LPGA Player, Golf Channel Commentator Rosie Jones

UPDATE: Golfer Rosie Jones Named 2011 U.S. Solheim Cup Team Captain
By Kaki Flynn
After her retirement last June from 25 years of professional golf, out golfer Rosie Jones became one of very few women in sports broadcasting, taking a job at the Golf Channel as a member of their broadcasting team. She and her girlfriend, Carrie Sexton, have also launched Rosie Jones Golf Getaways, a series of golf vacation packages.

AfterEllen.com recently talked to Jones about her life since coming out, how other golfers — and the LPGA — feel about the closet, Martina Navratilova, Sheryl Swoopes, just how many lesbians there are in the LPGA, and what it's like having your girlfriend caddy for you on tour.

AfterEllen.com: How do you feel about in being in front of the camera?
Rosie Jones: I'm getting a little bit better at it. It's a little bit tougher than I thought it would be; it's a lot different than just thinking about golf. Now you have to say it and say [it] in a way that people understand it and give them information that they want to know. So, it's kind of confusing at first, but it's fun and it's interesting and it's a new challenge for me. And I'm not sure that I will have a long career in this, but I'm giving it a shot, and I'm trying to do the best I can.

AE: It seems like it would be hard to retire from a sport you played for 25 years. Your body is just so in tune with everything about it, from thinking about your tournaments and playing and being out there. Are you still glad you retired when you did?
RJ: My body is the reason that I had to quit — or wanted to retire — because I was having so many different injuries that were just not going to heal if I played golf. Mentally, it's harder to retire than it is physically. It's easy to wake up in the morning and say, "Wow, I'm not stiff; I'm not sore; I don't have to go and hit a bunch of golf balls and spend a lot of time practicing anymore." But emotionally and mentally, it's very different, because your identity has been wrapped up [in the] persona of Rosie Jones the golfer … for so many years, so to lay that aside and to rest is difficult.

AE: Now you are playing on the Legends Tour. Out on the Legends Tour, you have [gay golfers] Patty Sheehan, Muffin Spencer-Devlin and Sandra Haynie. The media — especially when you came out — positioned you as being one of the only gay golfers, but those three are out; they just didn't get as much media coverage. I don't know if Sandra actually came out.
You know, Sandra really didn't come out, and Patty didn't really come out. She just mentioned, "My partner and I are having kids or adopting kids." I don't know that she was actually seeking any advertisement or attention from it, whereas it was different when I came out with Olivia, and I had this kind of an engine rolling along with me and promoting media attention on it. So it was kind of a different situation for me as apposed to Patty, Muffin and Sandra.

AE: Sandra kind of got outed at the time from dating Martina Navratilova. It just got mentioned in a couple of books and a couple of other places, but I never actually heard Sandra come out and talk about it.
You know, I had kind of forgotten that; I didn't even know it. I'm going to have to ask her about that sometime.

AE: There have been a couple of books that have been popping up about Martina, and they have been mentioning Sandra Haynie. I don't know why they are mentioning that now and not before, so I wasn't sure if Sandra was OK with that.
Well, I think she is. She has told me that she is interested in doing some stuff with Olivia, and so I guess she is pretty out. I actually saw her out on one of the Olivia trips, so I don't know that she is actually out, but she is not in. [Laughs.]

AE: You know, that is an interesting thing that I definitely see with women's sports. There is such little coverage of women's sports, it's not necessarily that women aren't out; they are just not in the media. Their athletic accomplishments are barely in, so their personal life just hasn't been an issue.
Well, sometimes the personal issue becomes bigger than the sport itself. Some reporters react differently to different things and different topics like that, and some are just not very comfortable with it.

AE: At the Dinah Shore tournament you played in when you first came out, you had your girlfriend caddy for you. I've heard mixed reviews from golfers who have had their girlfriends caddy for them.
RJ: For the most part, when Carrie and I are on the golf course, we have a business relationship going on, and every now and then those walls fall down when we might be talking about something else or another. She has caddied for me for two years, so she didn't just caddy for me at the Dinah Shore, so she is a pretty seasoned caddy for me. Actually, that was maybe her fourth or fifth tournament.
[Speaking to her partner in the room:] Did you caddy for me for one year or two?

Carrie Sexton: Two.

RJ: We were able to keep that "work-ship" and "girlfriend-ship" separate in most cases.

AE: When you first came out, she said that she wanted this to be about you, and she wanted to stay out of the spotlight. And then at the Dinah Shore, she had an Olivia-sponsored outfit.
It's customary that a lot of players ask for caddies to wear that endorsement product too, and so Carrie did actually have a contract with Olivia to wear the hat.

