Sandra Palmer was standing in the pro shop at Shadow Hills Golf Club in Indio, California, on Wednesday when her phone rang. Palmer, who gives lessons at the club and works as an ambassador of sorts, recognized the number and took the call outside.
“I know if you don’t win,” she said, “they never call you.”
What had she won? Well, a spot in the World Golf Hall of Fame, news that brought tears to her eyes.
When Palmer walked back into the pro shop and shared that she’d be part of the 2024 Induction Class, the head pro at Shadow Hills arranged for a toast of sparkling cider. Palmer’s phone has been lighting up ever since, and she’s just tickled about it.
“It was very very emotional for me,” she said. “To feel the excitement that people who have known me have felt.”
Golfweek caught up with Palmer on the morning of her 80th birthday to talk about this lifetime achievement:
'The forgotten one'
Sandra Palmer looks on during the U.S. Women’s Open Golf Championship circa July 1979 at the Brooklyn Country Club in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
Sandra Palmer won 19 times on the LPGA, though many feel she should be credited with 21 victories, as had been the case for many years. She won two majors, including the 1975 U.S. Women’s Open and 1972 Titleholders Championship by 10 strokes. At the Women’s Open, Palmer defeated JoAnne Career, Nancy Lopez and Sandra Post by four strokes.
“Sometimes I feel like I was kind of like the forgotten one,” said Palmer. “I never was a long hitter. I worked really hard. The people I played with would tell you I was the first one out there, the last one to leave.
“I guess Hogan said he dug it out of the ground; I guess that’s what I did.”
Sandra Palmer teamed up several times with Sandra Haynie at the BJ’s Charity Championship on the Legends Tour. The pair have been friends for more than 60 years. Photo credit: Legends of the LPGA/Rick Sharp
Palmer was a cheerleader and homecoming queen at North Texas State and a connection through a sorority sister landed her a job in education without an interview. A teaching job, however, didn’t mean golf was over. Quite the contrary. She’d pack up her car on Fridays and drive three hours after class to see renowned instructor Harvey Penick, who became like family to her.
“Everyone that Harvey touched, I know they all felt like I feel about him,” said Palmer. “He was just extraordinary.”
Palmer turned professional in 1964 and won her first tournament in ’71. She played her final event on tour in 1997.
Winning the Dinah
A statue of Dinah Shore overlooks the 18th green at MIssion Hills Country Club Tournament Course in Rancho Mirage, Calif., March 24, 2022. The course will host the Chevron Championship here March 30 through April 3rd.
Palmer lives on the 14th hole of the Palmer Course at Mission Hills, She’s been playing out of the club since the 1970s when she represented Landmark.
“I’m like a fixture I guess,” she said. “I love this place.”
Palmer is credited with two major titles but she did win the Dinah, now the Chevron Championship, in 1975 before it became a major. Back then it was called the Colgate Dinah Shore Winner’s Circle. She recalled her caddie’s hand shaking badly as he handed her back the golf ball while leading at Mission Hills. Winning the Dinah meant a big paycheck for him, too.
“I’m still a little bit upset that it isn’t a major,” she said, speaking of the 11 years the championship was held before the LPGA deemed it a major.
Mickey Wright, Kathy Whitworth, Nancy Lopez, Judy Rankin, Jane Blalock, Sally Little, Donna Caponi, Jo Ann Prentice and Sandra Post (twice!) all join Palmer in winning at Mission Hills pre-major designation.
Still growing the game
Sandra Palmer plays a tee shot on the 10th hole during the second round of the U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Chicago Golf Club on July 13, 2018 in Wheaton, Illinois. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
At 80, Palmer enjoys going to work in the pro shop at Shadow Hills. She puts on clinics and gives lessons, passing on many of the gems she learned from Penick. Sometimes her students, including men, admit to being nervous taking lessons from someone with a resume like Palmer’s.
“But you can’t do anything that I haven’t done in front of a lot of people,” she assures them.
The poor Palmer
Palmer competes in the 2018 Suquamish Clearwater Legends Cup held at Whitehorse Golf Club in Kingston, Washington. Photo credit: Legends of the LPGA/Rick Sharp
Hardly a day went by on tour that the engaging Palmer wasn’t asked if she was related to Arnold Palmer. Even Annika Sorenstam asked Palmer in Tucson one year. Sandra told her they were “kissing cousins.”
“I usually say I’m the poor Palmer,” she joked.
Listed at 5-foot-1, the petite Palmer was among the straightest hitters on tour. So straight, in fact, that she remembers in vivid detail a shot she hit out of bounds on the seventh hole at Columbia Edgewater in Portland. It had been years since she’d hit one O.B.
“I’m going to be standing up a lot taller now,” she said.