In an era where can't-miss weight-loss plans outnumber public golf courses, JoAnne Carner chose a rather unusual way to shed her excess pounds. She got sick. Real sick.
Carner, formerly known as Big Mama, currently looking more like Medium Mama, shed 40 pounds, due in part to a series of illnesses and a yeast infection. The result, although aesthetically pleasing, had an adverse effect on her golf game.
"When you lose all that weight, your swing is going to be much quicker, believe me," Carner said. "As you're coming down to the ball through the middle, you're going to move much faster. You have to be patient, and you know patience is the hardest thing to practice in golf. My old reliable timing was completely destroyed. I hit it so bad you couldn't believe it."
Neither can a lot of other people. The indisputable evidence has Carner winning 5 U.S. Amateur championships, 25 other events, 2 U.S. Opens and 40 other professional tournaments. This week she'll be trying to win the $500,000 Nabisco Dinah Shore at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage.
Carner, 48, started losing weight more than a year ago when she got the flu. That was followed by bronchitis and tonsillitis.
"To get rid of all that stuff, I took so many antibiotics that they hit my immune system," Carner said.
"Finally, I was put on a non-yeast diet, which means no sugar, no fruit, no dairy products, no vinegar, no candy, no beer, no nothing. Can you believe it, I couldn't even have coffee? Heck, I had to have about three or four cups of coffee in the morning just to get me up for the day's round."
Carner then decided to take some time off. After all, giving up coffee was one thing but giving up beer is serious stuff.
"I quit playing last September and didn't start again until Jan. 6," Carner said. "I didn't even touch a club. I wanted to get away from it completely and enjoy myself. My husband Don and I would go fishing and sailing on our 42-foot boat. I decided to do that until I got excited about golf again."
Carner had another signal that things weren't going so well. She had a record of winning at least one tournament a year for 12 years and looked to extend that streak in the Henredon tournament last summer. She finished in a tie with Betsy King.
"Normally, just before a playoff, Don gets me some orange juice or a Coke for some sugar and quick energy," Carner said. "But I wasn't allowed to have sugar on my diet. On the playoff hole, I was running out of gas. My gauge was on E, and I eventually lost."
There have been some positive signals, however, to Carner's weight loss. She says she's gone from a size 18 to an 11. Recently, her mother didn't recognize her as she stepped off a plane.
There is one incident, however, that sums up JoAnne Carner's no-fat frenzy best. She was talking to a friend, who had also undergone a dramatic weight loss of 50 pounds, when she remarked: "You know, between the two of us, your 50 pounds and my 40, we've lost Laura Baugh."