National News

Carol Mann, Golf Star and Executive, Is Dead at 77

Posted May 22, 2018 7:16 p.m. EDT

Carol Mann, a star of the Ladies Professional Golf Association in the 1960s and ‘70s who won 38 tournaments, including two major titles, and later served as the organization’s president, died Sunday at her home in The Woodlands, Texas, a suburb of Houston. She was 77.

Her brother Lou confirmed the death, of an unspecified cause.

Mann joined the LPGA Tour in 1961 and developed into one of its top players, along with Kathy Whitworth and Mickey Wright, the top winners in the history of women’s golf. At 6-foot-3 — she jokingly said she stood “5-foot-15” — she towered over her opponents.

Mann’s first victory, at the 1964 Western Open, was also her first major. The next year she headed into the final round of the U.S. Women’s Open, another major, with a bad cold, which she was treating with medicine laced with codeine.

After a sleepless night, she felt woozy but was still leading by one stroke when she came to the 16th hole at the Atlantic City Country Club in Northfield, New Jersey. Her tee shot landed on a slope on the opposite side of a water-filled ditch to the right of the hole. She subsequently made a 20-foot putt for par, and, with a birdie on the 18th, won by two strokes over Kathy Cornelius.

It was, she said, her greatest tee shot ever — one that nearly went out of bounds. “I crumpled and cried after I signed my score card, thinking this was the hardest thing I have ever done,” she told the LPGA’s website in an undated interview. “What a relief!”

Mann’s ascent accelerated. She won four tournaments in 1966 and three more the next year. In 1968, she won 10 times — as did Whitworth — and in 1969 she won eight more. But her winnings in 1969 of $49,152 illustrated the pay disparity with men on the PGA Tour: That year, Frank Beard, the men’s top money winner, earned $164,707.

“Carol was excellent,” Whitworth told Golfweek in 2006, recalling Mann’s run of victories in 1968 and 1969. “I think her short game was the strongest part of her overall game, not to say the rest of it was bad.”

Carol Ann Mann was born in Buffalo, New York, on Feb. 3, 1941, to Louis Mann Sr. and Ann (Barker) Mann. Her father, known as Rip, was a national sales director for General Motors and an amateur golfer who wanted to turn professional but needed a steady job to support his five children. Her mother was a homemaker and also an avid golfer. During her upbringing, Carol’s family moved to Towson, Maryland, and then Chicago.

As a youngster, Carol danced ballet, played tennis and swam. By age 9, she was playing golf with her parents and four brothers. She earned a partial golf scholarship to the Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina (now the University of North Carolina, Greensboro).

“After two years I decided I didn’t want to be a phys ed teacher after all, and I called my father,” she told The New York Times in 1973. “'I think I’ll turn pro,’ I told him.” A sponsor paid her $600 a month for her first 18 months as a professional.

“When I talked to her about paying it back, she said, ‘No, just do the same for somebody else sometime,'” she said.

Mann’s career moved in a different direction when she was elected president of the LPGA in 1973, making her life much busier. “I could barely get to the course in time to tee off,” she was quoted as saying in “The LPGA: The Unauthorized Version” (1994), by Liz Kahn. “I burned myself out a bit.”

In 1975, as part of its restructuring under Mann, the LPGA hired Ray Volpe, a veteran sports executive, as its first commissioner. Prize money gradually increased.

“She was a big decision-maker at that point, and she had a vision for the LPGA doing a little more big business than they were doing,” Judy Rankin, a golfer who turned pro in the early 1960s, told The Baltimore Sun in 2014.

Mann retired from golf in 1981, worked as a television commentator and opened a course-design and golf sponsorship business.

Ron Sirak, a longtime golf writer who is a contributor to Golf Channel, said in an email that Mann “possessed a keen golf mind and a wonderfully wacky sense of humor in an almost unintentional way.” He added, “If Julia Child had played golf, she would have been Carol Mann.”

In addition to her brother Lou, Mann is survived by another brother, Gale. Her marriage to Jim Hardy, a golf instructor, ended in divorce.

When the PGA of America honored her in 2008 with its First Lady of Golf Award, Mann said that golf was about performing, not competing.

“I hated beating other people,” she said at the award dinner in Rochester, New York. “But I loved learning to master myself, my game and the shots in the environment where I was playing.”