If the adjectives "brilliant" and "boring" can somehow live together, then they must be coupled to describe Anne Quast Decker's incredibly easy victory in the USGA Women's Amateur Championship in Tacoma, Wash, last week. For even brilliance, when extended over a week's golf play, can create its own match-by-match monotony.
Existing USGA records supply no instance where one girl has so dominated the 61-year-old tournament. In her string of seven victories, Mrs. Decker never trailed at any point. She lost only six holes out of 112 played. She finished the week at nine under par, scored 19 birdies and ended Saturday's 36-hole championship round with a record-breaking 14 and 13 victory over Phyllis Preuss of Pompano Beach, Fla.
Early in the week Anne Decker made known her consuming desire to win her second Women's Amateur. She won it the first time in 1958 in Darien, Conn. But the Northwest is her home, and Taco-ma's historic Country and Golf Club is where Veteran Professional Chuck Congdon helped her forge the sound, simple strokes that wear so well under tournament pressure. Before the final match she confessed almost apologetically: "It's terrible to want something as badly as I want this. But this is my home. I'm here, with my husband, my friends, my mother and my father. They're all here watching. I want so desperately to win."
Mrs. Decker (her husband Jay is a dentist, who confidently canceled all his Saturday appointments) never had to go beyond the 16th hole to win a match. In consecutive rounds she defeated 16-year-old Judy Torluemke 5 and 3 at even par. She ended her match with Sharon Fladoos on the 16th, 4 and 2, one under; defeated Judy Rand of Aurora, Ohio, the 1961 Ohio state champion, 6 and 5, four under; breezed past former Curtis Cupper Polly Riley 3 and 2, one under; defeated Mrs. Ruth Miller, the California state champion, 5 and 3, even par; then decisively entered the finals with a 5 and 4, three-under-par victory over Mrs. Gaines Wilson Jr. of Louisville.
September 3, 1961
Such was Anne Quast Decker's orderly march to the finals. But on other greens and fairways things were happening in quite a disorderly, unpredictable way. To begin with, 17-year-old Mary Lowell, who won the Girls' Junior tournament in Seattle the week before, eliminated the legitimate favorite, JoAnne Gunderson, on the 19th hole of the second round.
But the real catalyst turned out to be a mere child of 14, Roberta Albers of Temple Terrace, Fla. Roberta's first two victories, 5 and 4 over Oregon's Pat Dwyer and 4 and 3 over Mrs. Henry Hulscher of Roy, Wash., earned her some tolerant smiles and a few figurative pats on the head. Wednesday morning's third round saw Roberta facing the seasoned skills of Judy Eller, Tennessee's two-time Southern Amateur Champion and a member of last year's Curtis Cup team. Shortly before tee-off, Roberta's father, Tom Albers, who has coached his daughter since she was 9, leaned over and whispered: "Don't worry, honey. No one expects you to beat Miss Eller but you and me."
Roberta stunned gallery and competitors alike by trouncing Miss Eller 5 and 3. By Wednesday evening, after the youngster had beaten Mary Patton Janssen, an experienced tournament competitor, by 5 and 4, it became clear that Miss Albers was hardly a precocious child pushing her destiny. She had, so the record showed, participated in 35 tournaments and had won five National Pee Wee titles. Her swing was classically simple, her strategy was sound and imaginative. Moreover, she seemed oblivious to the ever-increasing pressure that already had sent some experienced shooters to the sidelines. "She hasn't missed enough shots to know how easy it is," said Mary Patton Janssen. By this time even Anne Quast Decker was troubled by the unpleasant prospect of playing a 14-year-old for the Women's Amateur title.
Clearly, the psychological handicap of playing against an extraordinarily gifted child was enough to cause an older competitor to come unglued. "All she has to think about is her golf and her stomach," observed one of Roberta's victims. "She hasn't got a worry in the world." But Roberta did worry a little. She worried because "I'm tryin' out for the yell team at school and I already missed a week's practice." She also hoped she could visit Mt. Rainier, because she'd never touched snow in her life. In such an atmosphere the tournament neared an illogical climax: on Thursday, the stocky little youngster, who will register as a high school sophomore in a few days, whipped Kansas City's Karen Schull, the 1960 Missouri state champion and the 1961 National Collegiate runner-up. The margin was 7 and 5. Roberta shot one under par to gain the semifinals.
On Friday the unhappy task of playing against Roberta Albers fell to slight, blonde, 22-year-old Phyllis (Tish) Preuss, who had played her way to the semifinals incomparative solitude. Miss Preuss decided to forget her young opponent. Instead, she wisely concentrated on playing the oldest and toughest antagonist in golf—par. Miss Preuss kept the longer-hitting youngster even for nine, took a 1-up advantage at the 11th, then brought adulthood back in style with a 2 and 1 victory on the 17th.
Facing Mrs. Decker in the semifinals was Louise Wilson, wife of a Louisville contractor. "For all I know," said Mrs. Wilson the day of the match, "my husband might be on his way out here. But I told him, 'You'd better wait till tomorrow—I'm playing Anne Decker.' "
Once again Mrs. Decker took command early, scoring a birdie on the 456-yard par-5 second hole. Mrs. Wilson, who has something less than a classic swing but makes it hold up remarkably well, lost the third by three-putting as Mrs. Decker went down with a routine par. Anne birdied the fourth for a 3-up advantage, then uncorked one of the tournament's memorable shots on the 180-yard par-3 5th. It was a four-wood that stopped just one foot short of the hole for another birdie and a 4-up margin. The end came on the 14th, when Mrs. Decker dropped a seven-foot putt for par and halved the hole.
The final day, Saturday, turned up wet and heavy. The Tacoma fairways, narrow and treacherous, lined with tall firs and spreading oaks, are difficult for the most seasoned all-weather player. But for a golfer like Phyllis Preuss, who plays a hit-and-roll game, the soaked fairways were disastrous. She was consistently unable to lift her second shots for distance, while Mrs. Decker, a veteran of the country and the course, continued to get yardage from all lies. She drove well and chipped to the green with almost eerie consistency.
Anne was 6 up at the end of nine, 12 up at the end of 18, and by then it was just a matter of time and holes—the afternoon round was a mere formality, ending at 3 o'clock on the 23rd hole, 14 and 13—which broke a 33-year-old record. The previous mark for a lopsided Women's Amateur final dates back to 1928, when Glenna Collett defeated Virginia Van Wie 13 and 12 at Hot Springs, Va. "Frankly, it's not a record I wanted to set," said Mrs. Decker. "I think I was pulling harder than anyone for some of her putts to drop late in the match." She paused a moment, then flashed a smile. "You know, I really don't have a nerve in my body. Why, last night, I slept five whole hours. I only slept one the last time I made the finals."