This weekend at Green Hill Country Club just south west of Salisbury, the woman who ranks as perhaps the best golfer to hail from Salisbury will be celebrated at the 58th annual Pepsi Invitational Golf Tournament.
This player is known not just for her amazing array of victories, but for the sportsmanship she exhibited, the always-positive yet always-serious attitude she displayed, and the sense of integrity she instilled in all things related to golf.
Jane Schiller Mason was born with her twin brother Joe Schiller Jr. in Salisbury on March 7, 1939. Her father was the great Joe Schiller, a renowned public official and accomplished amateur golfer.
As a young woman, Jane joined her father in competing at Green Hill Yacht & Country Club in Quantico, and by 6 was challenging the region’s best golfers in state and regional amateur tournaments.
In the Class of 1957 at Wicomico High School, she graduated from the University of Maryland at College Park in 1962. She married Dr. Robert C. Mason in 1964, and they had two sons, Lee and Chris. The Mason brothers are regarded today as among the region’s best amateur golfers.
There are few if any local tournaments that Jane Mason hasn’t won. She won Green Hill’s Women’s Club Championship 13 times and Delmarva Peninsula Golf Association’s Women’s Championship 12 times.
In 2002, Mason was inducted into the Middle Atlantic Golf Association’s Hall of Fame. In 2008, she was given the Maryland State Golf Association’s highest honor, the Distinguished Service Award.
Beginning today, she will serve as the Honorary Chairman of Pepsi Invitational at Green Hill, an event she has won a record 10 times.
In advance of her Pepsi duties at Green Hill, Mason sat with fellow golfer Wendy Routenberg Waller for the following interview:
Q. You’re a Salisbury native, and you’ve lived on the Eastern Shore for many years. What’s special about this area to you?
A. Oh, I love it because its rural, not congested, and there’s a lot of water. I think you always love where you’re from. This has always been home to me, even though I don’t live here much anymore. I have a place in Florida and live there in winter, and I live in Centreville in the summer. That’s nice, too. I’m on the Shore. That’s what matters.
Q. You started playing golf with your father, Joe Schiller, and your brother, Joe Junior (a twin brother), when you were 9. What was it like playing with them?
A. Oh, I loved it. Dad was a very good player, and he was a very good teacher. He encouraged me and gave me a lot of opportunities. Of course, he wanted Joe to be the golfer because he was the son. Joe was a good golfer when he was young, but he sort of got away from it some. And I just plugged along and kept playing, and loved it. I was always the athlete anyhow. I played a lot of sports in high school. I played basketball, volleyball, softball, and hockey. I had 12 varsity letters when I graduated. So I played in everything!
Q. Did being twins spark some competitive spirit? Did you have a little rivalry with your brother?
A. No, not really. He was a really good golfer when he was young. He was social, and he was very handsome. That helped, too! I don’t remember him ever saying, “Oh, well, you won again.” He was always encouraging me.
Q. What was practice like for you? Did your dad stay involved in your development as a golfer?
A. I’ve always done a lot of practicing. It was important, and it is still important in order to keep your game and have one that repeats. So I did a lot of that, always. I went to the junior tournaments, the state ones, and Dad would take me. He encouraged me and gave me the opportunity. And you need that support. You’ve got to have it to get to the next level.
Q. Did you ever take lessons?
A. Yes, I used to take lessons from Harry Offit who was from Easton. He was the pro here (at Green Hill) many years ago. My father, too, of course, taught me.
Q. In the 1950s you began your competitive career, a time when women were expected to stay home as housewives and mothers. Yet, some women were redefining their roles. I’m thinking of Lucille Ball and how she was always trying to edge in to the males’ world and Althea Gibson who won at Wimbledon. You chose to be an athlete. Who were your role models or biggest influences at that time?
