PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Florida (AP) — Beth Daniel didn’t want a celebration or even a cake, and she certainly didn’t expect a crowd.
She teed off on the 18th hole at St. Andrews knowing it would be the last meaningful hole she would play, her last significant tournament in a 29-year career that brought her 33 victories, a major championship and her rightful place in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
It was her little secret.
Or so she thought.
“I’m going across the Swilcan Bridge,” Daniel said, “and all of a sudden there’s a camera in my face.”
Turns out that Judy Rankin, working for ABC Sports, caught wind of Daniel’s retirement and made sure a camera crew was there to capture the moment. And when 51-year-old Daniel studied her yardage book for her final approach, she noticed out of the corner of her eye a small gathering that brought a wave of emotions.
Meg Mallon had finished an hour or so earlier and came back to watch. Juli Inkster had just finished signing her card and rushed back out to the 18th to see a longtime friend. Louise Suggs was there, too, one of the 13 founders of the U.S. LPGA Tour, who always had an eye for special moments. Daniel saw Mindy Moore, a senior vice president of the U.S. LPGA Tour, and Stephanie Louden.
There might have been more. It was getting difficult to see through the tears.
“It felt good that they would walk over and watch me finish,” she said. “It made me really emotional.”
Another year in golf had its share of noteworthy moments. Tiger Woods captured his 13th major and his first FedEx Cup. Lorena Ochoa became the dominant figure in women’s golf. Padraig Harrington brought Europe its first major of the millennium. Seve Ballesteros reluctantly retired in a tearful press conference at Carnoustie.
All of them were well-documented.
Daniel preferred to go quietly. She almost got her way.
“Beth doesn’t like the hoopla,” Inkster said. “She just wants to play golf. She loves the game. She’s a true traditionalist when it comes to golf. She likes things done the right way.”
The word on Daniel when she turned pro was that her swing belonged on the U.S. PGA Tour. Posted to the wall in the workout room at her home in Florida is her swing sequence from years ago in a golf magazine with the headline, “Here’s a lady who swings like a man.”
“I’m not sure what they meant at the time,” Daniel said with a laugh. “If they meant it as a compliment, I took it as a compliment.”
Tall and slender, Daniel said she was a shrimp until growing 6 inches (15 centimeters) one summer after her first year of high school. Teaching pro Derek Hardy changed her roundhouse swing to one that was more upright, and Daniel turned that into one of the purest in golf.
That swing won Daniel U.S. Women’s Amateur titles in 1975 and 1977. She turned pro two years later when the U.S. LPGA Tour was burgeoning with future Hall of Famers, from Nancy Lopez to Pat Bradley, from Patty Sheehan to Betsy King. In her second season, Daniel captured the first of three money titles.
In 28 years, she never finished out of the top 90 on the money list. And in 2003, at age 46, she won the Canadian Women’s Open to become the oldest winner in U.S. LPGA history.
“She’s one of the greatest players ever in women’s golf,” Rankin said. “She doesn’t love the recognition, but she should get it.”
The Women’s British Open ended on Aug. 5, and everyone remembers Ochoa finally winning that elusive major.
Virtually unnoticed and unspoken was the retirement of a Hall of Famer, even though Daniel can’t bring herself to use that word.
Part of the problem is that golfers never really retire. Daniel still hits balls five times a week, and she will be seen plenty on tour over the next two years as the U.S. captain for the 2009 Solheim Cup.
But she is retired from playing a full schedule, and that made it a quiet departure, just the way she likes it.
“I think she has watched in sports, and in golf, the multiple retirements. And she didn’t want to put herself in a position to do that,” Rankin said. “She makes every effort to be straightforward in what she does, and she has a private side. And that was a private, poignant moment for her.”
The moment was poignant in many ways.
Having left her birdie putt 5 feet short, it was one last chance to hear the infamous sarcasm of Inkster, who said loud enough for Daniel to hear, “If she misses this one, I’m not staying around to say ‘Hi’ to her.” Daniel made the par.
Now that she is retired from the tour, Daniel also would like to get involved in golf course design, but she’s finding it tough to get her foot in the door. She has been on the phone with architects, asking if she can watch or help, and making herself available for either.
She isn’t boasting of her credentials as a player, but she is letting people know she is willing to get her hands dirty and go to work.
Nothing new there. That’s all she’s ever done in golf.