In its final three days, the National Women's Amateur Golf tournament, played last week on the steaming slopes of the Tulsa Country Club, turned into a contest between the American Curtis Cup team and Jean Ashley, a slim girl from Kansas who was seeing and playing her first women's National.
In her combat with the Curtis Cuppers the odds were heavily against Miss Ashley, who is 21 but doesn't look her age, and she eventually succumbed to JoAnne Gunderson, 6 and 5, in the tournament's final match-but not before she had eliminated, on successive days, Barbara Mclntire, the defending champion, and Mrs. Ann Casey Johnstone.
Miss Ashley lives in Chanute, a town of 10,755 in southeast Kansas. She plays golf there on a nine-hole course that has no built-in sand traps. Recently, a man dumped a load of sand on the grass, so it does have a sand pile. She took to the National a record of rather minor victories. When she was 16 she won the Kansas State and Broadmoor Invitational championships. Earlier this year in the semifinals of the National Intercollegiate tournament she forced Judy Eller to 19 holes. At Tulsa she first attracted notice when she birdied the 21st hole to defeat Polly Riley, a former Curtis Cup team member, playing in her 15th National.
But when the quarter-finals began on Thursday, with the temperature and humidity as usual both in the 90s, Miss Ashley was given scant consideration. Johnny Palmer, pro at the Tulsa Country Club, picked Miss Gunderson to win because he thought the course well suited to her long-hitting game. The Tulsa course is 6,150 yards long but plays considerably longer because of its cushiony Bermuda grass fairways which discourage roll.
Actually, Miss Ashley's game, like Miss Gunderson's, was well suited to the course. She consistently outdrove both Miss McIntire and Mrs. Johnstone and displayed also a resolution, fortitude and complete absence of nerves that seemed somehow incongruous with her disarming hazel eyes, turned-up nose, wide friendly mouth and general impression of physical frailty (she is 5 feet 8 inches and weighs 120 pounds).
Miss Ashley started shakily with two 6s against Miss Mclntire, who was trying to repeat as National champion, and when Barbara won No. 15 it appeared that she was in command. On the 17th, however, Miss Ashley rolled in a 15-foot putt for a birdie to pull even. Then on the 18th Miss McIntire's nine-foot putt for a par 4 was short, and Miss Ashley, who had driven 235 yards, calmly sank a tricky downhill putt on a sloping green to win the match.
On virtually every hole of the final match Miss Gunderson outdrove Miss Ashley, sometimes by as much as 60 yards. JoAnne was out as far as 235 and once, 250. The effect of this upon Miss Ashley, who is accustomed to outdrive her opponents, became apparent almost immediately. She won the first hole, then went 18 without winning another. But she played courageously, getting down numerous five-and six-foot putts for halves. She finally won the 20th and 21st holes and found herself 3 down. The next five were halved, but JoAnne won the 27th and 29th. The 30th was halved. Then, on the 31st both girls ended the 60th championship with championship efforts. Miss Ashley missed by inches a bold attempt at a 22-foot birdie putt, and Miss Gunderson got her birdie with a 14-footer.
True blue and two
For Miss Gunderson, the 21-year-old with the reddish-blonde hair and the eyes almost too blue to be believed, it was her second National championship. She won her first in 1957 but, except for the Western in 1959, she won only the National Intercollegiate this June. "I was beginning to think I was over the hill at 21," she said.
As for Jean Ashley, she heads home to start teaching a third-grade class in her home town, her first job since graduation in June from the University of Kansas. Her trip to the tournament was largely motivated by the proximity of Tulsa and Chanute, only 120 miles apart. Her father, Dr. G.L. Ashley, a four-handicap golfer and a surgeon, moved up his operating schedule to 6 o'clock in the morning and commuted between Tulsa and Chanute. By Saturday's final, he was tired. "My Lord," he said to a friend, "wouldn't it be awful if I died of a heart attack and Jean didn't get to finish this match!"