It was the right decision. Rankin, 31, now has won five tournaments, including $32,000 in the Colgate-Dinah Shore Winners Circle championship, and has become the first female golfer to win more than $100,000 in one season. With four tournaments still left on the Ladies Professional Golfers' Association tour, her earnings have reached $138,734.
She remains a preposterous $215,000 behind the men's record set by Johnny Miller in 1974. But Judy, who is president of the LPGA, is not agitating for comparable purses. "Some women don't think I'm radical enough," she admits. "But we have to draw the crowds and have the same level of competition before we can demand equal pay."
At the age of 6, Judy was trudging around the course with her father, Paul Torluemke (the name is German), shooting a promising 84 for nine holes. A year later she broke 50. But Torluemke, a printer, took his daughter to an indoor driving range in St. Louis where she would whack 600 balls every day. Because she was tiny (at 5'3", 110 lbs. today, she is one of the smallest women on the LPGA tour), he taught her an unorthodox grip. It puts a forward spin on the ball, giving it extra momentum when it hits the ground. "Her father could be a taskmaster," recalled pro Bob Greene, who helped with Judy's training, "but they're crazy about each other."
As an 8-year-old she won the national Peewee title, at 14 she became the youngest player to win the Missouri amateur (she did so twice), and at 15 she was the low amateur in the U.S. Open. At 17, after graduating from high school, she turned down a golfing scholarship at the University of Missouri to become a pro. "I made some dumb mistakes," she recalls. "I'd be leading a tournament by two strokes with two holes left and end up in fourth place. I wanted to win but I never could. I guess I was thinking more about what to wear on a date that night than I was about golf."
In 1967, during a tournament in Midland, Texas, she was introduced to Walter S. Rankin, better known as "Yippy," a name he acquired as a party-going football player at Texas Tech. It was love at first sight. Within five weeks they were married, and a year later Walter "Tuey" Rankin, now 8, arrived. (He was nicknamed after the Rankin family cattle brand, 2.)
Judy doubles her golfing take with endorsements and Yippy makes $50,000 a year from oil investments and his insurance business, but they still live in the three-bedroom Midland house they bought when they were married. When she is home, which is about five months a year, Judy enjoys tackling domestic chores. "Basically I'm a homebody," she says. "I love to clean out closets."
Tuey and his father accompany Judy on the tour as often as they can. They try to be inconspicuous. "I'm nervous as hell no matter how Judy plays," says Yippy. "If she's losing, I'll try to help turn things around—I'll walk faster or slower, stop chewing gum, anything. If she's playing well, I'm still a nervous wreck."
Tuey has a more casual attitude. Only recently has he acknowledged that Judy "might" be the best player on the tour. The boy's friends have become converts too. "Now the neighborhood kids want to come along when I take Tuey out to hit a few balls," says Judy. "Last year I was just 'Tuey's Mom.' "
Frustrated by a calamitous round of golf early this year, Judy Torluemke Rankin was on the verge of trading in her putter for pots and pans. "Washing dishes and cooking looked like a lot more fun," she recalls, "but I had promised myself that this was going to be a good year, so I stuck around."