A. Probably Mickey Wright – you know she was a wonderful golfer. And Louise Suggs who was quite a fine young pro at that time. I admired them but was trying to do my own thing, be as good as I could be – and have a good time. I never thought I would be a professional woman golfer. It wasn’t an aspiration. No, I wanted just to play and enjoy it, go to college, and teach. I was a physical education teacher. I also wanted to get married and have a little family. That was really what I wanted to do.
Q. Wow, but after just seven years of playing golf, you qualified for the USGA’s Junior Girls’ Championship in South Carolina. You were only 16!
A. Oh, really? That’s right, I think Mom took me down there. It was nice, I enjoyed it. It was a goal to practice and work to get there.
Q. So you did set tournament goals?
A. Right. As I got older, I enjoyed the regional tournaments — the Maryland State Amateur, the Middle Atlantic, and all the invitationals we had. We had the Cumberland Invitational, the Farmington — that was in Charlottesville, a big tournament, and we had the Lillian Payne Cup at Congressional (County Club). There were so many tournaments you could play in. It’s very interesting. You know, you think in time that things progress and get bigger, but when it comes to golf, it hasn’t happened that way. Look at all these invitationals that are gone now. Golf was growing in the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, and I guess into the ’90s, but it seems like it’s made a turn. I guess more women are working. You think maybe that’s it?
Q. Yes, I think that’s a big part of it. I was just going to ask you about your family and how you balanced it all.
A. When the boys – I have two sons, of course – were little, I couldn’t go to the Maryland State or the Mid-Atlantic because they were just babies, so I took some years off from that. You know, I played locally in one-day things. I just didn’t play in the tournaments where I had to travel because I had to raise my sons.
Q. And you introduced them to golf. Was that their favorite sport?
A. Oh, yeah. I think Lee played a little baseball in high school, but golf is their thing. They love it.
Q. So, your competitive career spanned 50 years.
A. Yeah, I figure I’ve been playing golf for 65 years. No wonder my body is worn out!
Q. And you’ve won multiple club championships and many Mid-Atlantic titles, and I’m just wondering if you have a favorite competitive moment or maybe you could tell a story about something in particular that meant a lot to you.
A. The Middle Atlantic (Golf Association’s Women’s Amateur) is probably where I was most successful because I won five Women’s Championships and six Seniors, and I am in their hall of fame. That was a proud time. Receiving that award (induction into the Middle Atlantic Golf Association’s Hall of Fame) and then, of course, the Eastern Shore (Golf Hall of Fame), too. That was where my son Chris gave his talk (induction speech), so that was a very gratifying moment for me, too. And winning, you know, it wasn’t everything, but it always picked you up a little bit when you won. Made you feel good. But it wasn’t awesome. I’ve always thought that the most important thing in golf is the friends you meet and the friendships you make. That’s what it’s really all about. It’s a social thing. But if you win, you know, it’s nice.
Q. As a competitor and prolific winner, I’m sure that at a certain point, you got your game face on during a round.
A. No, not really. I don’t think so. I think that when you play, it’s not a killer thing. And I always try to be sociable and friendly when I play. Never grinding or giving bad looks — no, I never did that. I think that the spirit of the game is important. My experiences in golf have been pretty friendly. I think I’ve been fortunate that way — played at a great time when people were kind, had the spirit of the game, and enjoyed what they were doing.
Q. In 1995, you also elevated the sport for women by helping to form the Maryland State Golf Association, Women’s Division. What was it like bringing about that change?
A. That was a big thing and something I’m very proud of and enjoyed so much. I was the second president of the Women’s Division, and up to that time, the men of the Maryland State (Golf Association) ran our tournament. And it’s a match play tournament, and you know, I don’t think they even wanted to do it. One day, a girl got her award in the parking lot, and that was when we decided we wanted a division of the Maryland State Golf Association. We could’ve just gone on our own, but we wanted to be part of the men’s association so that women could work together with men in a bigger organization with more opportunities for the championships and so forth. More funding, too, that was important – and more outreach, all of it. So it worked out very well.
