Inductee series: From the Ozarks to the LPGA, Reynolds had game

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Springfield's Cathy Reynolds enjoyed an incredible, 17-year career on the LPGA Tour before retiring in 1994.

Springfield’s Cathy Reynolds enjoyed an incredible, 17-year career on the LPGA Tour before retiring in 1994.

Every success story has its starting point. For Cathy Reynolds, one might assume that her golf game was developed on lush grounds in sunny Florida or a picturesque seaside California locale.

However, years before she would spend 17 seasons on the Ladies Professional Golf Association Tour, Reynolds could be found in the Ozarks and specifically at Hickory Hills Country Club in Springfield.

Her dad, Sam, was the golf pro at Hickory Hills for 38 years after his own time in the PGA. She also became good friends and a playing partner with Payne Stewart, who went on to win 11 PGA Tour events, including three majors – the PGA Championship and two U.S. Opens.

“My dad, he was tough, and rightfully so,” Reynolds said. “He knew what it was going to take to be out there. He had the whip out quite a bit. If he hadn’t, I wouldn’t have accomplished what I did.”

What Reynolds accomplished was nothing short of spectacular as she climbed out of the Ozarks and on to one of sport’s biggest stages. Her career certainly hasn’t been forgotten, as the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame is proud to induct Reynolds in 2015.

Reynolds’ induction is part of the Hall’s Women in Sports Luncheon, set for Monday, March 23 at the Ramada Oasis Convention Center in Springfield. (Ticket information below).

The 1975 Glendale High School graduate became one of the top players with Nancy Lopez in her era from 1978 to 1994 on the LPGA Tour. Reynolds won the 1981 Golden Lights Championship by two strokes against Betsy King in Greenwich, Conn., and had numerous top three finishes.

At age 15, Reynolds qualified for the USGA Women’s Open.

Reynolds also won the 1974 Missouri State Women’s Golf Championship at age 16 and eventually played two years at the University of Tulsa before turning pro. She earned her Tour card at age 19.

Old-school golfer

Perhaps the most iconic photo of her career was taken right here in Springfield. Her dad, chewing on a cigar and wearing a ballcap, is standing beside Reynolds as she tees off at Hickory Hills Country Club.

Her accuracy off the tee box, with one of the most fluid swings, and a terrific short game propelled her success. In many ways, Reynolds was old-school in her golf, as Reynolds used a beautiful wooden driver throughout her career — even as the game turned to more titanium clubs.

Reynolds also credits her mother, Delores, and members of Hickory Hills and Stewart for growing her love for golf.

“They took us in and treated me as part of the Hickory Hills family. It was wonderful. The only thing is there weren’t many girls playing golf,” Reynolds said. “Most of the time out there, it was just me and Payne. We just grew up out there playing golf. We were pretty tight. He was my best friend. … We were taught the same game.”

Reynolds played in her first city championship at age 11 and, at age 13, competed in her first USGA junior girls event at Augusta (Ga.) Country Club, which sits next to Augusta National, home of The Masters.

There, she struck up a long-lasting friendship with Lopez, but the competition became a humbling experience that served Reynolds well.

“There were girls from all over the nation. It was big-time,” Reynolds said. “It kicked me into gear really quick and helped me understand what I was probably going to be up against (in her career).”

On the big stage

Reynolds and Lopez started the golf team at Tulsa before each turned pro. Reynolds eventually signed with one of the world’s largest companies, the Mark McCormick Agency, which sent her overseas to play – sometimes with royalty.

Along the way, she came to know many of golf’s greats such as Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino and Tom Watson and twice played a pro-am with none other than Yankees great Joe DiMaggio. At one point, her picture ran alongside that of Yankees great Reggie Jackson on the cover of the New York Times sports section, whose headline read, “A couple of big swingers in town.”

Reynolds’ lone LPGA victory was the Golden Lights Championship in 1981. The Stanwich Club course was brutal for most, with Reynolds and King as the only finishers below par. Reynolds closed with a par 72 and finished with a three-under 285.

Reynolds never relinquished the lead on the final day, despite a playing group that included JoAnne Carner and Sally Little, at the time the reigning LPGA champion.

“Sometimes you walk on the golf course and you’re like, ‘Wow. This is mine,’” Reynolds said. “It was really tree-lined, similar to Hickory Hills.”

Reynolds played the final decade of her LPGA career as mom to Derek, now a dedicated golfer himself.

“I was blessed,” Reynolds said of her career. “It was a lot of fun. It’s kind of tough because I felt like I didn’t play well (at times). I felt like I should have won them all. But I was going up against the best of the best. And I considered myself to be one of the best.”

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WANT TO GO?

What: The Missouri Sports Hall of Fame will host the Women in Sports Luncheon presented by the Bee Payne-Stewart Foundation at 11 a.m. on March 23 at the Ramada Oasis Convention Center in Springfield.

Tickets: $40, and sponsorship tables are available by calling 417-889-3100.

Honorees

  • Cheryl Burnett, Centralia native and former Missouri State Lady Bears coach, as a Missouri Sports Legend. A specially commissioned sculpture, cast in bronze, will line the Legends Walkway alongside such Missouri greats as Stan Musial, Len Dawson and Norm Stewart.
  • The Lady Bears 1992 Final Four team, the state’s first Division I team – men’s or women’s – to reach the NCAA Tournament semifinals.
  • The Lady Bears 2001 Final Four team, the state’s only other Division I team to reach the national semifinals.
  • Cathy Reynolds, a Springfield native who at age 16 won the Missouri State Championship and went on to play 17 years on the LPGA Tour.
  • Patti Phillips, who for 11 years led the Women Intersport Network for Kansas City and in the past five has been the CEO of the KC-based National Association of Collegiate Women Athletics Administrators.