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Originally published Saturday, July 28, 2012 at 8:01 PM

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Washington's finest, JoAnne Carner, returns home for LPGA Legends event

Kirkland native Carner is back in town today (Sunday) to play in the 18-hole LPGA Legends Swing for the Cure Tournament at Inglewood Golf Club in Kenmore. The 30-player tournament marks the first stop ever in the Northwest for the 12-year-old LPGA Legends Tour, and the affable Carner is one of the big draws.

LPGA Legends Swing for the Cure

What: 18-hole tourney with 30 LPGA veterans ages 45 and up

When: Sunday

Where: Inglewood Golf Club, Kenmore (off Juanita Drive)

Time: Gates open 9 a.m., first tee time 10:30 a.m., final tee time 12:50 p.m.

Purse: $150,000 ($15,000 to winner)

Parking: Shuttles from Inglemoor High School and Arrowhead Elementary School.

Admission: $20 for adults, 17-and-under free, military free with ID.

Charity beneficiary: Puget Sound affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

Web site: www.thelegendstour.com

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You can argue until the bar closes about who are the No. 1 all-time stars from Washington in most sports, but when the topic is golf the answers are as obvious as Mount Rainier on a sunny day: Fred Couples and JoAnne Carner.

Kirkland native Carner is back in town today (Sunday) to play in the 18-hole LPGA Legends Swing for the Cure Tournament at Inglewood Golf Club in Kenmore. The 30-player tournament marks the first stop ever in the Northwest for the 12-year-old LPGA Legends Tour, and the affable Carner is one of the big draws.

She tees off at 12:50 p.m. with Nancy Lopez.

Carner, 73, is the only woman in history to have won the U.S. Junior Girls Champion, the U.S. Women's Amateur (five times) and the U.S. Open (twice). The only male with that trifecta on his résumé is Tiger Woods.

It irks Carner that the United States Golf Association doesn't have a Senior Women's Open so she could have attempted to win a fourth USGA title.

"They have everything else," said Carner, who now lives in Florida's Palm Beach County.

On the LPGA circuit, Carner won 42 times with her last victory coming fittingly on Washington soil at the 1985 Safeco Classic, the tournament held from 1982 to 1999 at the Meridian Valley Country Club in Kent. Most of today's Inglewood field played in the Safeco event multiple times.

Carner hasn't played Inglewood since she was in college.

"It is a difficult and hilly course that always plays long and my feeling was, if I could play Inglewood, I could play anywhere," she said. "It was a great training ground for me."

"Thank God, I'm a senior now and I can ride that course in a cart," Carner joked.

Inglewood's records are out of Carner's reach now but she still has game. She shot a 72 — one stroke lower than her age — in a Legends event in April outside Phoenix. Today, she will be the oldest player in a field that ranges from 48 to 73.

Carner's home course growing up was the now-defunct public Juanita Golf Course about five miles from Inglewood. The course is now a park and regarded as one of the best bird-watching sites in the Seattle area.

Carner sought birdies of another kind on the layout and some of her favorite golf memories are of nights at the Juanita course where as many as 10 kids would play.

"We played a lot of moonlight golf," she said. "When the moon was in your face, you had to tell by feel whether the ball hooked or sliced. It was wonderful training."

The private club that befriended her the most was Sand Point Country Club, where her instructor was John Hoetmer. Sand Point gave her a junior membership and steered its carpentry work to her father so his daughter would have money to travel to national tournaments.

Carner grew up long before Title IX balanced the playing field for girls. At Lake Washington High School, there was no golf team for girls and she wasn't allowed on the boys' team. However, the school awarded her a letterman's sweater when she showed up for her senior year after winning the U.S. Junior championship and finishing as runner-up in the U.S. Women's Amateur.

Carner was called "The Great Gundy" (maiden name Gunderson) before marrying Don Carner. They were together 36 years before he died in 1999 after a prolonged illness. Her other nickname was "Big Mama" although she wasn't that big at 5 feet 7 inches. It was a reference to her driving distance and bestowed by defending champion Sandra Palmer at a 1976 U.S. Open news conference after they were tied after 72 holes. Carner won the playoff the next day.

Palmer is in today's field, teeing off at noon with Nancy Scranton.

Carner's long list of golf accomplishments includes being the last amateur to win an LPGA tournament (1969) and being the oldest woman to make the cut in an LPGA tournament (65). She went to Arizona State on a women's golf scholarship in the pre-Title IX, pre-NCAA for women days and won the national title.

Carner has always enjoyed chatting with fans during a round to relieve tension. She also watched sad movies and cried because watching them was an emotional release that left her ready to play better golf.

"I would cry and the tension would be gone," she said.

A paragraph from her display at the World Golf Hall of Fame makes it clear that Carner is a one-of-a-kind golfer:

"She loved match play, showboating to the galleries, riding motorcycles and partying in the clubhouse with members after her rounds. As JoAnne Gunderson, and later JoAnne Carner, she dominated women's golf — and nobody had more fun dominating than she did. There was a little Babe Ruth in her, a little Babe Zaharias, a little Walter Hagen and a little Shelly Winters, too. It made for some package."

That package is home today.

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