Q. Were the men skeptical?
A. Oh, yeah, it wasn’t easy. But it was well worth doing for women’s golf, I’ll tell you that. Today, they’re wonderful. I’ve been to a few of their events, and I think the Maryland State (Golf Association’s) Women’s Division is one of the best women’s organizations in the county.
Q. What finally convinced the men? Did you have to get a little mean or did you just wear them down?
A. I think we did wear them down a little bit. We had Pat Kauffman who was a lawyer up in Washington and a very good friend of mine, and she was great. She knew how to handle things and get them done.
Q. And you also found time to be a USGA Rules Official?
A. Oh, yes, I was on a committee – the Mid-Amateur Championship Committee – and it (the tournament) could be anywhere in the country, and you go and do the rules. So that’s what I did for — not a long time — maybe four years, and then I got off of that. That was enough. There was a lot of traveling involved, but it was a great experience.
Q. And you’re still making change. This year, you are the Honorary Chairman of the 58th Annual Pepsi Invitational at Green Hill, a tournament you’ve won 10 times! You and fellow golfer Carol Mears are spearheading changes to the format this year. Can you tell me about that?
A. Well, I am very honored, I really am. I think it (the change) is good! The format is a four-ball championship with an individual competition with it. So you’ll play with your partner, and the best ball of each hole will be the one you record on the scorecard. And then the individual will also record her score. A little thing on giving advice during play… If your partner is playing in the individual tournament as well as the combined tournament, then you can give advice to each other. But if both of you are playing as individuals and as teammates, you can’t give advice. I got that out of the rule book, so we want to be sure we adhere to that. It’s kind of interesting. It’s a good format because, these days, people seem to like playing with a partner better, so it gives you more contestants, but the ones who really want to fight it out by themselves — they can do that, too. I think it’s great. How are they doing on their entries, do you know?
Q. Well, I don’t know yet. But we hope that after this article and your interview on PAC 14 in early June, a lot more people will come- because you’ve touched a lot of golf lives! There’s lot of talk these days about trying to make golf faster to play as well as more accessible financially. What do you think about the future of the sport? What would you like to see?
A. I would like to see it continue to have people participate in these tournaments. That’s why I really congratulate the Pepsi and the women who run it — because it’s still here. That’s a real credit to you — that you’ve kept it — because so many are gone. Of course, the Pepsi has been one of the best invitationals in the whole state, and people have always come from Baltimore, Washington, and Virginia to play in it. So it’s a real credit to the gals through the many years.
Q. One of the things I like best about being a golf fan is that we get to know our athletes pretty well through print and visual media, and we feel connected to them as people. Who do you connect with, as a player and a person?
A. One I’ve always admired is Julie Inkster, and you know even as she’s gotten older, she still gets back in there and plays once in awhile. She’s still pretty good. And she has a husband and a family, so she certainly is somebody I have admired. And today, I’ll tell you, there are so many good Asian women – although I don’t know them as well. They’re little, and they hit the ball a ton. They have brilliant short games. And how about Michelle Wie? She’s had putting problems, but she’s coming back. She’s doing pretty well. Our American women aren’t as dominant as they used to be.
Q. As I’ve been talking with you and learning about your accomplishments, I keep thinking I’ll hear this champion’s voice, but I don’t. It has never been about ego.
A. No, no never. But I so much wanted to win the Maryland (State Golf Association’s Women’s) Amateur, and I did a couple of times, runner up four times, I think. I wanted to do that. The Middle Atlantic, also. It may have been nice if I had won the U.S. Amateur (United States Golf Association’s Women’s Amateur Championship), but I couldn’t do that. I played in the Senior Amateur (United States Golf Association’s Senior Women’s Amateur Championship) when I had more time, and I finished ninth. That was the best I did, but that was okay.
