During the early days of “the Dinah,” as it’s known the world over, two-time winner Sandra Post contends that the par 3s played longer, particularly before mature trees and condos cut through the desert winds. On one particularly windy day, while playing in a twosome with good friend Judy Rankin, Post pulled out driver on the par-3 14th along with the TopFlite that she always kept in the bottom of her bag.
After Rankin’s tee shot sailed out of bounds, Post’s missile peaked at 3 feet off the ground and scooted onto the green, setting up a two-putt par.
“I can’t believe you keep a TopFlite in your bag,” said Rankin, winner of the 1976 Colgate Dinah Shore Winner’s Circle.
After 50 years in the same place, stories like this are endless among the generations. With the Dinah, now known as the Chevron Championship, starting 22 years after the tour was formed, every significant star the LPGA has ever produced – with the exception of Babe Zaharias, who died in 1956 – competed at Mission Hills Country Club.
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“When the news broke about Colgate,” said 1972 champion Jane Blalock, “here you have an international conglomerate Fortune 100 company getting behind women’s golf. It symbolized the complete transition of the LPGA from kind of a barn-storming group to a celebrity status.”
Perhaps it’s fitting then that as the LPGA prepares to leave Mission Hills at the conclusion of this year’s event, bound for Houston and the promise of more, the golf world celebrates not only the impact of a tournament – but one woman in particular, too. Adding to the bittersweet nature of these final laps around the Dinah Shore Tournament Course is the knowledge that the voice in the booth, the First Lady of Golf as television colleagues have dubbed her (she won a PGA of America award by that name in 1999) , will be stepping aside, too.
Rankin isn’t exactly retiring at age 77. She’ll still work a handful of events in 2022. But this week’s Chevron will be her last as lead analyst for Golf Channel as she makes room for another desert darling – Morgan Pressel – to take her place.
“I wish it weren’t,” said Rankin. “I wish I felt 10 years younger.”
Tuey Rankin grew up on the LPGA, watching his mom win dozens of tournaments worldwide long before tour daycare ever materialized. Now, at age 54, Tuey likes to watch the action from Mission Hills on his big screen in the home office in Lubbock, Texas.
The Rankins used to go out to Mission Hills for Christmas every year, and Tuey has fond memories of family rounds around the Dinah Shore course.
“I didn’t know how good I had it when I was 11 or 12 years old,” said Tuey. “I just thought that’s what everybody did.”
Rankin, like many of today’s brightest stars, joined the LPGA as a teenager, winning her first event in 1968. Rankin and her husband Yippy were pioneers when it came to child-rearing on tour, with all 26 of Judy’s victories coming after she gave birth.
A bad back ultimately sent Rankin on another pioneering adventure in 1985 as the first female to put on a headset and regularly cover the PGA Tour from inside the ropes.
Post called Rankin one of the smartest players on tour, and that measured, balanced approach served her well in television, too. Jack Graham, former Vice President-Golf Events & Executive Producer at Golf Channel, worked with Rankin right from the start and said the effortless way she’s able to be critical without criticalizing is one of her greatest traits. Rare is the word that pops out of Rankin’s mouth without great thought.
Graham calls her a “warm listen,” noting that viewers think of her as someone they’d be friends with if given the chance. They’re probably right, too.
Terry Gannon, a colleague and close friend of Rankin’s since the mid-90s, said the trip from the compound to the set often goes down to the wire before going on air given the number of stops made in the golf cart to talk to fans. Gannon said Rankin is incapable of being anything but authentic and will answer a fan’s question the same way she would answer his on air.
“I’ve never met anybody who is so absolutely the same off camera as she is on camera,” said Gannon.
Rankin said she could tell a difference in the language Pressel used her first time in the booth and wondered if it might be time for a more modern take on the game. It’s also understandable that someone who has traveled 60-plus years might want to stay back in west Texas a little more. Maybe play some golf.
“I wasn’t as invested as I been or should be,” said Rankin of some recent broadcasts. “I would look at my watch on Thursday, and that’s not a good thing. It’s too nice of a job to look at your watch.”
On Sundays, however, Rankin remained as invested down the stretch as anyone, and will be from the time the first shot is struck as the tour closes a monumental chapter.
Rankin has told many people over the years that she didn’t grow up loving golf. Her father, Paul Torluemke, was a tough taskmaster and money was tight.
One of the last times Rankin was with his father watching the US Open on television, he said something poignant that meant a great deal.
“I think you played golf for me,” Paul told her. “I think TV was for you.”
Rankin proved to be exceptional at both. Tough when she needed to be and always kind. Grant Boone, Rankin’s partner in the booth most weeks, said his Hall of Fame friend is much like the signature dish of west Texas – the chicken fried steak. When done right, it’s the perfect blend of tough and tender.
Rankin’s TV family loves to wind her up whenever possible. They’ve made a habit, Gannon said, of telling folks that it’s her birthday at functions and inevitably, there’s singing and cake.
And why not celebrate?
“I would tell you she’s the best golf analyst there has ever been,” said Graham, “male or female.”
Pressel knows she has big shoes to fill, as does the venue that takes Dinah’s place. Rankin, the reasoned and reassuring voice of the LPGA, believes the time is right for both moves.
When the tour first came to glamorous Palm Springs, the celebrities were A-listers and network TV was a given. Thanks to Colgate-Palmolive chairman David Foster, the exposure the event enjoyed was unparalleled.
Now, an enthusiastic blue-chip sponsor in Chevron, a new TV contract, and a new spring date will put the event back on the network next year for the first time in over a decade.
This week should be a fitting thank you to a community that has poured into the LPGA for five decades. And to a woman who poured her soul into the game even longer.
What does Rankin mean to golf?
Boone believes many would answer that question the way he does – by thinking first about how Rankin has impacted him.
“She had one biological son, and countless others who looked at her almost as a spiritual, emotional mother or big sister, or aunt or a significant figure in their lives,” said Boone. “I think that is a big part, if not the biggest part, of who Judy is.”
Those who don’t know Rankin feel like they do, just like those who haven’t been to the Dinah feel like they have.
Two old desert friends the game will sorely miss.