Take Your 'Pick': USGA Media Volunteer Has Seen It All
By Rhonda Glenn, USGA
Carmel, Ind. – Carolyn Pickering Lautner has seen everything. And if she hasn’t seen it, she’s probably heard about it.
“Pick” - as she’s known by Indiana’s journalists, beat cops, police brass, FBI agents, Secret Service agents, judges, law clerks, prosecutors, attorneys, politicians, prison bosses, bail bondsmen, crooks and golfers - was a reporter for 35 years.
This week, however, Pick is a volunteer in the media room at the U.S. Women’s Amateur. She enjoys watching “the kids,” but this seems a staid, somewhat frivolous role for a woman who covered life’s grittier side. Pick is a throw-back, of sorts. Think Roz Russell as “Hildy” in His Girl Friday.
Like Hildy, Pickering once hid out with the cops to nab a crook and she once exposed the mob’s role in the nation’s bail bond industry. She also worked the federal courthouse. When she went on vacation, top brass withheld their juiciest scoops until they could share them with Pick upon her return. Her sparse, elegant prose had everyone’s respect.
Small in stature, perfectly coiffed, bright-eyed and her face deeply pink from the sun, today she leans on a cane (she’s preparing for back surgery in a couple of weeks). It’s steamy hot outside at Crooked Stick as Pick collapses into a media room chair. She has just returned after following 15-year-old defender Kimberly Kim for nine holes.
“No good. Two doubles, no birdies.
"Whew, I’m gonna take a pain pill, since you don’t have any bourbon,” she cracks.
She hears a reporter mention a diet. “Diet?” she says. “When you get older you ought to eat and drink anything you … please.”
Pick’s language is sprinkled with the gentle profanities of the old city room, colorful language that makes her friends smile but for which she is forever apologizing.
At 82, she is a widow. Pick and her husband had two children, a talented daughter, Diane Urbain, and a handsome, athletic son, David. David died of cancer two years ago and she endowed a golf scholarship at Butler University in David’s name. Pick still has trouble dealing with the loss but following the scholarship recipient, Lauren Showers of Kokomo, Ind., in the Women’s Amateur has put a little spring in her step.
Love of the Game
Despite all of the big stories Pick broke and all of the crooks she helped put behind bars, she is passionate about golf. She won the first Indiana Girls’ Junior Championship, in 1938. In her days at the Indianapolis Star, she covered Patty Berg (“and we sorta stayed friends,” she says). She covered Mickey Wright, and played with her. She covered Helen Dettweiler, Louise Suggs, Dot Kirby, Kathy Whitworth, Peggy Kirk Bell, Polly Riley and two-time USGA Senior Women’s Amateur champion Alice Dye, whose husband, Pete, designed Crooked Stick.
In 1945, she nearly beat Alice in the Indianapolis City Women’s Championship. Late in the match she was 2 up at the eighth tee when Alice hit her approach shot into a corn field.
“I was thinking, ‘OK, I’ll go 3 up,’ ” Pick says. “Darn if she didn’t hit it in the hole and win the hole. I lost, 1 up.”
Great lessons are learned under such fire and Pick loves nothing better than writing a good golf story. She wrote a book on Indiana’s women golfers. Her favorite story came in the Indianapolis City event.
“Nancy Fitz (Fitzgerald) was playing Cookie English in the final,” Pick says. “Nancy was about 8 ¾ months pregnant with her third child. They let her ride a cart, which Cookie didn’t like much. Nancy won and four days later she had Andrew. I told them at the paper that I was going to write the headline, and I did. It said, ‘Cookie and Me and Baby Makes Three.’ ”
Pick has another claim to fame: She was the first reporter to refer to JoAnne Gunderson Carner as “Big Momma,” the eternal nickname first used in Pick’s story for Golf World.
She Says What She Thinks
If Pick was ingrained with objectivity as a reporter, in retirement she has the luxury of airing all the opinions she wants, and she has many. Over-zealous golf parents? She’s against them. College education for young golfers? She’s for it, as befits a graduate of Butler University (with honors) who worked on her masters at Columbia University.
“Back in my day, the emphasis was different,” says Pick. “Say you had athletic ability, but it wasn’t fostered and driven into you by parents. I was emphatic that I was going to go to college. It’s hard for me to comprehend that these kids who are so enormously talented, that they wouldn’t be thinking down the road beyond golf.”
The woman who is in the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame, who won Butler University’s highest honor this year when she was awarded the Butler Medal, and won the prestigious Lester Hunt Award for investigative journalism, has strong opinions about golf reporting, too. No doubt a few reporters cringe when Pick holds their feet to the fire.
“Never was there a time that I wouldn’t be out there on the course covering matches,” she recalls. “Never, ever would I sit down in a media room and wait for players to be brought in to me and tell me how they flew it out of bounds, or whatever. I just don’t feel that a golf reporter that is not out there on the golf course is truly into the game. That reporter doesn’t feel the passion for the game.
“And the grammar (today) is horrific. The mistakes that people make!”
Sitting in a golf cart near the entrance to the Crooked Stick clubhouse, Pickering sees a young golfer looking a little lonely walk by.
Pick smiles. “How’d you play today?” she asks.
“OK, I guess,” the girl smiles back and walks on.
“I don’t know her, but I try to be friendly,” Pick says.
Pick has a nice way with people, which she used to great effect when she spent a year as the press spokesman for Indiana Gov. Ed Whitcomb. “Ed had been assistant U.S. attorney,” she says. “He was a nice guy and he was honest. You’re dealing with the legislature and politics, and I don’t care for that, but that year was fun.”
Pickering is watching young competitors stroke putts with authority on the practice putting green at Crooked Stick. They wear cute shorts and their form-fitting shirts are pink, green and blue. Baseball caps perch on their perky pony tails. Dozens of them are shooting sub-par rounds this day. She has seen drastic changes in women’s golf, and women golfers, since the days when she began playing with a 3-wood, 5-iron, 8-iron and putter in Anderson, Ind.
“It’s almost incomprehensible that they’ve been able to achieve what they’ve been able to achieve,” she says. “There are so many different factors and it’s a wonderful, wonderful era of women’s golf that may never be seen again. Sixty years ago, this was incomprehensible.”
This week, Pick is reporting from the golf course. She follows certain assigned players, scribbling notes about them and turning them into the media center. “She had a funny little lie in the bunker,” she says of Kim. “Her ball was half on the sand and half on the grass. Didn’t have much chance with the shot.”
Such keen observations bring the round to the reader.
There was one tournament, however, in which there was a rare slip in Pick’s reporting. Of the annual championship of the Old Ladies Golf Association, a local event, she wrote very little about the champion, saying that she had somehow backed into the title. She then went on at great length about the other players and how they blew their chances to win. The winner of the tournament?
It was Pick, of course.
Rhonda Glenn is a manager of communications for the USGA. E-mail her with questions or comments at email@example.com.