Sandra Palmer, LPGA Star of the 1970s

Sandra Palmer won 16 times from 1971-77, including two majors, and earned one LPGA Player of the Year Award during that time. She added a few more wins in the 1980s. Her greatest achievement was victory in the U.S. Women's Open.

Full name: Sandra Jean Palmer

Date of birth: March 10, 1943

Place of birth: Fort Worth, Texas

Nickname: Sandy

Palmer's Number of Wins

Palmer won 19 tournaments on the LPGA Tour, 16 of which happened between 1971 and 1977. She also won twice in Japan. All of her wins are listed at the bottom of this article.

In the Majors

Palmer won two major championships: the final playing of the Titleholders Championship in 1972, and the 1975 U.S. Women's Open.

The Titleholders was played from 1937-42, then again from 1946-66. It appeared dead after that, but came back for one more tournament in 1972. And Palmer sent it out with a bang: Her second-round 68 was the low round of the tournament, and she played all four rounds in 72 or lower (nobody else came close). The runners-up were Mickey Wright and Judy Rankin, but they finished a distant 10 strokes back.

By far Palmer's biggest victory was the 1975 U.S. Women's Open. And it was another comfortable margin of victory, four strokes. The three runners-up were all (or would become) major champions — JoAnne Carner, Sandra Post, and an 18-year-old amateur named Nancy Lopez. Palmer's winning score was 299, making her the only golfer to break 300.

Palmer came very close to successfully defending her title in the 1976 U.S. Women's Open, but ultimately lost to Carner in an 18-hole playoff. She was also runner-up in the 1979 U.S. Women's Open. Palmer had two other Top 10 finishes in the USWO, tied fourth in 1970 and tied sixth in 1973.

Palmer had a good record in the LPGA Championship (now called the Women's PGA Championship) despite not winning. She was third in both 1970 and 1974, and had Top 10 finishes in 1967, 1969, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1980, 1981 and 1982.

More About Sandra Palmer

First things first: No, Sandra Palmer is no relation to Arnold Palmer. That question was common for her during her LPGA career. She also was not related to an earlier PGA Palmer, Johnny Palmer, who won PGA Tour events in the 1940s and 1950s.

Early in her life, the Palmer family moved from Texas to Maine, and Sandra learned the game while caddying at a Maine golf course beginning when she was in the sixth grade. But after the family moved back to Texas, Palmer's amateur career took off. She worked on her game at Glen Garden course in Fort Worth, the same place where Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson had been caddies together.

Along the way on her golf journey, Palmer received instruction from some of the most notable golf teachers of the era, including Harvey Penick, Johnny Revolta and Ernie Vossler. As an adult she worked most closely with Penick.

"I was a very consistent and accurate player — especially on the longer courses," Palmer once said. "Harvey Penick was my coach, and he gave me a lot of very good advice. All those things he says that sound obvious now, well, they work."

Palmer was a four-time winner of the West Texas Amateur, and won the Texas State Amateur in 1963. She played collegiately at North Texas State University (where she was also a cheerleader and was voted Homecoming Queen), and was runner-up at the 1961 National Collegiate Championship.

Palmer graduated in 1964, turned pro and joined the LPGA Tour that year. The next 14 years were evenly divided between famine and feast: Palmer went seven years without an LPGA win (although she did win on the LPGA of Japan Tour in 1970), then won at least once in each of the following seven years.

Her first LPGA Tour victories came in 1971, and there were two of them. No. 1 was the 1971 Sealy LPGA Classic, where she beat Donna Caponi by two strokes by making eagle out of the sand on the tournament's final hole. The next year Palmer claimed the Titleholders Championship, which was one of the tour's majors at that time.

Palmer won four times in 1973 and three times in 1976, but it was in 1975 that she earned Player of the Year accolades. That year she won twice, but they were big wins: the U.S. Women's Open, plus the Colgate-Dinah Shore Winner's Circle (the Dinah Shore was not yet called a major championship, as it would be later, but it was one of the most important tournaments on the circuit).

