball—the ball that many believe goes too straight and too far. I think the they (USGA and the R&A) picked their easier fight to see what the reaction was going to be. Knowing that there was a stretch that we are currently in where three of five major champions have won with a putter using the anchor-style method, so dramatically changed what was coming out of the USGA. In May of 2011 Mike Davis is on record, on video saying, “I’m not worried about it,” when there are no demonstrable numbers coming out saying that this method makes golf so much easier. Why, less than a year later, it is now so bad that the R&A is involved and looking at a ban? Just draw back the golf ball! They let that issue with the golf ball get so far ahead of them and so far gone, that I think they had to pick this fight to see how hard that fight would be. I think that’s essentially why I’m against it. I don’t like the way (the anchored putter) looks, but if it was that easy, if it made that big a difference, everyone would be doing it. It takes a different skill set to be able to operate that thing. It has to be fit properly, it takes a lot of practice to make it even work okay. I didn’t like the smell of it (this fight when it started), and I still don’t.
CoG: What is one thing that no one knows about Dottie Pepper that they should?
Pepper : Wow, hmmm…That I have a very green thumb. I love my gardens. I volunteer at the local florist. I work in the back room. I love it. That’s my thing that nobody knows. If I had to have a business to stay home all the time, that’s what it would be. It totally captivates me.
Dottie now lives in her home town of Saratoga Springs, New York with her husband, David and their dog J.P.
With co-author Scott Fuller, Dottie wrote Bogey Tees Off (Volume 1, A Lesson About Being Truthful) in 2012. The children’s picture book, illustrated by Kenneth Templeton, is available at amazon.com in both hardcover and paperback. If you order the book through the New York State Golf Association website NYSGA.org $5 of each sale goes to the New York State Golf Foundation.