Leading On and Off the Course: A Sit-Down with Golf Legend Jan Stephenson
If you paid attention to golf – or sports culture in general – in the 1980s and 90s, you’re familiar with Australian golfer Jan Stephenson. Deemed the “It Girl” of professional golf, she burst onto the scene in the late 1970s and is credited with laying the groundwork for the women golfers that followed her, as well as elevating the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) to the organization it is today. Beyond her golf career – she won three major championships and 16 LPGA Tour events and was recently elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame, among other accolades – Jan is an impressive leader and businesswoman. Her success both on and off the course are the direct result of her commitment, determination, and willingness to step outside the box. I asked her some specific questions about the correlations between golf and business, and here’s what she had to say:
What has your experience in golf taught you about leadership?
You are responsible for the good or bad, even if you listened to others for advice.
What’s one of the biggest obstacles you’ve faced in your career?
Coming back from a brutal mugging and losing 30 yards from the damage to my left hand.
What leadership lessons can you only learn on the golf course?
To have a totally supportive team.
What’s one fact people are surprised to learn about your golf career?
That I regret helping the LPGA attain new sponsors. It was a lot of unpaid work and my game suffered.
What kind of overlap do you see between leadership and the sport of golf?
That you are on your own. You have to remain committed.
How have your experiences competing in high-pressure situations against elite athletes helped you grow outside of the game?
To be able to make presentations even when you are nervous. There’s no pressure like making a putt to make the cut, otherwise you are out $3,000 worth of expenses.
You were recently elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame – what was your first thought when you received the news?
That it happened while I was alive to enjoy.
You’ve pursued so many endeavors outside of playing professional golf – what led you to those particular paths and how has your past experience help you excel in them?
To not give up. Both fields are definitely men’s world, and despite their words they do not welcome women into the business. I am determined to persevere and make it despite all the opposition.
What do you consider your proudest moment, both on and off the course?
On the course – Winning the US Open with borrowed clubs. Mine had been stolen and we couldn’t get a set that fit in time for the first round. Something my parents used to dangle as a carrot when I didn’t feel like practicing.
Off the course – Coming to America when it was such an unknown. Leaving my family and country.
What’s the best lesson you’ve learned from a mentor?
To believe in yourself. Not to rely on anyone.
What do you always have to have near you while you work?
Water or a cup of Aussie tea.
Droid or iPhone? Mac or PC?
Coke or Pepsi?
Neither, yuk! No pop at all!
Best place to vacation?
Home. I have travelled for work my whole adult life.
Favorite golf movie?
The Greatest Game Ever Played. Caddie Shack for the quotes, though! Hopefully the story of my life will be there soon!
What snack can you simply not live without?
Tim Tams (an Aussie cookie)
What’s on your iPod or Spotify playlist right now?
Classic Rock (Blue Oyster Cult, Kansas, Beaver Brown Band, Starship); Keith urban because he is Australian, and I love Country; Michael Bolton because we play golf together; My ringtone is “Man from Down Under” by Men at Work.
What’s something about you that people are surprised to find out?
That I am a homebody. I do not like to go out at night or eat out.
If you had an opportunity to start over with a new career, what would you pursue?
I wish that I had stuck with golf course design, rather than give in to the “big boys” of course design that told developers that women wouldn’t know how to design championship tees – yet they think they know how to place forward tees!
What’s your next big goal?
To beat the system and succeed as a woman winery and distillery owner.