Q. You have also won the Maryland State Golf Association’s Distinguished Service Award. Tell me about that.
A. That was a good one, too. That really made me proud. I so wanted to give something back and to be able to do that was great. They recognized me for the tournaments. I was the one who decided we should have a Maryland Women’s Open for professional women golfers. We held our first one in 1997 at Bulle Rock. And we still have a Maryland Women’s Open today. The purse is maybe $15,000. They come play, win money, and they need it. Not the girls on the main tour. It’s for the girls who are working their way up on the mini tours. They play Columbia, Chevy Chase, Baltimore Country Club — so we have good venues. I’m really proud of that. Not many states do that.
Q. Well, taking all these accomplishments into account, what would you consider to be your greatest achievement in golf?
A. Wow — I think it’s all the friends I’ve made along the way, to tell you the truth. It’s the friendships and being a part of the Maryland (State Golf Association’s) Women’s Division — it’s certainly something I’m very pleased I did. I’m very grateful that I was able to play, that my husband allowed me to go play and compete and do the best I could. I’ve had a good life. I’m very blessed.
Q. For those of us who are beginning golfers, it seems that improving our games and competing well is a balance between practicing — but not too hard, wanting to win — but not too much.
A. You’re right. You can’t want it too much. And you know I had the advantage of starting so young, too.
Q. Do you think that you played without fear? How did you deal with the pressure?
A. Oh, sure. But at the end (of a match), you get a little nervous. When you’re leading by a few, you don’t want to have an 8 or something. You don’t want to blow it. But that was probably my greatest asset – I was consistent. I was on a pretty good keel, but I was fast. I did things quick. That was why I was a good basketball player. I made 1,000 points during my basketball career in high school. I think I was the first woman on the Shore to do it. Since I was quick and fast, I was probably not as calm as some on the course, but I was able to do it. I was steady because I practiced a lot, and my swing repeated.
Q. What have you done over the years to be so fit?
A. Well, even now, I go to the gym twice a week. I do some biceps and triceps – weight training. And then of course with this shoulder (a torn rotator cuff), I’m doing a lot of exercises and stretching. And stretches, I probably should’ve done a lot more of because they’re so important. I think they’re more important than the weight (training), but I do think I need it now more than I did when I was younger because I’m not as active, and you want your body to be solid.
Q. I’ve been thinking that golf is like smoke – one minute we see it and the next, we don’t. And when I mean see it, I mean see your swing in your mind’s eye, the trajectory of the ball in the air, the line to the hole, but sometimes you just can’t. What advice can you give for improving your game?
A. Practice. Practice and practice, and you know, take some lessons. Get yourself someone you trust and take a few lessons and just practice and work on it. And you know it’s probably good to take videos of your swing, too, because you can’t see yourself.
Q. So have you seen yourself on video and analyzed your swing?
A. Yeah, sure. I don’t want to look anymore though (laughing), but I used to.
Q. Do you ever watch David Feherty on the Golf Channel? He does this neat thing at the end of his interviews – a one word, question and answer game with his guests. I hope you’ll play with me … for instance, irons or woods?
A. Woods… now. Before, irons, but woods now – they’re easier.
Q. Driver or wedge?
A. Driver… now.
Q. Bette Davis or Marilyn Monroe?
A. Bette Davis. I admired her and liked her work.
Q. How about Elvis or Chuck Berry?
A. Hmm … probably Elvis. He was popular when I was young, and I liked him.
Q. Arnie Palmer or Jack Nicklaus?
A. Jack. It would be hard to decide between the two of them, but Jack is closer to my age. I admired both of them, but Jack was a good family man.
Q. You kind of answered this one already – Lopez or Inkster?
A. Yeah, Inkster. Well, that’s a hard one, too, because Lopez was great. She really was. But I think Inkster is still able to do it. Julie also had more flair.
Q. Augusta or St. Andrews?
A. I’ve never played either one, but you’d have to say St. Andrews because it’s the place where it all started, you know. Wouldn’t it be something going across that bridge? I’ve never been there.
Q. Going back to our Eastern Shore roots, where our conversation began today… Soft shell sandwich or hard crabs?
A. Hard crabs!