Val Skinner's LPGA career spanned two decades during which she won six times and was ranked in the top 15. Following the death at age 28 of her close friend and fellow LPGA golfer Heather Farr, Skinner became involved in promoting breast cancer awareness in young women. The Post and Courier's Tommy Braswell went One-on-One with Skinner, now a commentator for The Golf Channel and CBS, will be in town to participate in the Charleston Breast Center Golf Classic on June 7 at Kiawah Island Club's River Course:
Tell us about the Val Skinner Foundation, which has been named by Sports Illustrated as one of the top 10 pro athlete charity endeavors.
"Heather was a really good friend of mine and we had various conversations during her battle. She was misdiagnosed at 24 and went through enormous challenges trying to beat the disease. She was very concerned about a caution being made among women, having the idea that this could happen to them. Not long before she passed away (in 1993), we had a long conversation about it. She said, 'Val, don't let people forget what happened to me.' We created the foundation in 1999, and had our first LIFE (LPGA Pros In The Fight To Eradicate Breast Cancer) in 2000. In this 11-year effort, we will have raised $2.3 million."
The Charleston Breast Center Golf Classic is honoring Pete Radding of North Charleston, who died last year in a small plane crash. He was involved with the Charleston Breast Center, and I understand you have a tie to Pete.
"When I was a rookie, I went to Corning, N.Y., and stayed with the family of Pete and Tina Radding. I stayed with them my rookie year and every year they were living in Corning. I watched their kids grow up, and I coached their daughter Nicole who went to college (University of Cincinnati) on a golf scholarship. Pete was like a second father to me. Tina, Nicole and Peter will be at the event, which makes it amazingly special ... All the stars aligned. It's almost like he orchestrated it from where he is now."
Have you visited Charleston?
"I was there with the Raddings. Pete and Tina gave me a little tour. I was fortunate enough to take a carriage ride and see all the historic sites. It was fantastic. I very much look forward to coming back."
What was your last year on the LPGA, and what prompted your retirement?
"I still play in some LPGA Legends Tour events and I'm still a member of the Tour. My final season was 2004. I had some pretty significant back injuries in 2000 and tried to continue to play. But I really struggled with my body. I had played a long time and had a fair amount of success. I finished in the top 15 in the world seven out of the 20 seasons. I couldn't get back to that form. When The Golf Channel approached me about doing some commentary for the women's game, I thought it was a nice time for me to transition."
You do events for both CBS and The Golf Channel. How many tournaments a year will you work?
"It varies. I've done as many as 15, but I probably average around 10."
What's the most memorable event you've worked as a commentator?
"Solheim Cups are always very exciting and patriotic so I've really enjoyed Solheim Cups. It was very meaningful to me to see Michelle Wie get her first win (the 2009 Lorena Ochoa Invitational). I was covering that group and calling the action when she won. Watching players win and having the opportunity to watch an athlete go through the drama of capturing the brass ring is exciting. Having done it and been there and understanding the feeling, I'm always moved by the performance and have a little bit of that same emotion. I take that ride with them."
Of your six LPGA wins, which stands out the most?
"I think my first win (the 1985 Konica San Jose Classic). I beat Pat Bradley, a World Golf Hall of Famer, in a playoff. We both drove it in trouble and it came down to who could hit a shot that took a little bit of extra art and craft. We had put ourselves in a very difficult position. I was able to pull off that second shot and get the victory. The first win is always the best."
Your LPGA biography says you are an Admiral in the Navy to the state of Nebraska. What's that about?
"That came before my breast cancer work. I was involved in grass roots charities, and when I would play well on Tour and the media would cover me, I was giving a shout out to my fellow Cornhuskers. I would go back to Nebraska and do different things for my state, whether in sports or charities. It's an award given by the governor that acknowledges your community effort and service and not forgetting where you came from. It's for working hard to put your state on the map."
You went to Oklahoma State, which is noted for its men's golf dynasty. Why there?
"The men's team was No. 1 when I was being recruited. That had an impact because I felt like golf was getting a lot of attention at the school. If we recruited properly for the women's side, we had a chance. By my senior year, we finished third in the nation."
The Charleston area has produced some LPGA stars. Let me get your reactions to Beth Daniel and Jane Geddes.
"Beth Daniel was one of the best ball-strikers ever in the women's game. She was a fierce competitor who would not settle for second. Jane is a very good friend of mine who didn't take up golf until she was a freshman in college. She won two major championships and 11 overall championships. She now works for the LPGA Tour and works hard for the benefit of the players. I admire that Jane was able to go from competitive golf to the golf world."
Two of the LPGA's biggest names, Annika Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa, have retired. How do you see the state of the LPGA today?
"Lorena and Annika were well respected among their peers and set the bar higher than the players before them. Annika passed the torch to Lorena and Lorena took it and did a lot with it. For them to make the decision to move on and enhance their life in other ways is admirable. I think they will be missed. Suzanne Pettersen, Michelle Wie, Jiyai Shin, Morgan Pressell, Paul Creamer ... they're in a position to pick up that flag and create some new interest and chase that No. 1 ranking. The economy has been tough on golf. There's trouble on all Tours. Certainly, the global forecast for the LPGA is very good. The challenge is to be just as healthy on the domestic side."