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- Professional golfer
In all, there are roughly 145 letters between student and teacher. Dottie Pepper has cherished the words of George J. Pulver, Sr. for more than four decades, carefully placing each letter in a three-ring binder that she guarded like sacred treasure. She was 15 and he was 81 when they first started working together. The eloquent and straightforward letters arrived after lessons and often more frequently.
In Letters to a Future Champion: My Time with Mr. Pulver, Pepper, a 17-time winner on the LPGA and on-course reporter for CBS who will most certainly be in the World Golf Hall of Fame before too long, pays tribute to a wonderfully deep and impactful friendship that laid the foundation for her successful career.
While “Mr. Pulver” shared practical tips on her swing and tournament preparation in the letters, lines of encouragement and nuggets of wisdom leap off the typewritten pages.
Take, for example, this paragraph from the last letter he wrote before Pepper went off to Furman for her freshman year:
“In virtually all endeavors, those who succeed work harder, think deeper, and continue in their undiminished zeal towards definite goals. Often, chance darts at them, for the good or bad. Surely, a promising future lies before you.”
It’s no wonder she couldn’t wait to get to the mailbox!
The audio version of Pepper’s book will be released in early January. This was important to Pepper because her 98-year-old grandmother, Dorothy Woodcock, can no longer read due to macular degeneration.
Golfweek recently caught up with Pepper, 56, to talk about her beautifully unique self-published book, which is a finalist for the USGA’s Herbert Warren Wind Book Award. Here are excerpts from that conversation:
When did you first start thinking about making a book out of these letters?
When I showed (husband) David Normoyle the three-ring binder, we might still have been dating, he said, ‘Wow you have a book here.’
I said ‘Well you’re biased, and I have no time, so thanks for your help.’
He’d come up with a book format every once in a while … the one that I really liked was Peter Thomson’s book. It was actually a booklet … it was full of all of his thoughts and letters and articles that he’d written. It was really cool. I thought well, that’s nice, but again, I have no time.
And then Covid hit.
We were taken off the road, and we weren’t going to resume for a while. I thought I’m not just going to sit here and watch bad news on the television, I’m going to do something positive, and maybe this is the time to write the book.
I got my binder back out … in the pile of stuff that his kids had sent me, and this was separate from the library that he left me, there was a blue folder, all beat up, and all it said on the outside was “golf articles.’ When I was working with Mr. Pulver, I was not allowed to read anything in Golf Digest or Golf Magazine or Golf World that had to do with swing mechanics, anything like that. He didn’t want me to go off on some wicked tangent… He’s been gone for 36 years, I guess I can open it. It was really exactly what I thought I was going to find. Just like the letters and books he’d asked me to read, with his thoughts in the margins, going back all the way to 1966. But what I was not prepared to find was every letter that I had written to him.
As you can imagine, it was a fragile afternoon in this house. … David was not around. He was actually down working at Baltusrol. I said, ‘I don’t know if this is a good day for you not to be home or a bad day for you not to be home, but there’s been a flood in the basement.’
Why do you think you kept these letters safe for so long?
The relationship was that special. It was special from me to him. I didn’t realize it was as special as it was to him – the boomerang effect. There were so many things in the letters that were evergreen. It was the way I could really still hang on to him.
Reading them all again for the first time in a long time, what did you learn about yourself?
I always seemed to have a gripe (laughs). But it wasn’t like a whiny gripe, it was just How do I get better? I was on a mission, that’s for certain. I think he was concerned that it was going to be too much on the mission and not take time to enjoy the other things that you should if you’re going to be a balanced person. He was always aware of burnout.
Dottie Pepper of the USA tees off on the 10th hole during a practice round before the 2000 Solheim Cup played at the Loch Lomond GC, Loch Lomond, Scotland. Mandatory Credit: Warren Little/ALLSPORT
Mr. Pulver talked a lot about the greats of the game when giving you instruction in his letters. How was that important to you?
It was huge for me because it gave me the sense, especially with Snead, who came from nothing to become one of the best players to ever play the game, that it can be done.
Also, I think it was important because he just didn’t get caught up with the players that were on TV at the moment. It was looking back at Palmer and Hogan and Hagen. He got everybody involved because he was curious.
What are the biggest lessons juniors can take from this book?
Fundamentals were huge for him. He goes right back to the basics of a good grip and setup. While it’s boring, it never goes out of style. I think too, for as much as I did on my golf swing, he talks a lot about distance control with putting, and being prepared to play anywhere at any time in any weather.
There’s one of the notes that even asks, ‘Do you have a good umbrella, an extra towel?’ … What Tiger calls the process, that’s part of the process. Being prepared to play no matter what Mother Nature throws at you … arriving at the first tee unhurried, having a game plan for the day. He didn’t leave much unturned.
Why do you think you two clicked?
There was respect on my behalf. I thought I was pretty much the luckiest person ever to have a guy like this, and I was really his only student other than his two kids at the time.
He had left the game as a full-time employment. He was 81-years-old when we started working together. I respected that it was not just about teaching. He taught me a lot about agronomy, golf course management, picking a schedule, about the value of at least an undergraduate degree, which no one in my family had ever had. He really directed that part of my life in a significant way.
And the other way, coming from him to me, Martha had died four days before the letter he first wrote me saying he would work with me, but his schedule was pretty much up in the air right now. That was in March of ’81. It was the perfect medicine really for both of us because my dad couldn’t take me any farther in the game, and he’d just lost his wife.
I became the child for him that was living in town.
CBS Golf correspondent Dottie Pepper looks on during the third round of the 2020 RBC Heritage at Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
You talk a bit about how you felt like it was the haves vs. the have-nots, and you were the latter. But you can’t put a price tag on what you shared with Mr. Pulver. How much of your success do you credit to him?
It’s the foundation for everything, let’s put it that way. It would be like trying to put up a skyscraper without the proper foundation. It’s the foundation of things I still talk about on air. These are literally 40-some years of evergreen messages.