The tip that helped 83-year-old JoAnne Carner shoot (and break) her age

After a legendary career, spanning all the way back to the Eisenhower Administration, more USGA titles than any other woman, 43 LPGA Tour wins, and countless other accolades and achievements, 83-year-old JoAnne Carner announced she is done with competitive golf at the U.S. Senior Women’s Open this past week.

“I never say goodbye, but goodbye!” the woman who came to be known as “Big Momma” said following her missed cut.

But don’t let the stat of a missed cut fool you. Carner accomplished a dream for many amateurs as they get into their more advanced years.

Carner shot her age. Not just once at NCR Country Club, but twice on her way to the missed cut.

If that doesn’t impress you, how about this? The two 83s at the 2022 U.S. Senior Women’s Open were the fourth and fifth times she’s shot or bettered her age in the event since it started in 2018. And he she really wasn’t all that happy about it.

She said before the tournament her goal has been to make the cut and this was “finally” the week she thought she had a shot.

“I get a lot of people talking to me as I play, even the players all congratulate me,” Carner said after her round Friday. “I’m not very enthusiastic about it because I shot 83. But it’s nice to hear from them.”

So what is Carner’s secret to continue to play at such a high level at her age?

“Hard work,” she said in a very on-brand response before the tournament. “It’s just hard work trying to get the whole game going. I let it go too bad.”

She said it took a lot of work to get her game in shape to play in this year’s U.S. Senior Women’s Open. She’s played in all four editions of the event by virtue of a 10 year-exemption given to all U.S. Women’s Open winners when the event was started.

She went through all the work she did. Especially in the bunkers, which she credits as the key to recent revival.

Carner’s fix: More knee flex at setup

“I played so awful — I let my game go to pot. Everything was terrible, so it was like starting all over from scratch,” Carner said. “I went to Justin Thompson, who I have taken lessons from there at Pine Tree in Florida, and he started me — because I just wouldn’t turn. As you age, nothing wants to move, so I did some stretching at home. But basically back to it.

“I’ve always been a superb bunker player, and I couldn’t even get out of the sand down there — well, I could get out but not hit the proper shot. Finally I asked him to check what I was doing. I was bent over like L-shaped trying to play a bunker shot.

“He said, ‘How about just bending your knees to get down there instead of putting your head in the ground?’

“I have a friend who when I would take lessons from her, she said, ‘Do you get nosebleeds?’ And I said, no, what are you talking about. She said, ‘Well, your head’s buried.’ She would call me the ostrich. So I have to watch it when I’m playing, and as I get tired on the back side I want to lower my head, and then you can’t turn your shoulders under your chin. It’s a flaw, I think, of a lot of older players. They just start bending over but keep the neck up.”

Adding more knee flex at setup, she took stress off her back, and it helped put her in a more athletic position to start hjer swing. It didn’t take longs for the tips to start working. Suddenly, she had confidence, but sounded like she was still grinding over her game as if she was still in the heyday of her career.

“There is hope [for my game],” Carner said Wednesday, “but yesterday I hit — I couldn’t hit the driver anywhere. In fact, when I finished, after a little rest, went to the driving range, so when you go back down there, you loosen up with a few wedges and that. So then I walked to my caddie, Trevor, and I said, Trevor, we need to work on the clubs we’re hitting; what are we hitting out all day? He’s like, driver, 3-wood. So that’s what I worked on.”

She probably was grinding like it was still her heyday. She went back to the range after her opening round Thursday to work on her driver. She said she loves the competition.

“I just love everything about it. I was always happy to go play by myself. If you miss a green, can you make the recovery shot,” Carner said. “I played a lot of really good recovery shots, but where the pins were, you really had — if you missed it on the wrong side, you had no chance.”

With a career spanning eight decades, her resume backs up her expectations. Her eight USGA titles are more than any woman and just one fewer than anyone male or female. The two guys with the most at 9? Just Bobby Jones and Tiger Woods. Heard of ’em?

On the Woods comparison, Carner is the only person to win the U.S. Girls Junior Amateur, the U.S. Women’s Amateur and the U.S. Women’s Open. Woods is the only one who can say the same for the equivalent male titles.

That’s probably what made it hard for her when she was asked to sum up her career.

“Sum it up? Have you got an hour? I’ve had a fantastic career,” Carner said. “Starting public links golf, daughter of a carpenter and a housewife, and used to hunt golf balls to pay for golf and take the neighbor kids to the movies and whatnot.

“Then from there, you start taking a club to knock the weeds down to hunt the golf balls, and from there, we could play at this little nine-hole public golf course after the paying customers, so I learned to play moonlight golf with two of my sisters played at that time when I was young, and then the neighbor boys.

“From there. just progressed.”

And despite her “bad golf” this week, it earned a mention as one of the proudest moments of her career.

“Right now my age, I guess,” she said. “Shooting my age, which is terrible. It is. I do better than that at home.”

And she intends to keep playing at home, she told Golfweek. Her sister, Helen Sherry, took up the game at 70 and is now 91 and Carner said she’s excited to continue playing her.

Jack Hirsh

Golf.com Editor

Jack Hirsh is an assistant editor at GOLF. A Pennsylvania native, Jack is 2020 graduate of Penn State University, earning degrees in broadcast journalism and political science. He was captain of his high school golf team and still *tries* to remain competitive in local amateurs. Before joining GOLF, Jack spent two years working at a TV station in Bend, Oregon, primarily as Multimedia Journalist/reporter, but also producing, anchoring and even presenting the weather. He can be reached at jack.hirsh@golf.com.