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Dottie Pepper shoots straight on golf, the LPGA, TV

By Jennifer Mario, Contributor

With 17 LPGA victories, including two majors, Dottie Pepper's professional golfing career spanned almost two decades, making her one of golf's enduring icons. As a competitor, she was enough of a lightning rod to make European golfers draw her face on a punching bag at the 1998 Solheim Cup.

Viewers of both The Golf Channel and NBC are treated to Dottie Pepper's insight and trademark frankness.

Now she's well into her second successful career, as an announcer offering cogent analysis for both NBC and The Golf Channel with her trademark frankness. Recently Dottie took a few minutes to talk about her start in golf, the challenges of playing professionally, her life as an announcer and her advice for the LPGA.

TravelGolf.com: You have a reputation for speaking your mind. How did you earn that reputation?

Dottie Pepper: Well I think it was encouraged and bred in my family. I had very opinionated grandparents and mom and dad as well, so I just went along those same lines. I'm pretty outspoken. Politically, economically, whatever's on your mind, say it.

You've credited your dad a lot for influencing your career. How did he get you into golf?

Dottie Pepper: My father was a former baseball player; he played with the Detroit Tigers for a short time in the majors and spent most of his time in the minors. He played from '63 until he was sold in '69-'70 to the Montreal Expos. Most baseball players, when they finish playing baseball, they play golf. I played with my grandmother some, too, but it was certainly my father who had the greatest influence.

Did you love it from the beginning?

Dottie Pepper: Yeah, I did. I didn't play 12 months a year, which probably helped most. I grew up skiing in the wintertime, and that variety kept me hungry and kept the game pretty new.

What was life like out on the LPGA?

Dottie Pepper: It was a lot different than it is now. If you needed golf balls, you brought them with you. Everything you needed you brought with you. And I only had enough money to play half the year, so, if I didn't play well, I was going to have to figure out some way to stay on tour.

What was it like being under that kind of pressure, when you have to play well or go home?

Dottie Pepper: Well, I figured I was better off than Lee Trevino was, where he didn't have enough money in his pocket to pay a bet. I had $30,000 to make it, and I just needed to play well, period.

With all the traveling on the LPGA, do you feel like you've sacrificed a lot?

Dottie Pepper: I think I've sacrificed a little, but I've managed to maintain most of my sanity because I travel with at least one dog most of the time. While it complicates travel, it made it more manageable at the same time. At one time I traveled with two full-sized black chows that were in the 75- to 80-pound neighborhood, so it was like a traveling circus. These days I travel with my 19-pound Bichon mix.

Did it mess with your personal life?

Dottie Pepper: Oh, it totally messed with my personal life. You're making adjustments even when you're playing summer golf as a kid. Everybody else is running to the tennis courts or the pool, and you're saying, "I've got to practice, I've got a tournament next week."

Can you give me the inside scoop on the LPGA? Most people don't really know what life is like on the tour.

Dottie Pepper: Unlike the guys on the PGA Tour, where they're making pretty good money but they may not have a job next year, on the LPGA it's the opposite: You might keep your card, but you are not necessarily going to make any money. The situation on the LPGA is different - the purses are about a fifth, but the expenses are the same.

So I think the girls are generally pretty money-wise. They've figured out ways to travel comfortably but a little bit frugally. And they don't take it for granted.

You won 17 tournaments, including two majors. Was there one in particular that stands out to you?

Dottie Pepper: I think my last major (the Nabisco Dinah Shore in 1999) because I set an all-time record for scoring - 19 under - that still hasn't been broken. And also the McCall's LPGA Classic at Stratton Mountain in '95. It was the only event that my parents saw me win.

Did you have a favorite tournament that you looked forward to the most each year?

Dottie Pepper: I looked forward to the U.S. Open. If I have one regret, it's that I never won an Open. You had to hit literally every shot in the bag. On one par-3 you would play with a short iron, and then, on the next one, you'd have to use a wood. I think it was the best-balanced golf course we played all year long, and it definitely identified the best player at the time.

When you retired, you said, "This is no longer a job I can't wait to get to in the morning; there's a lot more to life than this golf thing." Did you really feel like golf was all there was to your life?

Dottie Pepper: No, I felt like rehab was all there was to my life. I was having to rehab just to the point where I could play a little bit of golf. That last year, 2004, I rehabbed more than I actually played.

What is it that you enjoy about announcing?

Dottie Pepper: Partly the analysis, but mostly just being prepared. A few people show up to do this job and not have their ducks in a row, and I know it bothered not only me but a lot of other players. They would make a comment that had no homework or no basis behind it. So that's really my motto now, to be prepared. I've spent six hours in the last two nights just getting ready for today's telecast. There's always stuff to be updated to keep it fresh so you're not just repeating the same things.

That's something your producer told me, that Dottie Pepper always does her homework.

Dottie Pepper: Well that's my job! I just think it's an embarrassment if you don't; you wouldn't show up to work unprepared. I mean, if I showed up to a tournament unprepared, I'd miss the cut!

What's involved with preparing for a tournament as an announcer?

Dottie Pepper: You've got to read news releases from the LPGA, you've got to Google people, everything that the tour offers you've got to read and be prepared to offer a concise opinion. You have to know the golf course and the players and the conditions they're playing at. And you have to know what's on the line: exemptions, player of the year awards - you've got to be versed on all of that.

It's incredible how a golf telecast comes together. If you look at all the information coming in, how it's all synchronized, it's amazing that it comes together the way it does. The people at home have no idea about the screaming that's going on in your ear. And you've got to just talk right through it.

That's got to be really difficult. Have you ever made any big mistakes on the air?

Dottie Pepper: Oh, certainly. I once made the remark that one of the girls on the European tour had played extremely well for the fact that she was 17 and a half months pregnant. Actually she was 17 and a half weeks pregnant. You say stuff like that, and your broadcast partner looks at you like, "What the hell did you just say?" And you're like, "What was wrong with that?"

The broadcast actually takes a lot longer than any round does. And you're under the gun. Your brain is so tired after you're finished.

What's your handicap these days?

Dottie Pepper: I have a plus-one handicap; I just play my games with the guys at the club and have a good time. I can still get around fine, just not five days in a row.

You've seen the LPGA from multiple angles now. Do you think there's anything that needs fixing?

Dottie Pepper: Well, yeah. I think the current administration needs to take a harder look at where the LPGA has come from and have a little more respect for the sponsors that stuck with it for so long. The sponsors that have stuck with the LPGA for a very long time are now being thought of as disposable, and I think that's a huge mistake.

If you were commissioner, what would you do?

Dottie Pepper: I would somehow find a blend of new and old. But I would make sure that my sponsors know that we need them every bit as much as we ever did. I don't think that's being relayed at all. It's about having a foundation that never goes away, and those people were our foundation for a very long time.

What is it about golf that keeps you coming back?

Dottie Pepper: The intrigue of golf to me is that it can never be perfect. I've never seen a perfect round of golf played. You're always having to dig yourself out of trouble. I think broadcasting is the same way, I don't think you can ever be perfect at it. That's what keeps you going.

Jennifer MarioJennifer Mario, Contributor

Jennifer Mario is a regular contributor to the TravelGolf Network and the author of "Michelle Wie: The Making of a Champion" (St. Martin's Griffin, 2006). A graduate of Duke University, she lives in the Triangle area of North Carolina with her family.

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