LPGA Hall of Fame Member & Junior Golf Mentor
Junior golfer Beth Daniel learned golf course etiquette from golf pro Al Esposito at the Charleston Country Club. Honoring his legacy, today she lends her name to the club’s annual Junior Azalea Tournament which raises money for junior golf charities. Named LPGA Rookie of the Year in 1979, Beth has a career record of 33 tour wins. She was elected to the LPGA Hall of Fame and World Golf Hall of Fame in 2000.
You are the youngest of three. Tell me about your brother and sister.
My brother, who is six years older than me, has been a banker his whole life. He attended The Citadel and was in the Army Reserves for over 30 years. He served in Desert Storm and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel. My sister is three years older than me, but she looks younger. She was very smart, graduated with honors and wanted to be a marine biologist, but they were not hiring women at the time. Everywhere she went, they either told her she was overqualified, or they couldn’t hire women. She began working at The Greenery in Charleston, South Carolina, which is a floral and plant store. She became the manager and eventually bought it. Today, she still owns it.
A common theme is that you both took non-traditional paths. You held your first golf club at age six?
Yes, that is my first memory of golf. Both my parents played golf. My brother and my sister also play. My first memory is at the Country Club of Charleston on the 10th hole. My parents were up ahead. I had a club and a ball, and I was hitting it down the fairway while they were playing.
Tell me about them: your father and mother.
My mother is Charleston born and bred. She is very quiet, very conservative. My dad was 17 years old when he enlisted in World War II. He originally chose the infantry, but they had too many infantrymen, so he was transferred to the Navy. They sent him from North Carolina to Chicago, where he trained, and then he went to San Diego for further training. Finally, he was sent to Tampa to board his ship bound for the Pacific where he served in World War II. My father enlisted because his family didn’t have much money, and it gave him the opportunity to go to college. After the war, he attended The Citadel which is located in Charleston, South Carolina, and that’s where he and mom met. My dad was a Coca-Cola bottler in Charleston. He started out in the fertilizer business and held a position much like an accountant. He then moved over to Coca-Cola, which he always says was the best move he ever made. He worked his way up in the company and became president. In those days, when you owned a Coca-Cola bottling company, or when you worked for one, the president went out and called on other businesses to get them to buy Coca-Cola. Because my dad has a big personality, he knew everybody in the town. He’s a jokester and fun to be around. He’s the life of the party. I have always said that my mom complimented him so well because she let him be that. She would throw in her little one-liners every once in a while. The two of them together are pretty funny to be around.
Describe playing at the Charleston Country Club.
I was fortunate that my parents were members there, so I was able to play. At the time, there was a great junior program. The pro was Al Esposito, and he was very, very much into junior golf. He had boys’ and girls’ programs to help us learn the game, and he would give us lessons. He was my first pro. He had us go on the golf course where we had to take a little rules test, an etiquette test, so that we knew what we were doing when we were out there. He believed that if you allowed kids that are eight years old to play when adults are on the golf course, they had to know what they were doing. He got us all of to a good start. He was always very interested in our games, our lives and what was going on with us individually.
What life lesson did coach Esposito leave with you?
He always said, “There are no sand traps in the sky,” which was his way of telling you to hit the ball up in the air. He was also very good about building a bridge between kids and adults. At country clubs, sometimes there is a problem because the adults pay for everything and don’t want the kids around or in their way. He created this bridge where the adults embraced the kids, and I am forever grateful to him for that. To this day, I try to do that through my junior golf tournament and junior golf.
Is that your way of carrying his legacy forward?
