In Ladies' Golf, Ken Young Runs Tournaments and His Wife, Donna Caponi, Wins Them
'I have the easy job in this marriage,' says Donna, and Ken doesn't disagree
As the leading money winner this season in the Ladies Professional Golf Association, Donna Caponi Young rarely plays with—let alone loses to—amateurs. So when she fell behind during a recent round at Hilton Head, S.C., she walked off the course after nine holes. "No guts," chided opponent—and husband—Ken Young. "Actually," he later explained, "we had a plane to catch."
Life for the Youngs these days is a blur of airports, motel rooms and golf courses. But they have been comforted by a steady flow of five-figure paychecks. Donna, 35, is determined to become the first woman golfer ever to win $200,000 in a year. Going into the U.S. Women's Open this week in Nashville, her 1980 earnings were more than $136,000 (her 1979 total was $125,493).
Ken, 39, is not only Donna's fervent fan. He has a career in professional golf too. Since 1976 he has worked as tournament director for a dozen or so LPGA events a year. Employed by tournament sponsors, Young is responsible for promotion, crowd control (he personally ropes off the spectator areas), volunteer workers and posting the scores. Because he does not deal directly with players, there is no conflict of interest.
"I have the easy job in this marriage," says Donna, and her husband's hours are evidence. Up by 6 a.m. during tournaments, he seldom leaves the course before 9 at night. He and his staff run down the batteries on five or six golf carts a day. "But when that first ball is hit on Thursday," notes Ken, "and everything is perfect, that's when my adrenaline flows."
It was flowing when the Youngs met in 1971, too. The vivacious Donna Caponi knew what she wanted in a husband. "I needed somebody who could understand an athlete," she says. "Like another athlete." Previous boyfriends had included pro quarterback Roman Gabriel and major league pitcher George Culver. No wonder Caponi was attracted to the 6'1" 220-pound Young, who still resembles the middle linebacker he once was.
Donna was playing in the Borden Classic in Columbus, Ohio when she spotted Ken, a sales rep for Dunlop Sports Co., on a practice tee. "I threw a Dunlop ball at him," recalls Donna, "in a snarky kind of way. Then I started flirting with him." Ken asked her to dinner. Engaged within a month, they were married in less than three, honeymooning in Pebble Beach, Calif., where they played golf every day.
Donna turned pro in 1965 and was dubbed "the Watusi Kid" for her love of dancing, a passion she seldom indulges nowadays. "As soon as Ken put his name on the marriage license," she laments, "he forgot how to dance." Donna still carries a portable radio in her golf bag and often practices to the Top 40.
Elsewhere in that bag are the remains of a four-leaf clover, which Ken hid during her hot streak this spring. It was a tribute to his superstitious nature. If a tournament is going smoothly, he takes time to watch Donna play a couple of holes. That's "the toughest thing in the world," he says, so he compensates by filling his pockets with "lucky" pebbles, twigs and bottle caps.
Donna began playing golf when she was only 6; her first round was a 133. The Caponis had moved to Los Angeles from Detroit in 1949 and Donna learned the game from her father, who was a promising player until a kidney operation ended his hopes of making the pro tour. Although as a girl she was not allowed to compete on the Granada Hills High School golf team, Donna qualified for the pro tour at 19. Four years later she won her first tournament. (Since her father died in 1972, pro Dave Stockton has served as Donna's unofficial coach.)
Her game—based on accurate, though not overpowering, drives—is strong and consistent. With career earnings just short of $750,000 as of July 1, she is fifth on the all-time women's list. "Donna became a steadier player the minute she was married and probably more aggressive as well," says longtime competitor JoAnne Carner. "Ken is terrific at building her confidence." Over the years Donna's appearance has undergone several transformations. She went from brunette to blonde, from 180 pounds to a trim 130. Now, she laughs, "I have red hair, blue eyes and a new nose." Last winter she had surgery to correct a deviated septum.
The son of a policeman, Ken was raised in Cleveland. He was a golfer in high school—he still plays to a one-or two-stroke handicap—but showed more promise in football at Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio. He married his high school sweetheart at 18, and after college was the produce manager for an Ohio supermarket chain. As he drifted into golf he was also en route to a 1967 divorce. After working for Dunlop, Ken became president of a company that makes golf clubs. He also owned the pro shop at a California country club, and in 1976 he was asked to run an LPGA tournament there. Donna won the tournament, which went so smoothly that Ken Young & Associates was born. It's now a flourishing business with nine full-time employees, and Ken thinks his marital affiliation has little to do with that success—"Sometimes people don't even know Donna's my wife."
Nomads by nature as well as necessity, the Youngs touch down occasionally at their four-bedroom house in the Hollywood Hills. It once belonged to Donna's old beau Gabriel. At home, says Ken, "We try to forget golf exists." When not making use of the workout room, sauna, swimming pool, Jacuzzi bath or basketball court, the lady of the house relaxes by cleaning—regardless of the hour. "At 3 or 4 in the morning," she suggests, "changing shelf paper isn't so bad." Sometimes Ken wakes up to find her practicing her putting stroke. "After I'm home for a week or two," she admits, "I'm ready to move."
Ken has two sons and a daughter from his first marriage. He and Donna don't plan to have children. "We really like our careers," she explains. "I don't want to put a kid on this earth just to say I had one." Their hectic schedules leave little time for the necessary preliminaries, anyway. "That's the most action I've had in 10 days," sighed Donna recently, after obliging a photographer by giving Ken a kiss. She has no real complaints. "Whatever we're doing," smiles Donna, "it's working."
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