The biggest, toughest, sharpest thing in women's amateur golf this year is the little, placid, downy southern peach at left. Her name is Clifford Ann Creed. She comes from the Spanish-moss-and-gum-tree country of rural Louisiana, the kind of place where water moccasins abound but championship lady golfers do not. She weighs about as much as a two-iron, eats once a week or so and has been known to dance a dandy twist when her golf is going well. But she would also be likely to twist a dandy's neck when it is going badly, a fierceness of attitude that her opponents are fast learning about, to their very considerable dismay.
"Clifford Ann," says Anne Quast Decker, the two-time winner of the Women's Amateur championship and a competitor who has scorched a few opponents herself with her golfing aggressiveness, "is a female Ben Hogan. She is so determined that she puts you on edge. She is one of the two women that I least like to play against. [The other: long-hitting JoAnne Gunderson.]"
Whatever happens during this week's Women's Amateur golf championship in Rochester, N.Y.—and match-play golf is as unpredictable and treacherous a way of settling an issue as a pistol duel—this has been the year of Clifford Ann. A tournament winner at 12 who seemingly gave up the game at 18, she has returned at 23 to put on an astonishing display of successful golf. Since last January she has won four important amateur events, including the North and South and the Southern Amateur. She has been the low amateur in three open tournaments, including the Titleholders and Women's Western Open, and two weeks ago she helped the U.S. to its overwhelming victory against Great Britain in the Curtis Cup. During this eight-month period she has won 29 of her singles matches, while losing only four.
Not that Clifford Ann, her off-course charm and her you-all drawl were completely unknown prior to this summer. In 1957, while an undergraduate at Lamar Tech in Beaumont, Texas, she won the Southern Amateur and the women's amateur divisions of those two madcap championships that were put on by the late George S. May at Tam O'Shanter in Chicago—the World and the All-American. She has also long had an impressively compact, efficient and masculine golf swing that produces surprising distance for somebody who stands 5 foot 3 and weighs 110 pounds with a driver in her hand.
She learned the swing from her father, Clifford Creed, a lean, small-town golf professional who gave his daughter part of his name and taught her his game. She still lives with her family in a bungalow adjoining the Rapides Golf and Country Club, just north of the farming and lumber community of Alexandria, La., where her father is the pro. The club itself is modest, pleasant and southern middle-class—as are the Creeds. A visitor there feels he has arrived at a golfing outpost, a small oasis of the sport so unreservedly backcountry that it could never be touched by, or contribute to, the national golfing scene. He can sit in the clubhouse, be offered a can of Jax beer and meet Carl Rylee, the circulation manager of the Alexandria Daily Town Talk (circulation 24,966). Rylee is also president of the Southern Outboard Racing Association, which holds its annual championship on nearby Lake Fort Buhlow. He is an outboard man. "But the Southern Outboard championship is only the second biggest thing that has happened around here," he quite openly confesses. "The biggest is Clifford Ann Creed."
Little Clifford Ann has been big around Alexandria since she won the city women's golf championship at the age of 12, only one year after Cliff Creed began teaching her.
"I never had to work much on her swing," he says. "She just took to it naturally, like she did to every kind of game. When she first started out, her swing was too long and I had to compact it, but that was all. I'd stand behind her when she practiced, holding out a club. If she swung back too far she'd hit the club and I would make her start all over again."
Clifford Ann had to develop an unusually sound swing to make up for her size. The same year she won the city title she went to Shreveport to play in her first state championship. She weighed only 75 pounds, but she was as eager as a puppy when she bounced onto the first tee with her ball and her driver. She was in for a shock.
"Little girl, little girl, you better get away from here," scolded the official starter, apparently expecting a player in a championship event to be a slightly more substantial specimen. "Clifford Ann Creed is supposed to tee off now."
"But I am Clifford Ann Creed," she remembers protesting, on the verge of tears.
As she grew older (and the least bit bigger) she proved she could be tough as well as tearful. In high school, in Alexandria and then in Opelousas, where her father was a club pro from 1953 to 1959, she played on the girls' basketball team, averaging a solid 18 points a game. ("She could make a hook shot with either hand," claims Cliff Creed.) Then, at 16, she entered her first major golf championship, the Southern Amateur. Despite an exceptionally strong field, she shot the lowest qualifying score, a par 72. She defeated the defending champion and six-time Curtis Cup player, Polly Riley, in the quarter-finals before losing in the semifinals by one hole.
"Everybody was certainly surprised," says Clifford Ann today, smiling at the recollection, "but I wasn't. At 16 I thought I could beat them all. I wasn't scared of anybody."
Apparently she still isn't. A couple of years ago she was playing in an exhibition event in Beaumont with Bob Hope, whose golf game can be as professional as his humor. On the last tee Hope flexed his ego and bet Clifford Ann a dollar that he could outdrive her. Their drives were very close. She claimed he lost, but he didn't think so and didn't pay up. Clifford persistently kept after him, and Hope, just as persistently, denied he had lost the bet. Finally she cornered him backstage at a show he was giving in town that night and demanded her dollar.
