Firstly, I asked how old she was when she first started playing golf.
“My dad made me some little clubs when I was three by cutting down some of his clubs. We had a bungalow in Embleton on the coast adjoining the golf course, where all the kids played. I was about seven when I first went to the course. My dad used to take me out when he played. Unfortunately, when I was 12 he died, and at the time I was a competitive swimmer. After he died my mum took me for my first golf lesson and at 13 I was having a lesson every Saturday”.
I enquired about how she stumbled across her prestigious golfing career.
“I decided to give up swimming at 16 and concentrate on golf. A famous golf pro called John Jacobs was opening a golf range near where I lived and they were advertising for staff, so I applied for a receptionist position. My handicap at the time was 28, and then Mr Jacobs gave me a golf lesson. That very first day he said “One day you will play for England”. Within a year my handicap was down to 4. I spent all my free time practising on the golf range, hitting thousands of golf balls. At 17 I was chosen to represent a junior English team, and I won the Northumberland Ladies Championship three times. After three years I left the golf course and went to college to do a course in hairdressing because my mum had a hairdressing business which enabled me to work and have time off to play in amateur tournaments. In 1973 I was selected to play for England and the following year I played in the Curtis Cup against USA. Then in 1976 won the first ever British Ladies Open Championships. Next I had the offer from a sponsor who wanted me to turn professional and go to play on the LPGA tour in America. I played out there till 1979 when the European tour began. On the European tour I won 12 tournaments”.
Normally, when interviewing sports players they always have someone that they aspire to be like, but Jenny was different.
“There weren’t really any successful women golfers at the time. Vivian Saunders was the first girl to play in the USA and John Jacobs was my mentor and he helped me every step of the way. The main reason for my perseverance was the knowledge that my dad was a keen golfer ; he would have loved to see me playing like I was; he would have been a very proud man, so in a way I guess he was my inspiration”.
Your family are always the closest people to you, so how did they react to your success?
“Mum was very proud and embarrassed me by bragging as mums do. All the family were proud too and often came to watch me play. In 1981 I was voted North East sports personality of the year, but at the time I was out playing in the USA so mum had to accept it for me on my behalf”.
I asked how it felt to win the first ever Women’s British Open Golf Championships.
“I was elated to say the least. Coming up to the last hole, which was a par five, I thought I had to have a four to win. I made four but won by two shots. The following day was very hectic with interviews and phone calls. Winning that tournament enabled me to get the sponsorship and go to America. It was a stepping stone to professional golf”.
The British public were always going to have a view on this woman who was taking golf by storm.
She explains what reactions the public had; “Well everyone recognised me all around town! People were always stopping me and asking for an autograph. It was quite embarrassing really for a shy northern girl! The members at my golf club held a big party for me which was great”.
As Jenny has done so many things in her sporting career, which one does she believe is her biggest achievement?
Well, she replied “It would have to be split between winning the British Open and being the leading money winner for two years on the European tour”.
Every career has its ups and downs, and Jenny’s was no different.
She says the hardest part of her career was “Definitely being away from home in the USA. It sounds glamorous to be travelling from New York to Hawaii, but every week it gets tedious living from one hotel to another, and some weeks I couldn’t even remember where I had been the previous week. It was always great to get home to the North East!”.
To sum up her career, she would say
“I feel privileged to have been one of the first British ladies to have competed in the USA but most of all to be one of the founder members of the European Ladies Tour. It was an exciting time in Women’s Golf which I was part of and I feel very proud of that fact”.
Another challenging part of any career, especially sporting careers is the balancing of personal lives and your career.
When facing Jenny with this question she responded “Very hard indeed. As a sports person you need to be a little selfish and extremely single minded. You don’t really have a normal life, and I revelled in the life that was a passion to me. It is the only way you can be successful. It’s probably why I didn’t have a family of my own until I was in my 40’s. The career definitely isn’t for everyone, but if you have a special talent it should be put to good use and that’s what I did. I would not have changed it for the world, and if I could do it all over again I happily would. Your life, work or sport is only as good as the effort you put into it. Golf was my life and I was fortunate it gave me so much”.
The final question I asked was what advice she would give to young people of today looking into golfing careers.
“We need more girls taking up golf if you are good enough, and there are plenty of places at colleges all over the USA. The sport gave me a fantastic life, and a living of doing something I loved to do. I was able to travel the world and I also met some wonderful people along the way”.