Dottie Pepper is an LPGA legend, having won 17 tour events and earning almost $7M on tour. But being a golf pro isn’t as easy as it can appear, and today Dottie shares some of her early struggles with making a living, why mentorship was imperative to her success, and what it was like transitioning to the broadcast booth.
Letters to a Future Champion: My Time with Mr. Pulver is available in hardcover, paperback, or audiobook!
Dottie Pepper: Do it the right way, come up with a great business plan, support yourself, know that you’re worthy, them investing in you, so treat yourself as a business I think is a big part of it. The rewards are phenomenal in so many ways, but it but it’s also your profession, it’s your job and you hear people all the time saying, Well, I wish I’d taken it a little more seriously because it’s a total commitment to being a professional athlete.
Mackenzie Mack: Hello, welcome to “Getting to the Green”. The podcast that explores many ways that you can find financial success in the golf industry, from caddies to broadcasters, to engineers, we share how we navigate the golf business and I’ve gotten to the green. I’m your host Mackenzie Mack, a former professional golfer turn rising golf executive, and a PGA and LPGA Class A member. And today’s guest is a living legend to time LPGA major champion, six time Solheim cup member, 17 Time LPGA Tour winner, the one, the only Dottie Pepper. I am so excited to dive into her life as an LPGA Tour player and how she managed to transition to being a lead walking reporter for CBS Sports coverage of the PGA Tour.
Let’s start how where it all began. So what was your earliest memory of golf?
Dottie Pepper: My grandmother on my dad’s side gave me a series of five lessons with a journeyman PGA professional who was coming through this area, upstate New York, straight to the springs to be specific, during the summers and he taught a little golf, he played the ponies a little bit, but he was at a public driving range, sadly, that has just been plowed under. So that was the summer that I was seven, eight years old. And so it would be the summer of Slinky 73. So that was my first real dive into golf, I had a chichi Rodriguez set of golf clubs were made by Northwestern. And if you can imagine there was a three iron in that set, talk about how things have evolved. But I took that series of five lessons. Then she started me on a short course that’s still in existence through the state park system here in New York State and often running from there, I loved it.
Mackenzie Mack: So you just loved it from the beginning or was there a point that kind of switch it from recreational to this is my passion, what point did that happen?
Dottie Pepper: You know, I would say it was my immediate passion. Because I love skiing. And I love skiing more until I had a pretty big crash the winter, I was 15. And that made me make a decision about whether I really wanted to pursue skiing or if I wanted to stick with golf. And it became pretty clear that golf was where I needed to be, because that injury interrupted the beginning of golf season.
Mackenzie Mack: Wow. So you started playing after, you started taking golf more seriously after this ski incident. And then at what point did you decide that this was going to be how you’re going to make your living?
Dottie Pepper: Next at about that same time, I sort of started thinking about how do I get into tournaments where I’m going to have some focus from college programs, I was really, I was so highly encouraged by my family to get to get a degree beyond high school, I’d be the first one in my family to have done that. So that was a very important thing for me, for my family to secure the future to have a four year degree that was worthwhile and in a usable space. So that was a big motivator for me. And it was a big reason why I decided well, we’re going to take this seriously.
Mackenzie Mack: Awesome. So a lot of our listeners, you know, play golf and may have hopes to play professional golf and you turned pro in 1988. What was that feeling at that point when you turn pro, when you played your first event? How did that feel?
Dottie Pepper: I actually turned pro in 1987. So it was right after I graduated from college, but that we finished second in the national championship on graduation day, we lost by a shot, that was not a happy graduation night. I can probably shoot. But I turned pro effectively the next day and it was a little shaky because I didn’t have enough money to get through. I had to borrow some money from my grandfather to get me through that summer of playing what with no futures tour events, and be able to try to qualify for the US Women’s Open pay the fee to go to the qualifying school, all those things that went into, hopefully by the time October rolled around playing, well enough through the pre qualifiers and the qualifying school itself to get a card for the ADA season. Every stroke counted because I didn’t have the money to make it all happen.
Mackenzie Mack: Right, right. It’s a stressful situation, like playing for your livelihood at every event. So where did it turn for you? Where did it become playing, grinding to kind of gaining status for a longer period of time and kind of easing a little bit?
Dottie Pepper: But big thing for me that summer that I turned professional was qualifying for the Women’s Open, and I was ended up being medalist at the qualifier with my sister on the bag, and we were we were on the road together for the entire summer. And that was a, it was a big deal because like I said I’d gone in and asked for some money. I need a bridge from my grandfather to get me to some money that my grandmother on the other side who introduced me to the game had left me and left all the grandchildren for college. Well, fortunately, I have scholarships. So that money really sat in the bank for an extra four years, but it was in a CD, so I couldn’t touch it until August, that’s too late. I had about seven, eight weeks that I needed that money. So my other grandfather floated me along with $5,000. And when I finished tied 12 in the open itself, I walked right into the barn and handed him his $5,000 back in the middle of July.
Mackenzie Mack: That’s awesome.
Dottie Pepper: So that was a big deal. The really scary thing though, that is okay, I’ve paid off the short term thing, but looking long term, I only had enough money in that CD to make it through half of the upcoming LPGA season. So my big freedom moment was in early March, or I guess, middle of March, finishing second in Phoenix and made a birdie at the last hole to beat me out. It would have been a playoff, but it gave me enough money that I knew I could play all season long. And it also got me into my first major as an LPGA member, the dinosaur. It was a dinosaur then. And I finished top 10, the next week in Palm Springs. So those two weeks were enormous for me.
Mackenzie Mack: Wow. Well, I’m gonna get to the majors in a second. But you mentioned your sister was on the back. Did your sister play golf or did she have any influence on your playing or support or anything like that?