"Oh, all right," said Hope, and handed her two 50¢ pieces.
"No, I want a dollar bill," persisted Clifford Ann. She now carries in her wallet, as testimony to her tenacity, a dollar bill on which is inscribed a personal message for those she might show it to: "It's a lie. Bob Hope."
This is only one of the many souvenirs Clifford Ann has collected playing golf. The Creed attic fairly sags at its beams from the weight of more than 100 trophies. In 1955 she captured the first of her six Louisiana state women's titles. In 1956 she won the Western Junior championship, defeating JoAnne Gunderson in the finals 3 and 2. Three weeks later she lost to JoAnne in the finals of the National Junior. In 1957, in addition to winning the Southern and the two George May events, she reached the fourth round of the National Amateur for the third year in a row, losing to Barbara Romack on the 20th hole. This was a severe disappointment to her, but Clifford Ann was only 18 and seemed on the verge of a career as one of the country's finest women golfers.
Then, like a wisp of smoke on a breezy day, she vanished from the national scene. She was gone so abruptly, in fact, that a story circulated that she had run afoul of the United States Golf Association's rigid amateur code and had lost her amateur status. This rumor has been vigorously denied, not only by Clifford Ann, but by the USGA as well.
"I felt bad because I hadn't made the 1958 Curtis Cup team," explains Clifford Ann, "but the main reason I dropped out of big-time competition was that I wanted to work hard at college and get through with it."
Following graduation in 1960 she took a $3,650-a-year job teaching physical education at Scott Brame Junior High School in Alexandria. But a year later she made up her mind to resume tournament golf on a full-time basis. This decision not only interrupted her teaching career, it also scuttled plans for a November wedding.
"I knew after I'd finished playing in the Trans-Mississippi last August that I had to prove to myself that I could win," she says. "When I got back home I told my fiancé that we shouldn't get married until I got golf out of my system. But he wasn't a golfer. He didn't understand about golf. So our engagement was called off."
By last January, after another four months teaching at a high school just outside Lake Charles, La., she had saved more than $2,000. She quit her job and joined the Florida winter circuit to get her game in shape for a spring and summer bid to make the Curtis Cup team. She won the very first tournament she played in, the South Atlantic Amateur, and has been winning ever since.
The fact that Clifford Ann is a gifted, ambidextrous athlete is certainly a factor behind her winning record, but her mental attitude toward tournament golf is very likely a more important factor still. She has an approach that is not going to let the high drama of what she is doing interfere with the mechanics. It comes as a surprise to hear such a grim outlook explained by such a superficially buoyant young lady.
"I get a certain amount of pleasure from winning, of course, but essentially winning means nothing to me," she says. "What does mean something is losing. I hate to lose a match. Winning doesn't make me happy. I just get mad at myself when I lose."
It is difficult to determine whether the stern thought is father to the victorious deed, or vice versa, but such an attitude is not unknown among habitual winners. Jack Nicklaus admits to having felt the same way when he was the unbeatable man of amateur golf. Talking about it brings an embarrassed smile to Clifford Ann's face.
"Maybe you're thinking that if winning is no fun and losing makes me miserable I should quit golf," she says. "Well, maybe you're right but I guess I don't quit because I just have to prove myself this way."
It is certainly a fact that defeat makes her as prickly as a cornered porcupine. She lies awake at night for hours after a losing match, playing over every shot again and again. She denies the story, however, that after losing to Marge Burns in the quarter-finals of last February's Palm Beach amateur she marched furiously into a hotel bar and downed eight consecutive Martinis.
Clifford Ann, the somber tigress on the golf course, can nonetheless be Clifford Ann, the bon vivant, off it. Her face relaxes and her green eyes become gay and flirtatious. She is a member of the Church of Christ, which looks askance at such debilitating pastimes as smoking, drinking and dancing. But Clifford Ann will have an occasional drink, smokes a package of cigarettes a day and is reputed to be the best jitterbug south of Natchitoches. Once, during the International Four-ball in Hollywood, Fla., she hopped up on a table in the golf club's crowded grill room and did the twist, just because one of her table companions bet her a dollar she would not do it.
While there does not seem to be much doubt that this energetic young girl will be winning many more golf tournaments, there is some doubt about what she will be winning them for—pride and a trophy, or a check and her daily bread. Clifford Ann's savings will be just about exhausted by the time this week's Amateur is over. The women's professional tour is offering increasing rewards to young, talented golfers who crave tournament golf but cannot afford to enjoy it as amateurs, Clifford Ann is undecided.
"I think I could stand up to it," she says. "I think I could finish in the top 10 in every tournament. But I also think the tour is harder mentally than physically. I just don't know if I could take that kind of life."
No matter what way she decides to pursue her career, don't bet her a dollar that she won't succeed. She never loses that kind of bet.