I think it is something that I carried forward, and something that I want to carry forward. I try very hard to do that through my junior golf tournament and the charities. There are three major tournaments at the Country Club of Charleston every year, and they all are Azaleas. The main Azalea, which has been around for years, is for the top amateurs in the country. There is also the Senior Azalea, for golfers over 50 years of age, and then the Junior Azalea, which used to be the Al Esposito Tournament. It actually was the first tournament that I ever played in as a kid. I still have the trophy that I won which is on display at the Country Club of Charleston. It meant so much to me over the years that I kept the trophy. My tournament is different because we raise money for junior golf charities. It is how I try to pay it forward. The tournament is held the first week of August every year at the Country Club of Charleston. Qualification is through state and national junior rankings. The South Carolina Golf Association runs the tournament. Hart Brown, who is now the Director of Recreation, is very involved in the everyday running of the tournament. My tournament chair, Randy Adams, has a son, Zach, so Randy is very active in junior golf. He’s also involved in raising money for their programs and making this tournament as good as it can be. We were lucky to get him.
What tournament, prior to college, do you consider the most significant?
The biggest tournament I played in was the USGA Junior Girls, and I played horribly. I did not qualify. I went mostly for experience. It was being played at Augusta Country Club in Augusta, Georgia, which borders Augusta National. It is a great golf course. I remember going there with my mom. They had Pinkerton guards at the locker room. When you went in, they checked to make sure that you had all your credentials. I had never been to a tournament like that. I was scared to death, and I played terribly in the two qualifying rounds. I didn’t qualify for match play, but that was my first experience at big time golf. Some people would say I failed, but it was a great experience for me because, the next time I went, I knew what to expect. I knew what my body would feel like and nuances like that.
Do you have to “learn how to win”?
You definitely have to learn how to win. You have to learn how your body reacts when it’s under pressure. I try to describe it in a normal day’s life. It is similar to when you are driving a car. When someone cuts you off, you get this rush of adrenaline. Afterwards, you recognize that sensation. Imagine that while trying to control a golf ball on the golf course, controlling the speed of it, the speed of your swing, and things like that. It is the same thing except your body is like that for four hours.
Is winning about the willpower to block things out, or is it the reverse, just harnessing the rush of adrenaline and nerves?
It’s a little bit of both. You definitely have to be able to block out the nerves. People always ask me how I can play in front of that many people. I always respond that I would rather play in front of a massive crowd than a few people because a massive crowd becomes a wall; I can mentally make it look like a wall instead of people. Then you have to learn what your body does when it has adrenaline running through it. It is the only way you will win because, obviously, coming down the stretch, you have a chance to win. Winning is how you handle that adrenaline, and you actually need it. When I had adrenaline going, I knew that I could hit one club less because I was so fired up. Where I normally would hit a six iron, when I had adrenaline, I would hit a seven iron. At first, I would hit the six iron over the green. Then, I had to learn that I can take less and get there. It is funny because I had caddies at times that would say you can’t get that club there. I knew I could because I knew how my body felt right then.
Before you entered Furman, was there a tournament that stands out in your mind?
The Twin State Junior Girls Golf Tournament, which is North and South Carolina. It was the first time I shot under par in every round. I would say that would be a pinnacle moment for me because I had never broken par in every round in a golf tournament. The experience taught me, “Maybe I can do this.” Prior to that, I was really off to a slow start. I wasn’t recruited for colleges or anything. Furman just showed interest in me. I had two partial scholarship offers in Florida: Rollins College and South Florida. I chose Furman because it was closer to home. I had an aunt and uncle that lived in Travelers Rest, which basically is on campus. When I was there, I would spend weekends with them. It was more of a comfort zone for me to go to Furman, and that’s the reason I chose it.
Who was your coach at Furman?
Doc Meredith was the coach when we won the National Championship, but for most of the time I was at Furman, we had many different coaches. That’s a whole other story because Doc Meredith was fired from the women’s team but allowed to coach the men’s team.
How did that happen?
Well, they found out that he was drinking when he was on trips.
It was okay for him to do that with men and not the women?
