Dottie Pepper, who gained a reputation as one of the most hard-nosed competitors in LPGA Tour history, was in tears here Thursday when she announced that the current season will be her last as a professional golfer after battling injuries and illness in recent years.
Pepper, who had been given a special exemption to play in this week's U.S. Women's Open, had to withdraw earlier in the week because of recurring pain in her neck that has been diagnosed as a compressed occipital nerve in the back of her head. She said she could no longer physically handle the full-time grind of tournament golf but will try to play another six events to finish off her final season.
Pepper, 38, won 17 tournaments over a 20-year-career, including two major championships. She said during an emotional news conference she decided Monday night that she couldn't play in her 20th Open.
Pepper already has been asked to join the television broadcasts of the Open beginning Thursday, and she indicated she would like to pursue a broadcasting career. She's also trying to put together an LPGA team event to be played in her native upstate New York and also has what she described as a "retail opportunity" in South Florida, where she now lives.
Pepper said her condition was manageable with therapy, medication and rest, but there has been degeneration in the nerve.
"I've been contemplating this for over a year," she said. "In January, I pretty much decided I was going to give this one good go. But when your body says no, it doesn't matter how big your heart is."
An Uneven Beginning
Hillary Lunke began the defense of her 2003 Open title with a roller-coaster round of 1-over 72 that included playing her first four holes in 4 over, then shooting a back-nine 33, despite bogeys on two of her last three holes.
"I was a little nervous at the very beginning of the round," Lunke acknowledged. "It was very similar toward the end of the tournament last year, just a shakiness."
The USGA is allowing one parent per player to watch their children from inside the gallery ropes. Michelle Wie's mother, Bo, went all 18 holes, and her father, B.J., was her caddie. First-round leader Brittany Lincicome's father also carried her bag, but her mother stayed out with the crowd because she was walking with friends.