Jo Ann Washam hopes to pick up where she left off in 1980

Jo Ann Washam, whose prodigious drives and outgoing personality make her a perennial gallery favorite on the women's golf tour, is aiming for a return to top form this year after a disappointing, injury-marred 1981 campaign.

Washam's problems last season came at a most inopportune time - just after she had put together the best year of her career and seemed to be finally hitting her stride. She hadn't won any tournaments in 1980, but she had placed in the top 10 on 14 occasions, including three runnerup finishes; earned more than $100,000 in prize money; and gained the No. 9 ranking for the year.

''I was always primed and ready to go,'' she says, recalling the confidence and the winning outlook she maintained throughout 1980.

''I haven't been able to mentally get myself on track again,'' she adds. ''And after missing over six months of the tour last year, it may take me a while to come back and win, but I feel capable of winning again.''

Although she stands only 5 ft. 3 in., Washam is considered one of the LPGA tour's longest hitters. She has extremely strong forearms, which she developed in her other athletic pursuits, such as playing on a nationally ranked college basketball team.

Jo Ann's popularity is also enhanced by the fact that she is an aggressive player who is not afraid to take chances and is capable of shooting spectacular rounds.

Washam readily admits that the increased prize money on the tour has provided more incentive and satisfaction for her and other golfers, then just as quickly adds: ''The money is great, but it really doesn't matter how much money I make. My ultimate goal this year would be to win again and begin to play consistently well.''

Although tournament victories have been rare for Jo Ann (only three since becoming a pro in 1973), she's had her share of overall success.

In her first year on the tour she earned the No. 53 ranking. The following year she moved up to No. 32. Then in 1975, the year in which she received Golf Digest's Most Improved Woman Professional Award, she earned a ranking of No. 12. That was her highest ranking until 1980, but she has done well enough year-in and year-out to rank among the top 20 money winners on three of the last four annual lists. She also had what was probably her biggest single moment in the game at the Kemper Open in 1979, when she scored two holes-in-one - a record for a single tournament that still stands.

As for last year, she'd just as soon forget it. ''If I find a 1981 coin in my pocket, I throw it away!'' she jokingly says.

And now as she essays her comeback attempt, she wonders if she can peak again in this, her 10th year on the tour.

''There are so many good players out there,'' she said during a recent visit in conjunction with the Boston Five Classic, which she plans to enter this summer. ''We're drawing top college athletes, and the tour's competitive level is at an all-time high.''

Whatever happens, though, this Washington State graduate who now resides in Texas feels she has a acquired a much better understanding of many things over the years.

''I've learned a lot about golf and life,'' she says. ''At the beginning of my career, I pushed too hard. That put added pressure on me. Now I try to go out every day and simply do the best job I can.''

Building confidence and a positive attitude in individual sports such as golf is essential in becoming a winner. Washam, who has been known for playing inconsistent rounds, claims that is due to her mental makeup. ''I'm my own worst enemy,'' she says. ''Mastering the mental angle of the game is one of the hardest parts of it all.''

As a professional athlete, she is dedicated to her profession, but she admits that golf is not her entire life. ''I love golf, and so far it has afforded me the opportunity to do a lot of the other things in life that I love.'' She is very active in charitable causes and likes to work with children.

To be a winner in a sport takes not only skill but also a great deal of dedication. Although Washam had to work hard to get to where she is today, she admits to not working hard enough.

''I have found many things in life which make me happy, though, besides golf, '' says Jo Ann. ''Maybe that's why I'm not one of the great winners on the tour.''

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