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Up close with a golf legend at Waterlefe

Jan Stephenson graces the Bradenton scene.

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As Jan Stephenson, the 1982 Ladies Professional Golf Association and 1983 U.S. Women's Open champion, delighted the crowd Jan. 16 with a variety of golf tips at the Waterlefe Golf & River Club's driving range, one thing remained undeniable.

Her reputation was built as something more than being one of the best golfers in the world.

Waterlefe's Melina Houston and Barbara Serafino get some tips from Jan Stephenson.
Waterlefe's Melina Houston and Barbara Serafino get some tips from Jan Stephenson.

Stephenson, now 67, continues to be known for embracing the sex-sells image of the LPGA Tour in the mid-1980s. A photo of Stephenson posing in a bathtub full of golf balls graced the Waterlefe clubhouse where those who came to the clinic tasted three of Stephenson's wines.

Were those in attendance aware of Stephenson in the 1970s and 1980s?

"Oh boy, I sure was," said Waterlefe's Phil Serafino, who came to the clinic with his wife, Barbara. "I went to high school in the 1970s. This brings me back to that time. She certainly raised some eyebrows."

Stephenson's beauty was marketed so hard some golf fans have forgotten what a force she was on the course. Born in Sydney, Australia, Stephenson joined the LPGA Tour in 1974 and was Rookie of the Year. She won three major titles — the 1981 Peter Jackson Classic (the Canadian Open which was a major at the time) was the other to go with her LPGA and U.S. Open titles — and eventually won 16 LPGA titles.

She will be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame June 10 during the men's U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in California.

"I didn't think I would get into the Hall of Fame until I was dead," Stephenson told the Waterlefe crowd with a laugh.

Phil Serafino said he appreciates her being a sex symbol of the LPGA Tour, but he really came to the clinic to help his golf game.

Jan Stephenson discusses golf with Waterlefe's Jim Burns.
Jan Stephenson discusses golf with Waterlefe's Jim Burns.

"She has won so many championships so I am hoping for any helpful tips she can give me," he said. 

Waterlefe's Jim Burns agreed a lot of knowledge was on the table.

"She is more accomplished than most people realize," he said.

Stephenson, who lives in Palm Harbor because Florida reminds her most of Australia, ran through an hour of group instruction, delighting the crowd with an assortment of shots, such as hitting a drive more than 180 yards from her knees. 

"She did a lovely job," said Waterlefe's John Stirk. "She is charming and talented, and she explained things well."

After the clinic, Stephenson treated the group to three of the wines from her Broken Earth winery in Paso Robles, Calif., along with her own personal brand of rum.

"This is a drinking community with a golf problem," Serafino said.

The wine venture has come later in life for Stephenson, who would seem to have her hands full with her golf responsibilities along with her Crossroads Foundation, which serves disabled U.S. military veterans and is a partner of the Military Order of the Purple Heart Service Foundation. She purchased Tarpon Woods Golf Course in Palm Harbor and geared the course toward disabled veterans, changing sand traps, rough and greens for better access for the players.

After the clinic, she explained her fiance, Fry's Food & Drug Stores President Jon Flora, had gotten her interested in wine and convinced her to buy a 500-acre vinyard in Paso Robles, Calif. Flora died of a heart attack in 2013, leaving Stephenson with a vineyards and little knowledge about wine.

Jan Stephenson hit the ball more than 180 yards from her knees.
Jan Stephenson hit the ball more than 180 yards from her knees.

"We had our Cellar Club during the senior tournaments and we would sit around and talk," Stephenson said. "They always used to say I would be the one to bring a box wine."

Instead, she took wine sommelier classes and learned everything she could about wine. She brought two Jan Stephenson cabernet sauvingons (one a reserve) to the event and a chardonnay.

Throughout the event, Stephenson seemed to genuinely enjoy herself. She certainly doesn't have to do such small gatherings.

"I actually like the personal contact with people," she said.

So did she have a tip for those in the crowd who are seniors and can't hit the ball as far as they used to do?

"Move up on the tee box," she said. "I do. I hate that I've lost so much power."

Jan Stephenson gave various golf tips during a 90-minute seminar.
Jan Stephenson gave various golf tips during a 90-minute seminar.



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