AE: What made Carrie change her mind about being out?
Carrie has never had a problem with being out or coming out with me. It is actually a pretty tough responsibility being a celebrity athlete's girlfriend, because the celebrity does get a lot of attention … and a lot of attention gets washed over onto Carrie, and she has to be pretty comfortable with that as well. It's not always easy all the time, and she does a great job with that.

AE: So she is out there caddying. Had she played golf before? How did you guys meet?
Carrie and I [had] known each other for about five years before we got together. She is friends of friends of mine up in New York. She is from Syracuse, N.Y., and she is a golfer herself. She's not a professional golfer. She is a fun-time golfer herself, so when we got together, we had the option — knowing that it was going to be my last couple of years on tour — that she would come out with me and travel in my RV with me and caddy with me; that way we could spend more time together.

AE: Any complaints from Carrie? Those bags are freakin' heavy. I don't think people realize that your golfer's bags are like 40 pounds.
Yeah, they are pretty heavy. They get up to about 45 pounds. Especially on rainy days, and you are having to juggle the umbrella and towels and the clubs and the bag and everything all at once, so it can be a tough job, especially for those like Carrie, because she wasn't a professional caddy when she walked on the bag. She was just learning, and so those things kind of just came with time.

AE: Since you have been out, have you noticed your gallery changing much?
No, not really. Of course, there have always been a lot of lesbians out watching me, but I haven't really noticed a change. It's always good and fun and very welcoming. I feel very lucky to have the fan base that I have all over the country. It's just been really great to know so many people recognize me and appreciate my golf.

When I came out, I was a little bit scared that my fan base would change a little bit or diminish in some respects, but I never felt that way, and I never saw that in the two years following that [when] I was playing golf. I had a lot of people come up to me and saying that coming-out was really great. It would be old people, young people, straight people, gay people, and that was all very touching.

AE: I asked you that because I looked at pictures of events — even the Dinah Shore — your gallery still looked like your average golf fan. You know, men in their 40s, slightly overweight guys, whatever, polo shirts on.
You know, it's not like we have 10,000 lesbians out there on the golf course.

AE: That is what we imagine.
Golf fans are golf fans, and I think I appeal to everybody a little bit. I couldn't say that now I can say, "Wow! I've got more lesbians now," but I'm sure I do.

AE: You have played golf with a lot of amazing people over the past 25 years. If you could have the perfect foursome, who would it be?
Wow, I would have to say Babe Zaharias, Annika Sorenstam, myself and … hmm. And that fourth person — does it have to be a professional golfer?

AE: No, you could bring your girlfriend.
It would have to be Jack Nicklaus. Or Arnold Palmer. Or Lee Trevino. Put one guy in there.

AE: I interviewed Martina after you came out, and I asked if you had talked to her when you were thinking about coming out, and her reply was, "Why would Rosie do that?" I was thinking, "I would want to call Martina Navratilova if I was an athlete coming out," but she said that you guys had never talked about it.
RJ: We have never met.

AE: I thought you would have met through Olivia.
No, we haven't. We have never met; it is really weird.

AE: You are not on the cruises together?
No, and she is not even with Olivia anymore.

AE: You went on a cruise with Sheryl Swoopes.
RJ: We did a party at the Gay Games. I got to meet her girlfriend, but Sheryl had just finished a basketball game and was not feeling well, and so we only spoke for a few minutes. But she is very classy, and I look forward to spending more time with her and getting to know her a little better.

AE: What about Patty, Muffin and those guys? For example, when you were coming out — Patty Sheehan, that would be a good person to talk to.
Actually, I did talk with Patty a little bit about how she felt, what were some of the fears she had, how she thought the LPGA was going to handle it, how do you think fans handle it, and stuff like that. And, you know, she was very supportive. I'm not sure if she felt like some of her sponsors had dissed her when she came out, and it wasn't really like this big announcement, but when she started to be a little bit more truthful with her living situation and stuff like that … I do think she held some emotional issues with some of her sponsors at the time, but for the most part she has been very supportive of me, and she is a good friend.

AE: What was some of the advice she gave you when you were coming out?
I can't remember right offhand, but it's not just a matter of, "How do you live your life when you have been out?" It is also just a matter of once you come out, you can never go back. You can't be like, "Oh, I just changed my mind; I'm not doing that anymore."

I talked with a lot of my friends about it, and it's a personal thing, and it's a different situation from being on tour. I think that most of us that are older and that haven't been hiding our sexual orientation — we just kind of assume that people know that and it's not that big of a deal.

AE: In the magazine Golf for Women, they had a great story, written by Lisa Mickey, on Patty Sheehan. It was a story about Patty and her family, and they didn't mention the word "gay"; they just kept talking about Patty and her wife and her kids. That's it. They didn't even mention her coming-out.
Are you asking me if the LPGA is handling the situation a little bit better now?

