The 55th Women's National Amateur Championship, which was held last week over the crisp Bermuda fairways and the devious Bermuda greens of the Myers Park Country Club in Charlotte, N.C., presented a number of remarkable sidelights during the long hot week of match play. It had, to begin with, that increasing rarity for an amateur championship these days: a defending champion, Barbara Romack. It had, in the first round, one of those upsets which demonstrate the longevity of a really good golfer, when Mrs. Harrison Flippin, who was Edith Quier when she played in her first Amateur back in 1925, eliminated the 1953 British champion, Marlene Stewart of Canada. It had in Wiffi Smith, last year's Girls Junior champion and this year a top favorite to win everything she enters, a sturdy, freckle-faced girl with one of the sweetest and soundest swings you will ever see. It had, as all women's tournaments have (though you are apt to forget it in between times), the unpremeditated side function of serving all men in the galleries as a helpful refresher course in the importance of taking the club back slowly on the correct line and waiting for the clubhead at impact, two fundamentals you can easily be unaware of when you watch our best men players, who can accomplish so much by hand-action alone. It had, although the U.S.G.A. lifted the ban only last year, a field almost unanimously clad in shorts—much to the dismay of one local minister who broadcast his alarm in a radio sermon. And it had, as is now par for the course, such a plethora of teen-age entrants that the players who had attained the ripe maturity of 25 summers began to regard themselves as the grand old women of American golf.
Of these young youngsters, the one who caused the greatest stir was a wisp of a 16-year-old (about 5 feet 3 inches and admitting to 103 pounds) by the name of Clifford Ann Creed. Leaning on a well-timed, three-quarter-length swing, Clifford Ann—the Ann is for her mother and the Clifford is for her father—made her way to the fourth round and was defeated there only on the home green by Jane Nelson, an eventual finalist. Miss Creed comes from Opelousas, La., which proudly professes to be the Yam Capital of the World. Opelousans like to re-spell or "yam up" ordinary words to remind outsiders of their town's noble distinction and Bill Tucker of the UP may not have been too far off when he predicted that, in the event Clifford Ann ever becomes the champion, the Opelousas Chamber of Commerce will re-christen the tournament "the Yamateur."
MISS LESSER'S WEEK
The Amateur also produced in Patricia Ann Lesser, a rangy, angular 22-year-old senior at Seattle University, an extremely deserving new champion, in more than one respect. First, few girls have worked at their golf more assiduously than Pat Lesser. She has won a lot of tournaments and lost a lot of tournaments since she initially came to prominence as the 1950 Girls Junior champion, and has exhibited in victory and defeat a fine friendly manner (as well as the deepest tan in the well-tanned world of tournament golf). And second, Pat this past week played far and away the best golf of anyone in the field. There is an old bromide that in a match-play elimination affair the winner always has one close call in which he or she barely squeaks by. Notwithstanding the fact that quite a few winners sail serenely through every match and that a large number of losers necessarily get polished off the day after they have pulled out "that tough one," the law of averages manages to keep the bromide alive. It looked pretty good last week. Miss Lesser struck her best form late in the tournament after just scraping by in not one but two matches she might well have lost. In the second round, Mrs. Marge Mason carried her to the 19th green. Then, after a breather in the next round, Pat had to go 21 holes before defeating Mary Ann Downey, who had earlier put out Barbara Romack. The Lesser-Downey match perhaps packed the most excitement of the week. One down playing the 18th, a 453-yarder that is all uphill after the drive, Miss Downey was faced with holing a 20-foot downhiller for a birdie to keep the match alive. She holed it and then turned around with an expression of complete disbelief.
After the Downey match, which she won with a solid par on the third extra hole, the new champion turned it on. She was three under women's par in winning her quarter-final match from Jane Covington 7 and 6. Against Polly Riley in the semi-finals, she had no less than five birdies going out and made the turn 4 up, this despite the fact that Polly was even par herself. And in the 36-hole final—with the exception of the 8th hole on which she took an x after twice pitching into unplayable lies in the deep creek before the sunken green—Pat was even 4s for the other 29 holes in her 7-and-6 victory over Jane Nelson. That, colonel, is a mighty impressive stretch of golf.
In addition to the Downey-Lesser battle, there were three other matches which, for entirely different reasons, will be well remembered by those who saw them. One, to be sure, was the duel in the quarter-finals between Wiffi Smith and Polly Riley, the determined little Texan who has played on four Curtis Cup teams and personally reports her matches for the Fort Worth Press. Both Polly and Wiffi were capable of going the whole way in this tournament, and from the beginning a quiet tension hung over their match. At the turn Polly stood 2 up and moved to 3 on the 10th when Wiffi missed a two-footer, a very missable putt on stubbly Bermuda greens where a ball can swerve off the line in no distance at all unless you strike it firmly and accurately. Wiffi got back to one down on the next two holes. They halved the 13th, 14th and 15th with well-played pars. Then, with holes rapidly running out, the question, depending on your sympathies, was whether Polly would be able to protect her margin or whether Wiffi would be able to pick up that all-important hole. Polly did and Wiffi didn't. They halved the last three with pars, Polly coming through with two very good shots under the pressure, holing an eight-footer for her half on the 16th and hitting the green on the long 17th with a three-iron she had to play from a downhill lie.
While all this sororicide was going on in the lower half of the draw—Downey ousting Romack, Lesser ousting Downey, Riley ousting Smith, and Lesser then ousting Riley in the semis—Jane Nelson, an extremely personable, 27-year-old schoolteacher (American history) from Indianapolis, was making her way almost with muffled oar through the top half where, because of the fortunes of the blind draw, life was perhaps a little easier. Jane's successful progress from round to round came as a pleasant surprise to her and also altered the vacation plans of an old classmate of hers at the U. of Indiana, one William Shannahan. En route to Jacksonville, Shannahan happened to read that Jane was playing in Charlotte and decided to drive out to the club and watch her first-round match. He was there all week.
In the semi-finals Jane came up against the owner of the most formidable handle in women's golf, Mrs. Scott Probasco Jr., who, before her marriage to a young man from the old Chattanooga banking family, was Betty Rowland of Lexington, Ky. and Rollins College. Mrs. Probasco, a slim, good-looking girl of 25, has, like Jane Nelson, an attractive approach to golf—precise over her shots, relaxed between shots and genuinely considerate of her opponent's play whether she is down or up. The match between these two only-occasional tournament golfers was a charming one and a very even one. Miss Nelson won it 2 up. Mrs. Probasco, who putts Bermuda very well, missed a putt 19½ inches long on the 9th and a crucial one of about three feet on the 17th; and that's about all the difference there was between them.
For a while it looked as if Jane might give Pat Lesser all she could handle in the final. She was one under par for the first six, and on five of these holes Pat had to drop good-sized putts for her half. Pat took the seventh when Jane played one of her rare loose tee-shots, and she remained in charge the rest of the way. She hit her few bad shots at the right times (and sometimes to the right places), and her short game helped her out whenever she had recourse to it. By lunch Pat was 5 up. She went 6 up on the 20th, a short par five, where, lying 10 feet off the green and 70 feet from the pin in two, she holed her chip for an eagle. She missed the next green, but it was the last one she missed until the match ran itself out.
One more word before we leave the ladies. Golf has had many splendid champions, but it is doubtful if in recent years anyone has understood and executed the many responsibilities of being a national champion quite as well as the 1954 titleholder, Barbara Romack. A champion per se serves as the standard for others, and the countless young golfers who have modeled themselves after Barbara will have a lot of pleasant years in golf to look forward to.