The U.S. Women’s Open on a Trump property? One former champ isn’t impressed

June 28, 2017

For Jane Geddes, the U.S. Women’s Open—the event she won in 1986—is personal. For Jane Geddes, everything is personal. She’s informed, opinionated, smart, intense. That’s why, three decades after her playing prime, she’s still prominent in the game—at least in its corridors and backrooms. You may not even know her name. But Donald Trump, Tim Finchem, Lee Trevino and Karrie Webb are intimately aware of her.

So is Karen Crouse, the New York Times golf writer who, seven years ago, wrote the definitive piece about Geddes and her wife, Gigi Fernandez, the former tennis pro, and their six-year odyssey to start a family. The twins are now 8, and Jane and Gigi and Karson and Madison are moving from leafy suburban Connecticut to funky South Tampa. Geddes is starting a new job as CEO of the Executive Women’s Golf Association. “It’s more than what it sounds like,” she will tell you. Well, it will be.

In 1987, Geddes won five LPGA events and one in Japan. But when the USGA published its Women’s Open program that year, it broke with tradition. It didn’t put the defending champion on the cover, just a few years removed from her (as she puts it) “tomboy youth.” The cover shot was of the 1985 winner, Kathy Baker, with her model’s smile and Farrah Fawcett flip (the “do that burned out a million curling irons). Laura Davies won that “87 Open at (sublime) Plainfield Country Club in Edison, N.J. Geddes played 55 holes that year. A massive thunderstorm came in on Sunday. Play stopped for the day, and Geddes withdrew. She’ll tell you she had a bad attitude going in. (When the Baker cover came out, Geddes confronted a USGA official with this choice phrase: “Are you f—ing kidding me?”) Bad attitude going out.

Still, she was young and talented. “I was 27,” Geddes told me. “I thought I’d win 10 of “em.” Her playing career ended with one Women’s Open win, plus an LPGA Championship, a Women’s British Open and victories in a dozen other professional events. You could argue she belongs in the World Golf Hall of Fame.

In mid-July, the U.S. Women’s Open is again in the Garden State, at Trump National in Bedminster, six miles from the USGA’s headquarters. Geddes has logged a lot of rounds and time with Trump, dating to her years as an LPGA executive in charge of matching courses and tournaments. He was wooing her, professionally. Once, when they were playing his course in Westchester County, New York, he pointed to a cart path and said, “Is this not the most beautiful asphalt you’ve ever seen in your life?”

Geddes said Trump was fun to play golf with, “very nice, very cordial,” but that he had disqualified himself as a (de facto) host of a Women’s Open long before Election Day and long before the Access Hollywood “I just start kissing them” tape surfaced. She said the USGA considered moving the event but, as she heard it, decided that the legal and financial risk was too great. “It’s going to be a brutal week,” she says, “and the golf is going to get overshadowed.” The greatest week of the year in women’s golf.

Geddes could write a book. Playing and losing to Lee Trevino in Dallas in the early 1980s when she had 14 clubs and he had just a 5-iron. Coming back from Japan in the late 1980s with suitcases stuffed with cash. Observing Tim Finchem (some years ago) with IOC officials who wanted to know only one thing: Could he deliver Tiger Woods to the Olympics? (Absolutely.) Playing with Karrie Webb and concluding that nobody in women’s golf could ever have played close to Webb’s level. Her 20 years as a gay professional athlete in the protected world of women’s golf. Her stint as a World Wrestling Entertainment executive. Her (shall we say) interesting times with Trump. The future of women’s golf. Her modern family.

She’s a lawyer by degree and a critical thinker by nature. “Tennis players play all their shots with one racket,” Geddes says. “Golfers have 14 clubs.” Fewer clubs, she argues, would make things more interesting. She’d like to eliminate the word handicap from golf’s let’s-make-a-game vocabulary. She comes at you—on the phone, at the Parkway Diner in Stamford, in a board meeting—with a torrent of words, even though her game resists them. “A fade will listen,” Trevino used to tell her, “but you can’t talk to a hook.”

“I had more fun than success,” she says. But she had both. “In 1987, I had this 11-week period where I couldn’t make a bad swing. All I did was make these warm-up swings with a heavy donut. I didn’t need the range. I remember telling Judy Rankin that. Judy was like, “Really.”

An 11-week run, 30 years ago. This game—some kind of handle on it, anyway—comes and goes. Still, Jane’s in it.