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No slowing down Stephenson

Posted Wednesday, July 2, 2008, at 9:28 AM

This much we already knew about Jan Stephenson.

The native of Sydney, Australia burst onto the LPGA scene in 1974 and was named Rookie of the Year.

That was after she had won five straight New South Wales Schoolgirl championships and later won three consecutive New South Wales Junior championships.

She racked up 16 LPGA Tour victories, including three majors, the last one being the 1983 Women's U.S. Open championship.

So we knew that Stephenson was an amazing golfer.

We also knew that Stephenson was something of a trailblazer in women's golf where marketing of athletes is concerned.

She created the template that Natalie Gulbis, Paula Creamer and other current LPGA players would follow by having her own calendar available to her fans during her prime-time on the Tour.

It was hard not to pay attention to Stephenson on or off the golf course in the 70s and 80s. On the course, she was hitting the ball harder than most, while off the course she was posing for pictures in a bath tub filled with golf balls.

So we knew that Stephenson set the curve for generations of LPGA golfers after her.

But we learned a couple of other things about Stephenson during a pair of meet-and-greets last weekend in Horseshoe Bend and Cherokee Village.

Stephenson, now swinging her clubs for The Legends Tour (the senior tour for LPGA players), was in the area to help promote the first-ever Horseshoe Bend Invitational. More on that in a minute.

What we didn't know about Stephenson, however, was that she has a penchant for meeting the local chiefs of police at the various towns she visits while on the road to help promote The Legends Tour.

And in regards to that, we may have let Stephenson down.

"I'm always late and I'm always speeding. Those are the two things you can count on," Stephenson said at a reception June 29 at The Loft in Horseshoe Bend. "I'm really disappointed I haven't met the police chief yet. But he'll my first one tomorrow to say Hi to."

Stephenson flew into the Springfield airport Sunday evening and then hopped in a rental car and drove to the Tri-County region before boarding a plane in Cherokee Village late Monday morning to fly to Little Rock to tour Arkansas Children's Hospital, the charity the Horseshoe Bend Invitational will benefit. After touring the Hospital, Stephenson headed to Rogers Monday night, where she is playing in the LPGA's P&G Beauty Northwest Arkansas Championship at Pinnacle Country Club.

That was a fast, fast, jam-packed 24 hours in our part of the state for Stephenson.

But apparently, Stephenson has no problems with "fast."

"The Legends all know that when they send me on one of these things, I'm always getting stopped for speeding," Stephenson said. "But they arranged for me to have a conservative (rental) car. I drive a Porsche. When I picked my (rental) car up, I was disappointed because it was a sedan. I think they were trying to tell me something."

But like the true pro she is, Stephenson was not about to let a little setback like that stop her from reaching her goal.

"I'll probably arrive in something a little more sportier when I come here the last of September," she said.

Oh, and did we mention that Stephenson also holds a pilot's license?

She does.

And we bet she shes to fly fast, too.

The Horseshoe Bend Invitational, Sept. 28-29 at The Golf Course on Turkey Mountain, will feature 20 players from The Legends Tour and will climax with a one-day Pro-Am Sept. 29. to the pro-am.

Along with Jan Stephenson, Amy Alcott, Pat Bradley, Cindy Rarick, Cindy Miller, Jane Blalock, Rosie Jones and Kathy Whitworth are scheduled to appear in Horseshoe Bend.

In addition to the Pro-Am, a one-day community clinic will be held at the course Sept. 28, showcasing the swings of the Legends Tour professionals.

Proceeds from the Horseshoe Bend Invitational will benefit Arkansas Children's Hospital.

In its seven seasons, The Legends Tour has awarded more than $6 million in prize money and donated more than $3 million to charity. The Legends Tour has hosted events in Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Japan and Australia. Major corporate partners are American Airlines, Olay, BJ's Wholesale Club and Sharpie. For additional information on The Legends Tour, or to buy tickets for the Horseshoe Bend Invitational, log on to www.thelegendstour.com.

For more information on the Horseshoe Bend Invitational, contact tournament director Chuck McNeight at 870-670-5252.

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Terry Mullins, Sports Editor
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Since my own high school sports career fizzled out before it really reached its zenith, I have managed to live vicariously through the student/athletes of the 16 high schools I've covered for Areawide Media since 2001. I've witnessed the highest of highs in the form of state championships. I have also seen first-hand the sting of disappointment when the ultimate prize was within reach, but still eluded the grasp of its pursuer. But through all the ups and downs associated with high school sports, my respect for the young competitors that suit up each night, along with the men and women who guide them, remains unwavering. Blog mission: With my passion for music, especially live music, running second only to my passion for sports, I'll try to devote this space to both. Especially when it concerns our region and what's happening around it. Look for commentary and features on area sports figures and musicians, along with things to get out and do in the beautiful Spring River/Ozarks area. But I'll not totally ignore the outside - I'll also hit on some national happenings in the wide worlds of sports and music.
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