Exactly. There is a story here about the difference between men and women’s golf. After Doc was fired from coaching the women (Betsy King and Cindy Ferro were gone at this time), he continued coaching the men. My senior year, they hired a coach that knew nothing about golf. I went in to the athletic director essentially, and I said, “Listen, we just won a National Championship, and you’re taking our coach from us, and you are putting in someone that doesn’t know anything about golf.” He said to me, “Well, how do you coach golf? What do you need to know? You just need a chaperone, right?” I said to myself that I would not play. Spring term my senior year, I talked to my mom and dad. My dad was fully supportive. He said, “If you feel this way, I’m with you.” I went into the athletic director’s office, and I said, “I am going to quit the women’s team.” The athletic director said, “You can’t do that.” Now, at this point, I had won two U.S. Amateurs. I said, “Yes, I am going to quit the women’s team because I disagree with this decision, and I am putting my foot down.” And I did. One day soon after that, Doc Meredith called me and asked if I wanted to play for the men’s team. So, I played for the men’s team spring term my senior year.
When Furman recently said they didn’t have the funding for the men’s team, and they were going to drop it, I went in and helped raise the funds to keep the men’s team. People always ask, “Why did you do that?” I have a vested interest. I played for the men’s team, which ended up being the best thing I could have done to further my golf career. I was playing with guys who were really good, and I was playing 7,000-yard golf courses in practice (but never in competition). The experience brought out a whole new part of my golf game that I had never practiced. I had to learn to hit fairway woods. I had to learn to hit long irons. My short game had to get better because there were certain greens that I couldn’t even get to. I didn’t have the length to get to them. It ended up being really, really good for me.
What was your first big tournament win?
My first win was in Japan my rookie year. I started out doing pretty well.
My agent set it up. I was 22 years old. I got on a plane and flew all the way to Tokyo. My agent lined up this Japanese agent to pick me up. He said the agent will “get you to your hotel.” Sure enough, I flew in and when I walked out of customs, this guy was waiting for me. He was the nicest guy in the world. He dropped me off at the hotel and said, “When you fly to Japan, if you arrive in the afternoon, shower and change. I’ll pick you up, and we will be going to dinner.” He took me to dinner and explained everything that would happen in that week and what as expected of me. At dinner, he took away my fork and knife and gave me chopsticks. He said, “You must learn to eat with chopsticks.” I learned to eat with chopsticks really quickly, and I still love eating with chopsticks. I didn’t know anybody in Japan, didn’t speak the language, but I won the golf tournament.
That win situated you financially for a short period of time. Before that, how did you pay the bills?
Some of the guys at the Country Club of Charleston offered to pull some money together to sponsor me. However, I wanted to try and do it on my own. I turned pro, and I worked at Seabrook Island. When I had enough money in my checking account, I drove my car down to Florida. I played in tour events before the qualifying school just to tune up. I won them both, so I had a little money; I made $1,100 for one tournament, and I think $700 for the other tournament. The entire time I was in Florida, I called friends and was sleeping on couches and things like that. When I look back on that period of time, it was just the best because my dreams were all ahead of me. I didn’t care what I had to do to make it a reality. It was awesome. I went to and won Q-School. I was on a roll. I won three in a row. The first tournament of the year was the very next week, and I finished Top 10. The next week I think I finished Top 15. I started out well enough that I didn’t need money from anyone else. Then, I didn’t play as well for a little while.
I don’t know. I don’t know if I got comfortable or if the travel was uncomfortable. When I was in Florida, and I was in my car, I had friends. I could go to their house and do laundry. When I really started traveling, it was like get on an airplane. Your rookie year is always the hardest because you don’t know where you’re going. You don’t know the cities. You don’t know where to eat. You don’t know where to stay.
Do you have fear?
Yeah, I have a lot of fear.
Did you have fear back then?
Not as much.
Fear grows with age. Why?
I believe it’s because of experiences that don’t work out the way you think they should. I went through the yips three times in my career. That’s all fear. That’s fear to the point where you black outtrying to do something, and your body won’t let you do that.
What is the yips?
