At the 63rd annual USGA Women's Amateur golf championship held at the Taconic Golf Club in Williamstown, Mass., three-time winner JoAnne Gunderson shot the best nine holes—a three-under-par 33. Judy Bell of Colorado Springs, the Trans-Mississippi champion, got the tournament's only eagle—on No. 7, a 400-yard par-5 that rewards valor but penalizes rashness. Mrs. Harton Semple of Sewickley, Pa. wore the wildest hats. Mrs. Anne Quast Welts, never noted as a scrambler, repeatedly got out of trouble in her harrowing semifinal match with Miss Gunderson, won that and went on to take the championship—the third time she has won it. (She won in 1958 and 1961.) But the spectator sympathy, regard and affection, and to some extent awe, was almost exclusively reserved for Miss Peggy Shane Conley of Spokane, Wash., who lost to Mrs. Welts in Saturday's final.
Miss Conley is the youngest player to make the finals in the history of the tournament (she is 16) and very likely the roundest, jolliest and, for her years, the most poised. Miss Conley chews gum while she plays, giggles when something delights her, and wears nearly fluorescent red Bermuda shorts with a left-hand glove to match. She is short, stocky, square-chinned, ruddy-faced, seemingly unimpressed by the reputations of her elders and cute as a button. A junior at Lewis and Clark High School in Spokane, she likes football players, is not allowed to go steady, likes to twist, rides horseback and skis, plays the French horn in the school band and dislikes English class. Her father, a dentist, is a three-handicap golfer, and urged her to take up the game when she was 11. She showed such promise he turned her over to the pro at the Tacoma Golf and Country Club, Chuck Congdon, to whom she gives credit for polishing up her game. In putting, Miss Conley has a pigeon-toed, knock-kneed stance like Arnold Palmer but she crouches like Jack Nicklaus. Sometimes on short putts she tears her spikes loose and gallops after the ball, apparently trying to frighten it into the hole. Against Mrs. Welts this worked once and failed once.
Up until last week few of the Amateur competitors—bespectacled Janis Ferraris was one—paid much attention to Miss Conley. Miss Ferraris, also 16, beat Miss Conley this year in the finals of the National Girls' Junior Championship and in the semifinals of the Western Junior championship. But in the National Amateur, driving grimly, making astonishing recoveries and putting as though she would tear off the back and sometimes the sides of the cup, Miss Conley kept beating people she has no business beating. She defeated Curtis Cup player Judy Bell 3 and 2. ("Judy didn't putt well," Peggy explained ingenuously. "I think the pressure got her.") She defeated Phyllis Preuss of Pompano Beach, Fla., Women's Eastern Amateur champion, also 3 and 2. To reach the final, she managed a palpitating one-hole victory over Carol Sorenson of Janesville, Wis., four-time Wisconsin Amateur champion and national intercollegiate champion in 1962.
In the other half of the draw, the slim, attractive 25-year-old Mrs. Welts, married last June and receiving sideline and pre-match encouragement from her husband David, was eliminating, among others, Miss Conley's nemesis, Miss Ferraris; Nancy Roth; and, to the surprise of almost everybody, Miss Gunderson. JoAnne Gunderson hates to practice but she can outdrive all women amateurs and a sizable number of men. Five times before, Mrs. Welts had faced Miss Gunderson, and Miss Gunderson had the edge, 3-2. For the first eight holes, Mrs. Welts fought tension and despair most of the time, getting to the green later than Miss Gunderson but compensating by sinking long, tricky putts. At the 9th she was 1 up but full of nerves. Mrs. Welts was short of the green on the 175-yard hole. Miss Gunderson hit to within 20 feet of the pin. A chip by Mrs. Welts placed her two feet away. Miss Gunderson lay down to examine the line of her putt, poked the ball too hard and set it inches from the cup. Mrs. Welts stroked her two-footer, saw that it was going wide and inexplicably struck the moving ball again. In the aghast silence she cried, "I concede! I concede!" The officials, busy thumbing their rulebooks, gave Miss Gunderson a 3 and Mrs. Welts an X—something you seldom see. It was Miss Gunderson's hole and they were even. Oddly enough, Mrs. Welts said later this outburst of passion calmed her down and she played much more relaxed golf thereafter, winning finally on the 16th, getting a par to Miss Gunderson's bogey 5. "Anne has no confidence in her putting," her husband said later. "I told her, 'The only way you can miss it is to make a mistake.' It cured her of her defensive putting attitude."
September 1, 1963
Mr. Welts, champion of the Skagit Country Club in Mount Vernon, Wash., gave his wife a strong pep talk the evening before the final match with Miss Conley. "I thought she would be down after beating Gunderson," he said. "So all evening we talked golf to get her up for Conley. I'd seen this kid play and I was scared to death. I feel guilty that Anne didn't sleep much that night but in a tournament it's dangerous to slack up for a minute."
Considering the quality of Miss Conley's play in the final, he was right as rain. After a shaky start in which Miss Conley missed an easy putt to drop the first hole, she sank a big seven-footer to halve the second, got steadier as acreage passed underfoot, matched Mrs. Welts soaring drive for soaring drive, approach for approach and explosion for explosion, and by the end of the first 18 holes was 1 up with a 76 to Mrs. Welts's 77. If several of her shots had not gone into the cup only to ungraciously erupt from it again, she might have been 4 up. This is, apparently, a Conley bugaboo, and it drew sympathetic moans and hand-wringing from the crowd.
Miss Conley went to 2 up after the first hole of the afternoon round, but insidiously Mrs. Welts chipped away at the composure of her young rival. Finally Miss Conley's irons began to get erratic, she missed putts of medium length that would have given her a virtually insurmountable lead and then on the 7th a speck of sand got between her eye and her contact lens. This naturally caused her some anguish and cost her some of her concentration. Mrs. Welts picked up the 26th, 27th, 29th and 30th to go ahead by three. A valiant spurt on the 32nd, which Miss Conley birdied, reduced Mrs. Welts's lead to two. They halved the 33rd and 34th. Miss Conley had a 50-foot putt for a birdie on the 35th. She strode up to the flag and, in a gesture reminiscent of the Babe Ruth legend, yanked the flag from the hole, walked back and addressed the ball. She missed the putt. Mrs. Welts thereupon sank a 15-footer for her par and the match. "Anne plays to a pattern," Mr. Welts said later. "When she sees she has to sink it she'll sink it." In another year the same may be said of Miss Conley.