Carole Jo died Friday.
For those who knew her as a teen golf prodigy growing up in Oregon, as the winner of every competition the state had to offer and then a national championship at the 1955 U.S. Girls Junior, she was Carole Jo Kabler.
She was Carole Jo Skala in Sacramento to those following her LPGA Tour exploits in the 1970s, when she won four tournaments, outdueling the biggest names in women’s golf along the way.
Her years as Carole Jo Callison came after a union of two of the biggest names in Sacramento golf and produced several bars bearing their name.
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She died as Carole Jo Whitted at age 78, still passionate about golf, a late-in-life darts champion, a devoted mother of three, a loving wife and a larger-than-life character to the end.
“Getting outside the box wasn’t very hard for her,” said longtime Haggin Oaks pro Ken Morton Sr., who first encountered Carole Jo at the 1957 U.S. Women’s Amateur at Del Paso, where her stylish hats distinguished her as much as her march to the semifinals. He later worked as her coach. He was present last year when Carole Jo was inducted into the Sacramento Golf Hall of Fame. Their friendship spanned 60 years.
“She lived life fully,” Morton said. “She was all kinds of fun, an absolute character to be around. You never knew what she was going to say next. I enjoyed her a great deal.”
John Whitted, Carole Jo’s husband of 23 years, said she died because of complications from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, the result of smoking for 45 years. She quit 19 years ago, he said, but the damage had been done.
John taught Carole Jo how to play darts. She became a lady grand champion and the star of the local association. Carole Jo taught John how to play golf. He became … more proficient.
“The first time I saw her tee off, I had never seen anything in my life like it,” John said. “She was a powerhouse for such a small woman. And she had such a great short game. Anyone watching her would improve just watching her … and listening to her yap.”
Despite her abundant golf ability, Carole Jo played infrequently in her 20s and didn’t turn pro until 1970, at age 32. The delay resulted from her devotion to her family, then living in El Dorado Hills, and pro golf wasn’t as lucrative as it is now, said ex-husband Michael Skala, whom Carole Jo met at the University of Oregon and with whom she had her three children, Karen, Marla and Michael Jr.
“She didn’t like to be separated from us any more than we liked to see her go,” Michael said. “And in those days, the ladies didn’t make any money. It hadn’t got up in the stratosphere of the prize money and sponsorship deals like it is today.”
Carole Jo hit her competitive peak in 1973 and 1974, winning four LPGA events and staring down runners-up that included Sandra Haynie, JoAnne Carner and Jane Blaylock. The wins validated her as the player everyone thought she could be, Skala said.
Carole Jo’s last win came in the one-time-only Sacramento Union Ladies Classic at Cameron Park, her home course.
“That was special,” Skala said. “She had so many friends in the gallery, and most had never seen her play in a tournament. She put on quite a show.”
Carole Jo competed into the mid-1980s, losing a playoff to Beth Daniel in 1982. She finished with career earnings of $207,564, which placed her 60th all-time when she retired. She is now No. 452.
She married Vern Callison, a legendary local player and two-time winner of the U.S. Amateur Public Links, in 1981. They owned and operated several bars together, most notably Callison’s at the intersection of Marconi and Fulton avenues, until his death in 1993.
She married Whitted in 1995. The couple played golf three times a week, rotating among Emerald Lakes, Antelope Greens and Haggin Oaks until a year ago, when Carole Jo’s disease made golfing unbearable. Not being able to play took an emotional toll on her, Whitted said.
“She loved golf and the attention it brought,” he said.
▪ Jimmie Lee, a longtime Sacramento Golf Council member, former head marshal at Haggin Oaks and Bing Maloney, former director of the city men’s championship and a true ambassador of the game, died March 13 at age 82.
▪ Doug “The Mayor” Mathews, a lifelong Arbuckle resident and longtime Arbuckle Golf Club member who relished sitting at the clubhouse bar that overlooks the diabolical ninth green and watching uninitiated Sacramento interlopers flail, died March 10 at age 90.
Steve Pajak: 916-326-5526.