Ex-LPGA golfer Jane Geddes now working for WWE
Jane Geddes looked out her office window and back in time, to neatly arranged reminders of an unlikely path to golf glory.
Much has changed, of course. There were only three stacks then, not four, and they represented LILCO, not LIPA. In the interim Geddes, 53, has been on a life journey she never could have imagined when she departed Long Island for good shortly after ninth grade at East Northport Junior High School.
Let's see . . . There was taking up golf in her mid-teens, winning the U.S. Open out of nowhere in 1986, earning a law degree, serving as an LPGA executive, relatively-late-in-life motherhood in partnership with a tennis Hall of Famer and now a job working with John Cena, Big Show and other flamboyant stars of World Wrestling Entertainment. That brought her back to the metropolitan area at last.
And just in time for the women's Open to visit Long Island for the first time, at Sebonack in late June.
"I felt like when I was moving back here I was moving home,'' she said in a recent interview.
As you can see, all this is a bit complicated. So let's take it chronologically.
"Yes, I was kind of the tomboy on my block,'' Geddes said. "I controlled the entire street.''
Twice she broke an ankle running into the same hole at Fifth Avenue Elementary School's field. Always, she was the quarterback in pickup games.
"I could throw the heck out of a football; I still can,'' she said. "My dad was convinced I had to throw a perfect spiral, since I was the oldest and I don't think he thought he was going to have boys.'' (He later did, two of them.)
Geddes also played softball, basketball and other sports, well enough to find herself named "Most Athletic'' in the junior high yearbook. Valerie Waitkus (now Stern), a close friend then and now, was named "Most School Spirited.''
"She was a natural athlete, absolutely,'' said Waitkus Stern, who recalled an idyllic childhood featuring kickball, bicycles, sleigh riding and more. "Parents didn't worry,'' she said. "We just played outside until dark.''
Then, abruptly, it was over. Geddes' father was transferred to South Carolina. "I was miserable,'' she said. "I was 15 and like, 'Oh, my God, Summerville, South Carolina!' There I was, this total Long Islander with a wicked accent.''
Her old friend Val was dispatched to South Carolina for Christmas break to boost her spirits. She ended up staying for a month.Eventually, golf rescued Geddes. The family lived near a course, and after her mother read an article about local star Beth Daniel and her coach, she suggested lessons.
"I was like, 'No, I hate golf, I don't know anything about golf,''' Geddes recalled. "So she, against my wishes, set up this appointment with this teacher, Derek Hardy, who ended up being my coach my entire career.
"Derek gave me one lesson and said to my mom, 'I want you to bring her back and I'm not going to charge you,' and that was it. Honestly, the rest is history.''
The driving range was an escape from her loneliness, and her talent enabled her to improve quickly. She eventually walked on at Florida State and helped the school win an AIAW national title in 1981.
"She picked up golf and immediately took to it,'' her brother Tim said. "We weren't all that surprised she got good, but I think we were all very surprised when she got to the level she got to.''
Geddes joined the pro tour in 1983, with middling success, then won her first title in grand style -- beating Sally Little in an 18-hole playoff to win the 1986 Open in Kettering, Ohio.
"The USGA didn't know what to do with me,'' she said. "It's not typical someone wins the Open who they don't know from juniors or something. The next year historically they put picture on the program, but they didn't put my picture on it. I was so mad.''
By 1987 Geddes was no mystery, adding an LPGA Championship, one of five victories that year. But she never would match that season in a career that lasted through 2003 and earned her $3.8 million.
"I thought I was going to play like that forever, and I never played like that again,'' she said.
Geddes knew nothing would quite match the thrill of the tour, but she had to prepare for the rest of her life. That led to law school at Stetson and later a job offer in business development from then-LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens.
Tough times at LPGA
She would become one of Bivens' top executives during what Geddes acknowledged was a "very, very, very, very'' difficult time for the tour amid the Great Recession. Eventually she became the LPGA's head of competition but found it awkward being on the corporate side opposite former peers. "I was always sort of fighting the battles with players, and it was tough,'' she said.
During that period, in 2009, she and her longtime partner, the tennis Hall of Famer Gigi Fernandez, welcomed the birth of twins after a long struggle for a successful pregnancy.
That further cemented their deep roots in Florida, but those soon would be ripped out by an outside-of-the-box job prospect. Way outside the box."At first, I was like, 'WWE? You mean, wrestling?''' Geddes said.
Said Fernandez: "She said, 'I got a call from the WWE.' I was like, 'From the what?' . . . I said, 'You've got to be kidding me, right?' She goes, 'No, no, no, it's serious.' ''
Soon they were watching "Monday Night Raw'' together and within two shows Fernandez found herself "hooked.''
Geddes quickly saw the similarities between working with pros on the "traveling show'' that is the golf tour and its wrestling counterpart. She signed on in 2011 and now is senior VP of talent relations, overseeing every aspect of the wrestlers' activities, from brand management to appearances, travel, wellness and drug testing.
"It's been a great thing for our family and for her,'' Fernandez said. "I just get kick out of the fact that her boss is named 'Triple H.' It's fun. It's a great company to work for.''
Just as the idea of working in wrestling took getting used to for Geddes, it took time for WWE to accept the notion of an executive from the genteel ranks of golf.
Geddes recalled first meeting Triple H -- Paul Michael Levesque, who wrestled as Hunter Hearst Helmsley -- and seeing "this giant guy with a ponytail. I was like, 'Hi? Oh, God.' Her prospective boss' reaction? "He was like, 'Golf? Are you kidding me? Why am I even wasting my time?'''
Working with Cena, Randy Orton, Sheamus and other WWE stars keeps her busy, perhaps too busy to attend the Open in June. Geddes never did get to compete on Long Island herself but is happy to see the event here. "I wish I was playing in it,'' she said.
She does still think of the Island as home, even after all these years. Tim is six years younger, would tell you he is from South Carolina and has the accent to prove it. Not Jane.
"I never felt connected to South Carolina -- never,'' she said. "If you ask me where I'm from, I'll always say New York. I'll always say Long Island.''
Fernandez said Geddes long had dreamed of moving to New York, but Fernandez drew the line at Manhattan. They live near Stamford. Close enough.
She's still a New Yorker
"She always has had that New York energy and is passionate about life,'' Fernandez said. "She's got that screaming thing going. She's very much a New Yorker.''
Geddes still is in touch with some junior high friends, no one more so than Waitkus Stern, who lives in North Carolina.
They first met on the bus to kindergarten. Geddes was the maid of honor at Stern's wedding. They recently shared a bottle of wine after a WWE event near Stern's home and told old stories.
"We're the only two who know everything from early on in our lives,'' Waitkus Stern said. "I just turned to her and said, 'Who would have thunk it?'''