The yips can be putting. It can be driving the golf ball. It’s when you have a very short putt, and your stroke just won’t happen.
And it happened to you three times?
Yes, and I got over it three times.
How did you get over it?
I got over it with a lot of mental work. It was some of the toughest stuff I had ever been through.
Do most golfers that encounter yips stop playing?
A lot of them do.
Because it’s such a mental thing?
It’s just too hard. It’s too hard. Well, when you have the yips, it becomes a mental thing. The first time it happened, I would actually black out. People would ask, “How did you miss the putt?” I did not know. I never saw it. I would count, which was one way. I worked with a metronome that was in timing with my putting stroke, and I would develop a count or a song or something that went with that so that I could try to get my brain on task. When you get the yips, you have to change something. A fuse burns out on a circuit of something that you’ve practiced over and over again. There is a pattern that you practice every single day. You do the same thing over and over again. If you start missing a couple of them, then you can get the yips because your brain says, “Okay, this doesn’t work. I have to try something else.” Then you have to develop something different. I did anything and everything. I looked at the hole. I changed my grip. Golf is so mechanical and is so much about timing. You have to keep your timing no matter what, even when you’re nervous.
Is fear an impediment with age?
Fear becomes an impediment. That is why I think you reach a point in golf where you might feel smarter, but that doesn’t really matter because you have more fear. Now, I know if I miss this shot, maybe I’m not that good at it. Whereas, when I’m younger, if I miss the shot, I don’t care because I know I can make it up down the line.
Is that a metaphor for life?
Golf is so much like life. You take chances, but there are consequences. It may be a safer choice because you know you can deal with those consequences. If you take a chance and you cannot deal with the consequences, or they might be difficult to deal with, you don’t want to do it. It’s very much like life.
You had some incredible peaks to your golf career.
And incredible valleys.
Lots of peaks though. What is the one golf accomplishment that makes you the most proud?
I think winning my first U.S. Women’s Amateur because it opened every door for me in golf. Prior to that, I was just one of many, and then, when I won that first amateur, all of a sudden, I was recognized by the USGA. I got into events that I wouldn’t have otherwise which helped me grow as a golfer.
Tell me about Pine Tree Golf Club, where this interview is being held.
I became a member here in 1995. I was encouraged to join by Louise Suggs, who is a founding member of the LPGA, and JoAnne Carner. JoAnne and her husband were members at the time when I was looking for a club to join. They invited me to join Pine Tree. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. The members here are great. They’re very welcoming. It is strictly golf here. It’s a Top 100 golf course and was a really good move for me. It was a comfortable move for me too. I needed a club where I could come practice and feel comfortable. I feel comfortable with the members as well. They are just great.
What is significant about the number 50 and the Hall of Fame?
I qualified for the LPGA Hall of Fame in 1999. When you qualify for the LPGA Hall of Fame, you qualify for World Golf Hall of Fame. I asked if they would delay it to 2000 because it had the significance of my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary and my brother’s 50th birthday. I felt like my family has been such a significant part of this journey with me. To honor them, we would do it on a special year.
Solheim is one of the best things that can happen to you. It is the Ryder Cup of women’s golf. Golf is such an individual sport. When you get a chance to play on a team, it is really special and to represent the United States is pretty cool. I played on two Curtis Cup teams, which is the amateur version. Then I played on eight Solheim Cup teams. I was assistant captain under Betsy King and captain in 2009. All of them were uniquely great experiences because of the people that were involved. When I look back on my golf career, it’s not about my golf. It is about the experiences and the people I met and the things that I learned along the way from these people who are part of my life now. To me, that’s what life is about. It’s not about how well you play a sport. It’s about the experiences.
What is that piece of advice you would give our cover model Lucy Li?
My advice to her would be not to hurry. Enjoy it. Enjoy the journey, and take it all in. Do not let someone push you to do something that you’re not ready to do. Golf will always be out there, so you don’t have to rush to make it happen.