To say golf has played an important role in Dottie Pepper’s life would be a bit of an understatement.
Pepper grew up near Saratoga Springs, N.Y., in the town of Gansevoort. She learned how to play the game at just eight years old by her grandmother. At age 15, Pepper won both the N.Y.S. Girls’ Junior and the N.Y.S. Women’s Amateur Championships, becoming the only woman in NYSGA history to do so.
After racking up five individual wins during her college days at Furman, being named an All-American three times and earning a phys ed degree, Pepper turned pro joining the LPGA Tour in 1987 where she went on to compile 17 tour wins, including two majors. She was a member of six Solheim Cup squads.
Although injuries ended her playing days early, Pepper didn’t miss a beat pivoting into what has become an extremely successful broadcasting career that has included stints with NBC, the Golf Channel, ESPN and now CBS Sports.
Pepper, who was a finalist for admission into the World Golf Hall of Fame’s 2019 class, will be inducted into the New York State Golf Association Hall of Fame as part of its Class of 2018 at a ceremony on Nov. 2, at Brookhaven Golf Club in Porter Corners, N.Y.
I had the chance to connect with Pepper recently to ask her about being honored by the NYSGA, the increased use of social media by the various professional tours, rowdy fans, the Ryder Cup, and life as a broadcaster.
JL: You are about to be inducted into the New York State Golf Association's Hall of Fame and you were recognized as a finalist for the World Golf Hall of Fame. At this point in your career and life, what does the recognition mean to you?
DP: My focus as a player was always the LPGA Hall of Fame, and when I left the playing part of my career behind in 2004 without gaining the points necessary, I knew I had underachieved, but I was and am at peace with that. Current accolades are appreciated and, of course, there is great pride to be among others selected for their excellence but with or without, they do not define my view of myself. What has been great fun is seeing my friends and family enjoy this journey.
JL: What are your thoughts on the increased use of social media not only by players but also by the individual Tours themselves, in particular the LPGA and the European Tours?
DP: Social media can be a huge asset, or it can be a total disaster depending on how it is managed. It takes time, a plan and discipline for it to be that asset. The LPGA understood that quickly and took advantage of the branding and connectivity that comes along with it — and the players bought in. That was key. The European Tour has used it very effectively as well. I’m still laughing at their Instagram posting on the night of their Ryder Cup victory with Fleetwood and Molinari in bed with the trophy. Absolutely brilliant.
JL: Who do you think is the best player on the PGA Tour right now and why? Who is an up-and-comer or someone flying under the radar who is bound for a big upcoming year?
DP: Dustin Johnson by a small margin over Justin Thomas and Francesco Molinari. He has turned his weaknesses into strengths (namely his wedge and bunker play) and has the ability to overpower a course while at the same time the discipline to dial it back (most of the time) when necessary. His work ethic is also extremely admirable. Up-and-comer: Joaquin Niemann. He has gone from the best amateur in the world to one of the very best on the entire planet with seamless ease and in a very short period of time. Works hard, enjoys what he is doing, where he is and has all the tools to be a winner on the PGA Tour — and soon.
JL: If you were in charge of all things golf, what are three things you are immediately going to change and why?
DP: Eliminate the air hugs on the LPGA Tour. Of course, I am kidding but seriously, how about shaking someone’s hand at the end of a round or a genuine embrace?
So, perhaps a better question would be what are three ideals of golf that are worth defending? 1. Its places. The distance the golf ball travels (in concert with clubs, shafts, etc.) has places that were thought to be timeless bordering on obsolescence. The technology has made those special places (as example, The Old Course, Merion... we could go on forever) less special. Shot values have been eroded and the expense to maintain such enormous spaces today is going through the roof. Recognize the changes in distance that are so obvious to those of us around the game on a daily basis and figure out a way to maintain those special places while not deterring those who play for the sheer love of our sport. Yes, this is bifurcation. 2. Dogs on golf courses. I’ve spent enough time on golf courses in the U.K. (like Sunningdale, Royal Worlington, Rye and Muirfield) and at facilities in the U.S. (like Goat Hill Park in Calif., Valley GC in Columbiana, Ohio) who allow dogs on the course/at their facilities to know that it is a better place — and people are better — when dogs are around. Well-behaved dogs improve the golf experience by leaps and bounds. Dog owners are the problem, not the dogs. 3. Backstopping. It is becoming a disturbing trend in professional golf that is trickling down beyond the amateur level to juniors. The “pace of play” argument does not cut it. If you’re going to leave a ball in position where it could possibly help an opponent, ask yourself the following: Would I leave my ball there if it was the 72nd hole of a major championship or if the Ryder Cup, Solheim Cup or even my club championship was one the line? No, you would not. Backstopping is eroding the spirit of the game and that is a wave that must be stopped.
JL: Ryder Cup – Any thoughts on changes that the U.S. can make or needs to make to the selection process, selection of a captain, or overall approach for this event?
DP: I don’t think there is a process problem at all. The players need to figure out how to play the golf course as it is presented and make more putts. Putts holed in team competitions are the difference between winning and losing.
JL: Unruly, rowdy fans: par for the course or something needs to be done? What can be done?
DP: Getting to be par for the course — people want to have fun in their free time — but when the fans start to ruin the experience for other fans and also jeopardize the ability of the competitors to do their jobs, then we have some decisions to make. The other side of the coin is, if the players don’t want to be in that atmosphere at certain events which are more rowdy than others, then don’t play.
JL: What do you find most difficult about broadcasting and being on camera? Is it a constant learning process or does it become second nature?
DP: For me, the hardest part of broadcasting is the preparation. I don’t like surprises and I despise making errors due to a lack of prep. It takes time (a lot of it), discipline and a system to be good at it — and to have good people to go to for their insight/opinion as well. Bouncing ideas around is good for the brain, good for the conversation on a golf telecast. I think great golf announcers look at what is happening in front of them, run it through their own filters of experience and share a golf geek’s view — because, yes, we may be golf announcers but we’re really just golf geeks. Being on camera: not difficult if you remember that camera is another person in the conversation — and to keep your comments brief while full of meaningful content. And, yes, it is a constant learning process. I watch/listen to the vast amount of my own work with a critical view — where my tics are, overuse of words, diction, pacing, interaction with the other announcers. I also know when I’ve had a particularly good call or show. It is part of being a pro and always striving to be better at my job.
JL: You can create a dream foursome. Who is rounding out your foursome and where are you playing?
DP: Me, my dad, Winston Churchill, Seve Ballesteros. In the US, we would play at Salem in Peabody, Mass. If I had one round left to play, it would be there. Big fan of Donald Ross architecture and was also where I played in my first U.S. Women’s Open. Overseas, we would be at Muirfield. Hands down, my favorite golf place on the planet.
JL: What’s still on your bucket list professionally or personally?
DP: Professionally: if I continue to do my job to my own lofty standards, nothing. I’m tougher on myself than anyone else could possibly be. Personally: more in-depth trips to Europe and the U.K. I’m a WWII history buff, especially the European theatre. Can’t get enough of it. Also, to have my home gardens worthy of a top-notch charitable garden tour.