AE: The LPGA gets labeled as a bunch of closet cases in the sports world.
There are reasons for that. It is just like in tennis. There are probably a lot more closet cases out there than you know of, and everybody is afraid of endorsement opportunity and those opportunities not being available to gays. And whether you think that it shouldn't be that way, it might be. And I have definitely felt in the past that I was scrutinized or looked over because they assumed I was gay. Or dropped from an endorsement deal because I was gay.

I was a top player, and I was not getting endorsement deals that other, lesser players were getting. Part of that is sex appeal, and part of that is just the way you look or whatever. But, sure, players are careful about that [being out], and I was definitely careful about that or tried to be careful about that, but you get to a point in your life and your career when those things aren't as important anymore, and that's why, when the Olivia deal came up — I wouldn't say that financially it wasn't going to take me over to my retirement, but it was worth coming out and was something that I was tired of not addressing.

When I called the LPGA, I talked to the commissioner — at the time it was Ty Votaw — and I told him that I was going to be endorsed by a lesbian travel company and that I was going to be coming out publicly, and that it was going to happen, and that I hope you are going to support me in this.

I think it kind of took the pressure off of them, because they didn't really know how to deal with lesbian issues out on tour. They were very helpful with the media and putting together press conferences and setting up interviews — just like this interview. Votaw said, "We don't care; if you can play good golf and you exemplify the kind of exceptional golf that the LPGA represents, then we want you on our tour, and we don't care if you are gay or straight or little or big or what."

I think it helped the situation for everybody, because somebody needed to come out while they were still playing and still active and take the pressure off coming out. And I felt really good about it, because we weren't really addressing our gay fans out there. We were just totally not acknowledging them because everyone was so afraid that they would be guilty by association, and they would miss out on endorsements. It is going to take a little while before all of that gets cleared up, but it will.

AE: Since you have come out, you have picked up YES! putters [as a sponsor]. How did that work out?
Basically, every association that I had — every sponsor, every golf club, the organizations that I am a member of — I called them up and said, "This is what I'm doing, and I just want to let you know you have the opportunity to back out of our contract if you want to," and they said, "No way! We are proud of you! Go for it!" It was about a year later when I picked up YES! putters.

AE: Did you call them or did they approach you?
They called me.

AE: You don't live on a golf course, and I saw in an interview that a lot of your neighbors, because they don't golf, don't know who you are.
RJ: I've met a lot more of them since I came out. The nice thing about me is that I have never been so famous that I can go pretty much anywhere I want to and maybe someone knows who I am, but when I am in the grocery store or anywhere else, I can remain pretty much anonymous. I used to joke that I worked in my front yard so much that my neighbors thought I was a landscaper.

AE: Did you have gay friends who felt exposed when you came out?
RJ: My gay friends felt a little bit exposed in a way, like I had exposed them too, and maybe because they felt guilt by association in that respect. Everyone has to deal with his or her own issues. If someone feels uncomfortable having a gay friend, whether they are straight or gay … that is something that they have got to deal with on their own, and you can't really make that better for them.

AE: How does your family feel about you being out?
I'm not really close to my family, but we haven't really lived in the same town since I left college.

AE: Recently, there have been issues of negative recruiting in the news, with coaches like basketball coach Rene Portland. Did you experience that as a college player at Ohio?
No, never! I never had any idea that coaches would even do that. I'm sure that schools had homophobic policies and coaches, and I can't believe they got away with that.

AE: There was a dad who was worried about his daughter playing on tour because he was worried about his daughter turning into a lesbian.
To me, every gay and lesbian person in the world knows that — it is our parents' fault. [Laughs.] There are a lot of different variables that go into it, but a lot of it is genetic. It's silly for him to think that somebody — even an organization — could make somebody gay. That's just ridiculous, and for any of us that have any intelligence at all — or any experience with gay people, whether we are gay or not — know that that can't possibly happen.

I've been on Tour for 25 years, and you don't see "gay activity." You know, it's not like there are all these gay women lurking in the locker rooms. We change our shoes in the locker room, and occasionally there are people that are taking showers after a round to get on an airplane or because there is a party going on, but it is not like male locker rooms.

Even if it was, it would be so silly, because there are locker rooms and gyms all over the country, and you are going to say you can't go to that gym because that gym will make you gay?

AE: What advice would you have for people coming out?
Everybody has their own personal readiness, as far as who they are, and I have been very comfortable ever since I came out when I was 19. As a matter of fact, I knew I was gay when I was about 8 years old and realized that it wasn't really accepted all the way through my teens …

AE: I know what you are saying.
You have to be in touch with who you are and be comfortable with that.

For more about Rosie Jones' golf tours, go to http://www.rosiejones.com/.

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