Among her other biggest wins were the 1973 St. Paul Open, where Palmer beat runners-up Jane Blalock and Judy Rankin by one stroke; and the 1974 Burdine's Invitational, where Palmer won by beating Kathy Whitworth in a playoff. She won a four-way playoff at the 1976 Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Classic, over opponents including JoAnne Carner.

Palmer led the LPGA Tour in money in 1975. She finished in the Top 10 on the money list every year from 1968 through 1977, including third in 1973 (on the strength of four wins and 23 Top 10 finishes) and fifth in 1974 and 1976. Her final LPGA Tour victory was in 1986 (also the year of her last Top 20 finish on the money list), and her last tournament appearance in 1997. That last win was the 1986 Mayflower Classic, and it happened in a playoff against Jan Stephenson and Christa Johnson.

Palmer had a career 4-5 record in LPGA playoffs. Those five playoff losses were in the 1972 Corpus Christi Civitan Open (to Jo Ann Prentice, who beat Palmer on the LPGA-record 10th sudden-death playoff hole), 1972 Lady Errol Classic (to Blalock), 1973 GNA Classic (to Rankin), 1976 Orange Blossom Classic (to Carner), and to Carner again in that 18-holer at the 1976 U.S. Women's Open. By the way, it was during that 1976 USWO playoff that Palmer bestowed upon Carner the nickname by which she was known thereafter: "Big Momma."

Palmer also won the Sprint Senior Challenge, an unofficial tour event, from 1991 through 1995.

Palmer was a founding member of the Women's Senior Golf Tour, later known as the Legends Tour. She also became a highly respected golf instructor after retirement from tour golf, including many years as the head teaching pro at Sahalee Country Club near Seattle, Washington.

In 2000, Palmer was named to the LPGA Tour's 50th anniversary list of the Top 50 players and teachers. She is a member of the Texas Golf Hall of Fame, the National Collegiate Golf Hall of Fame, and the Legends Hall of Fame (the Hall of the Legends Tour). As of 2024, Palmer will be a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame.

In 1975, Palmer played an ingenue golfer in a comedy skit with Bob Hope — one full of sexual double-entendres — that was featured in the Perry Como's Lake Tahoe Holiday television special:

Palmer's LPGA Tour Wins and Other Victories

  • 1971 Sealy LPGA Classic
  • 1971 Heritage Open
  • 1972 Titleholders Championship
  • 1973 Pompano Beach Classic
  • 1973 St. Paul Open
  • 1973 National Jewish Hospital Open
  • 1973 Cameron Park Open
  • 1974 Burdine's Invitational
  • 1974 Cubic Corporation Classic
  • 1975 Colgate-Dinah Shore Winner's Circle
  • 1975 U.S. Women's Open
  • 1976 Bloomington Bicentennial Classic
  • 1976 National Jewish Hospital Open
  • 1976 Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Classic
  • 1977 Kathryn Crosby/Honda Civic Classic
  • 1977 Women's International
  • 1981 Whirlpool Championship of Deer Creek
  • 1982 Boston Five Classic
  • 1986 Mayflower Classic

LPGA of Japan Tour

  • 1970 Tokai Classic
  • 1973 TV Shizuoka Central Ladies

Non-Tour Wins

  • 1972 Angelo's Four-Ball Championship* (partnered by Jane Blalock)
  • 1973 Angelo's Four-Ball Championship* (partnered by Blalock)
  • 1991 Centel Senior Challenge
  • 1992 Centel Senior Challenge
  • 1993 Sprint Senior Challenge
  • 1994 Sprint Senior Challenge
  • 1995 Sprint Senior Challenge
*Note that at one time, Palmer's two wins in this tournament, also known as the Cape Cod Four-Ball, were counted as LPGA victories. That is why Palmer's LPGA win total is sometimes listed as 21. However, the LPGA does not today credit this event as an official LPGA Tour tournament.

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