Editorial

How Judy Rankin Went From LPGA Tour Star to Golf Broadcast Icon

Published on
Judy Rankin went from being the story to telling the stories. And while she has been long honored for the former, this week she’ll also be honored for the latter. Rankin won 26 times on the LPGA Tour, topping the money list in 1976 and 1977 – the same years she was named LPGA Player of the Year. She turned pro at 17 and retired almost exactly 20 years later, in 1983. She captained the U.S. Solheim Cup team to wins in 1996 and 1998 and was inducted into both the LPGA Tour Hall of Fame and the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2000. In January, Rankin was named the first woman to receive the PGA of America Lifetime Achievement Award in Journalism. The award recognizes members of the media for their steadfast promotion of golf. Rankin, who began her broadcasting career in 1984, is the 33rd winner of the award. She received the honor at the 50th annual ISPS Handa GWAA Dinner on April 10 in Augusta, Georgia, during the week of the Masters. “It was really unexpected, and I was so appreciative,” Rankin says. “The fact that it’s for journalism means a lot to me. In television, you do tell a lot of stories and you try to get those stories correct. I think if you share them correctly, it really helps the viewing audience to get the insights into people and I think that does a lot to give people an emotional involvement where they want to watch and become fans of a certain player or two – whether they’re men or women. “I think that’s a little part of the job in television. It’s to get people to know players well enough that they care about tuning in again.” Rankin joined ABC Sports as an on-course commentator in 1984. Television is a team sport, and Rankin was thrilled with the support she’s long had. “There were a few women behind the scenes, but it was basically all men. And that’s why I lasted in TV. In my case, certainly, had it been confrontational I would have not stuck. But I had a lot of encouragement,” Rankin says. Rankin would later join Golf Channel as the lead analyst for its LPGA Tour live tournament coverage in 2010 – a role she had until she retired from full-time broadcasting in 2022. One of Rankin’s long-time partners in the Golf Channel broadcast booth, Grant Boone, says that Rankin’s like uniquely prepared her to become the greatest of all time. “Her accomplishments informed what she said, her experiences off the course shaped how she said it. As one of the LPGA’s all-time best, she could speak with authority to being on those big Sunday stages and one of the tour’s brightest stars,” says Boone, who will serve as the host of the GWAA dinner. “But her experiences as a grade school girl who lost her mother, a struggling young pro, a playing mom, and finally the career ending injury also gave her a vulnerability that flavored her commentary with a gentler, human touch. Any criticism she leveled was always of the performance, never the performer. “She has the toughness to tell the truth, the tenderness to say it kindly.” Having been an excellent player herself, Rankin remembers when she first started in TV, people would often tell her she seemed “so different.” She was the same person, however, just not in that hyper-competitive mode anymore. “I used to work really hard at (golf) and it was kind of an overwhelming thing in your life. When you’re in the heat of those battles it makes you a little different. For all the times we shouldn’t say it – golf is hard!” Rankin says with a laugh. “Having been a player myself, sometimes in the midst of competition, golfers don’t show their real selves because the competitive self is different than your real self. When you retire from playing you become more aware of that.” At the beginning of her TV career, Rankin admits she was “a little timid” but the on-course commentator role, when she started, was different than it is now. An on-course commentator used to just answer questions (and didn’t even have control of their own mic!). Today, they are much more actively part of the conversation flow. Rankin got good, fast, though. Her rise in TV was unprecedented. She was the first woman to work full-time on broadcasts of men’s golf events. Her effort has now opened to the door to plenty of other women who work in golf TV. Now 79, Rankin worked four events on the LPGA Tour schedule in 2023 – including the Solheim Cup – and is thrilled about the next generation of female broadcasters. Morgan Pressel has taken her spot on in the Golf Channel booth, while Cara Banks, Kay Cockerill, Karen Stupples, and Paige Mackenzie are broadcast staples. Rankin is quick to thank all of her colleagues in the booth – Boone, Terry Gannon, and Mike Tirico of late – but also Tiger Woods. She was with Woods in 2000 when he won the Open Championship at St. Andrews and says the pair had “a really good inside-the-ropes relationship.” “In his way, and in a players’ way, he was really good to me. He gave me terrific access,” Rankin remembers. She was there when Annika Sorenstam shot 59. She was there when David Duval shot 59. She was there when Lorena Ochoa won the AIG Women’s Open at St. Andrews – the first time the women ever competed there. There were just, Rankin says, a lot of amazing things she got to experience first-hand. Rankin went from amazing golfer to amazing broadcaster. And the PGA of America couldn’t be happier to award her for that distinguished second act. “Judy Rankin is truly an icon in the game of golf,” says PGA of America President John Lindert. “Following a remarkable playing career, Judy has delivered insightful commentary as a broadcaster for nearly four decades. She has made an everlasting impact on the broadcast industry as she paved the way for countless women to follow in her footsteps. On behalf of the PGA of America, I congratulate Judy for an unrivaled broadcasting career and this well-deserved recognition.”