Q&A with CBS golf's Dottie Pepper: Why she loves Detroit, but not Norm Cash
Detroit — Dottie Pepper has fond memories of Michigan, having won the 1999 Oldsmobile Classic, the second-to-last of her 17 LPGA Tour victories coming in East Lansing.
She also has a special place in her heart for the Detroit Tigers. Her father, Don, a first baseman and pinch-hitter, got a callup in 1966 for three at-bats over four games.
Despite slugging as many as 21 homers in a season in the minors — he had 78 homers in 886 games in the minor leagues; he was a hyped prospect at one time, even landing on a Sports Illustrated cover with Johnny Bench 1968 — that was his lone promotion to The Show.
"Anytime I get to Detroit, I love it," Pepper said by phone this week, ahead of her work for CBS's broadcast of the Rocket Mortgage Classic. "What has happened with the downtown, how it has come back, and what's happening with the tournament, that speaks to the commitment and potential of what's there."
So, we have to ask: Any favorite Tigers?
"I can tell you, my least favorite Tiger was Norm Cash," Pepper said with a hearty laugh. "He was in there so long, my Dad didn't get to stay very long.
"He was pretty good," she said of Cash, her dog Rupert — named after the paratrooper decoys used in World War II — squeaking in the background. "I shouldn't say that."
Pepper, 55, who made it a point to drive from East Lansing to Detroit to check out a Tigers-Baltimore Orioles game the Saturday night before her final round of the now-defunct Oldsmobile Classic in 1999 just so she could see Tiger Stadium one more time, is in her sixth season working for CBS Sports' golf coverage.
She is typically the on-course reporter — last week, she walked the Travelers Championship in Connecticut, and actually couldn't keep track of how many holes the playoff went (eight) — but this week, fittingly the week where the PGA Tour comes to the flattest course on the entire season's schedule, she'll be in the tower at the par-5 17th, as Ian Baker-Finch moves to the 18th to spell Nick Faldo, who has the week off. Mark Immelman and Colt Knost will be on-course reporters for the Rocket, which runs Thursday through Sunday.
Pepper talked to The News on Wednesday about a number of topics, from fans to feuds to her new book, "Letters to a Future Champion" (Mission Point Press, Traverse City, $39.95).
Here are the highlights of the conversation, edited slightly for brevity and clarity.
►Question: What makes Detroit Golf Club and the Rocket stand out? Any favorites?
►Answer: I love the golf course. I'm a huge Donald Ross fan. … We would've all said it's a Point A-to-Point B (golf course), but then Bryson DeChambeau, he de-shambled it last year. So how do you count him out? I like Hideki (Matsuyama's) chances. He's starting to get some momentum after going back to Japan (following his Masters victory). But then you get a story like last week. Who the heck would've seen a story like what happened with Kramer Hickok? There does always seem to be a story that percolates, like Nate Lashley (at the RMC in 2019). … There are all sorts of good stories right now. … It kind of gets you thinking about how fortunate we are and how good things are, having gone through what we've gone through in the last year.
►Q: Lashley won at 25 under in 2019, and DeChambeau at 23 under last year. Are boatloads of birdies a good thing?
►A: I think it's a nice change of pace. … People like the excitement, they like the noise. Look what happened at the Travelers (where chants and the wave broke out during the playoff). (DGC) has some pretty cool spots, those last four holes, the last holes, there's so much that can happen. I think people like it. Maybe not every week, but they like to see it go low and hear some noise, and now we're gonna hear the noise.
►Q: Speaking of noise, you were here last year, with no fans. The fans are back in Detroit this week. How great is that, particularly on the broadcast?
►A: We did a good job of generating enthusiasm and telling stories last year, but you can't fake fan noise. … And the players, they were just so appreciative of them being out after last year, playing last summer. They really did miss the energy.
►Q: From a media perspective, no fans made it easier to get around the golf course, but you said you had to be careful to not get in players' way. Has that happened to you?
►A: Yes, it happened this year, at Pebble Beach. … I was walking down No. 8 with the leaders and walked right in somebody's way on No. 6. You can't dig a hole deep enough or fast enough to make up for that mistake. Fortunately, the players were very understanding.
►Q: Hot golf topic — DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka, good for the game?
►A: I knew you were going to ask that. (Laughs.) I think it is. It's good to have rivalries. Tiger and Phil, there was a rivalry there. It's great. Arnold and Jack, Jack and Tom Watson. I don't know if anybody got caught rolling their eyes (laughs), but rivalries are good. The Yankees and Red Sox, for crying out loud.
►Q: Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson thawed their icy relationship, and Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer eventually became great friends. Any chance DeChambeau and Koepka are buddies in their 60s?
►A: They might!
►Q: I have my doubts.
►A: Maybe they will be going to the gym together.
►Q: What sticks out in your memory about your win at the 1999 Oldsmobile Classic?
►A: I made a bomb on the last hole and I ended up winning by two (over Kelli Kuehne). I don't think I played particularly well Sunday (70), but I do remember getting my act together late, and I played well coming into that final round (opening with 67 and 63). Lansing, we always had a great turnout.
►Q: You know, Walnut Hills is closed now.
►A: No! How sad. That's so sad. A traditional golf course. … That's too bad.
►Q: You've got a book out, "Letters to a Future Champion," showcasing your letters and words of wisdom from your longtime mentor, George Pulver Sr. How did that project come about?
►A: Ten years ago, I showed my husband my three-ring binder (of the letters), shortly after we were married. … He said to me, being an academic, being someone who majored in history in undergrad, a writer himself, he said, 'You have a book here.' I said, 'Yeah, sure,' but when will I have the time? 'That's very nice of you, but you're very bias.' Then 2020 happened. … I started going through those letters, and other things Mr. Pulver left me (which included) a pile of letters I had written to him. The Kleenex really flowed, box after box. It was then I knew I had to do it and do it right.
►Q: Did you actually take this binder on the road during your playing days?
►A: I took it to college. It was always in my office so I could reference. I took some letters with me on the road. I would take some of the books he read with me, and re-read them. A lot of times, he gave me a reading assignment. … It's been a lifelong resource for me, and it needed to not be just in my office. It needed to be out in the public.
►Q: Favorite letter or words of wisdom from Pulver?
►A: There was one where he talked about his term, 'The Super Greats,' and what they had different than just the great players. He liked (Bobby) Jones and Nicklaus, even Watson, (Kathy) Whitworth (all-time leading winner on the LPGA Tour), Judy Rankin he thought was super great. It was that undeniable will to win, and staying in the moment. That one particular letter, he centered the page in all caps, about the undying will to win. That one definitely resonated.
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