Dottie Pepper’s insight and honesty as a golf commentator for NBC are refreshing,
She pulls no punches in her analysis, a characteristic she developed as one of the finest players on the LPGA Tour in the 1990s.
“They want us to be opinionated and honest about what we see and feel. It’s part of the company mantra,” said Pepper, a Wilton native who now lives in Saratoga Springs fulltime with her husband when not on the road covering golf.
Compared to Johnny Miller, another former professional golf standout known for his blunt opinions about today’s players, Pepper understands her audience.
“Being honest is part of my DNA,” she said. “As an analyst or as a reporter, if you’ve done your homework about a player or a situation, and you can make a factual statement or argument, then nobody has much of a reason to argue against you. As a player, I appreciated someone’s criticism, if they did their homework.”
Pepper, 45, doesn’t care about personalities, and she tries not to take things personally when she’s out on the course.
“A golf shot is a golf shot. It doesn’t matter who is hitting it,” she said. “Journalists who can’t separate themselves from their playing days to do whatever they are doing now aren’t doing anybody any good. I’m not reporting for the players. I’m reporting for the audience.”
Pepper tries to go out on the course before the players start their round so she can understand the elements and the course setup when she’s calling the action.
“I view going out and seeing the course as part of my job,” she said. “We don’t turn every course inside out, but if we haven’t been to a course for a long time, or if they’ve done some major changes, we want to see them. Going out on the range or on the golf courses, you can catch the players in their natural element. They are more relaxed, and they share their thoughts more. That’s what makes television so interesting. People want the stuff they can’t put their hands on. When you can personalize the players, it adds so much to the show. That’s why you’ve got to go out on the course or out on the range to talk to them.”
When Pepper first joined the booth after a spectacular playing career, she spent way too much time on the road. That’s all changed now.
“I’m working just 23 weeks for NBC. Granted, those weeks are fuller now because of the marriage between GolfChannel and NBC, but it’s still only 23 weeks a year. When I’m home, I’m home. That’s the rule. Otherwise, I’m taking the job way too seriously. Two years ago, I was on the road for 35 events. That doesn’t leave too much time for anything else, and it’s not worth it. When you are out there for five straight weeks and seven out of eight, it gets a little old. This is a wonderful balance now to spend more than half the year at home. I’m able to separate work and my home life. I’m totally comfortable now.”
Pepper, who ranks 13th on the all-time earnings list with $6,824,353, won 17 LPGA titles, including a pair of majors, the 1992 and 1999 Nabisco Dinah Shore titles. She was the LPGA Tour’s Player of the Year in 1992, the same year she won the ESPY Award, the Vare Trophy (lowest stroke average) and the Jim Thorpe Award.
The fiery Pepper was also a member of six Solheim Cup teams, the female equivalent to the Ryder Cup.
Yet, she is not a member of the LPGA Hall of Fame, a goal of hers since she first became a pro golfer. Membership in the LPGA Hall of Fame, the most exclusive of any of the major pro sports, requires inductees to reach at least 27 points. A point is given for each victory and/or Player of the Year or Vare Trophy award. Majors are worth two points. Currently, there are only 24 members in the LPGA Hall of Fame.
But the requirements were changed a few years ago to allow players who were active in 1998, but are now retired, to be selected from a Veteran’s Committee. Those inductees must have played at least 10 years, have won a major tournament, Player of the Year and/or Vare Trophy, and have played a significant role in the game of golf.
Pepper qualifies in every category.
“I still think the rules for entering the LPGA Hall of Fame are very fair,” she said. “Patty Sheehan was right when she said that unless the LPGA made those changes [adding Veteran’s selections], all the members would be too old or passed away. I think the committee nailed it. I don’t have any regrets about my career. Whether I’m eventually inducted is for other people to decide. It wouldn’t make or break my career. People’s perspectives change.”
Pepper was also asked about whether she would ever be named the American captain for the Solheim Cup team.
“In light of what happened in Sweden [when a comment about the American team went over the air without her knowledge], I don’t think I’ll ever be asked,” she said. “Fair or not, I won’t be asked, but I’m in a good place right now, and I have no complaints.”
The three-time All-American at Furman was also the 1981 New York State Women’s Amateur champion as well as the 1981 and 1983 New York State Junior Girls Amateur champ.
When she’s back home, she is heavily involved with junior golf, and helps out as an advisor to the Northeastern New York PGA.