Until 30 years ago, no one except the Indians had found any sensible use for the forbidding sand hills that sprout without explanation a few miles northeast of Hutchinson, Kans. The Osage who chased buffalo across the Kansas plains pitched tepees there because the dunes offered at least a little protection against the winds and tornadoes that tease and frighten central Kansas in the summertime. After the white man drove the red man away, the sand hills lay doggo. It was not until the mid-'30s that William D. P. Carey and Emerson Carey Jr.—of Hutchinson's most esteemed business and golfing family—realized what could be done with the undulating sand, spiny yucca plants, thorny cactus and thickets of impenetrable plum bushes. They built a golf course on it, and it was in this unusual setting last week that Barbara McIntire won the 64th U.S. Women's Amateur Championship.
The whole area was nothing but a large unplayable lie when the Careys imported Perry Maxwell, a distinguished golf architect, to lay out the Prairie Dunes Country Club. With its small, billowy greens and narrow, knobby fairways, Prairie Dunes became a course that is as close an approximation of the rugged seaside links of Scotland as anything this side of the Atlantic—and 1,000 miles from any ocean—is likely to get. It also became as much a test of fortitude as it is of ability, and that is what the Scots say the game is all about.
For the women's championship, the course was shortened from 6,500 to 6,000 yards, but it was still a good deal more than enough for the field of 81 that turned up for the qualifying rounds on Monday and Tuesday. They had to battle not only the sand and yucca, but a wind that moved the USGA's Joe Dey to comment, "Can't you just feel it blowing in off the Irish Sea?" At the end of four more days of match play among the 32 qualifiers, Miss McIntire had beaten JoAnne Gunderson in the finals 3 and 2 and won the championship with just the kind of resolute golf that is applauded in Scotland or Kansas or anywhere else.
The pattern of the tournament was surprisingly formful, considering the unusual challenge offered by the course. Miss McIntire, Miss Gunderson, a three-time winner of the title, and Polly Riley, who was playing in her 19th Amateur Championship, led the two days of medal play with 36-hole scores of 151, five over par. After that, Miss McIntire and Miss Gunderson each played four matches to reach the finals. Barbara played her 67 holes along the way in even par, while JoAnne played her 61 holes in two under par. They were clearly the class of the field, especially after the defending champion, Anne Quast Welts (see below), became the tournament's first major casualty when she failed to qualify for the match play. If ever an athlete had an alibi, however, Anne's was it: she is nearly six months pregnant. A tall and willowy type, she showed only slight signs of her impending accouchement, but her golfing metabolism was noticeably off center as her short game, normally as cool as a pool shark's, deserted her.
The 36-hole final on Saturday was a match that seed and sawed wondrously. The morning round, with that Irish Sea wind blowing briskly and ever so refreshingly from the general direction of Topeka, was all JoAnne. This tall, strong girl from Seattle brings so much natural ability to golf that one wonders why she does not win every tournament. Even with her three-quarter backswing, she hits the ball as far as anyone of her sex. Her only problem is that she refuses to take either herself or her golf very seriously. Once, while bending over a putt that was to bring her the national championship, she broke into laughter. She had simply thought of something funny. But this Saturday morning she managed to keep a straight face for the full 18 holes and played the course just as she had planned.
"I had it figured out," she said afterward, "that on every hole I just wanted to get it up to the green in par and down in two putts." She did slightly better than that, finishing with a one-under-par 72 and a very strong-looking three-hole lead.
After lunch it seemed very much as if JoAnne were going to end the day quickly as Barbara missed two short putts and dropped four holes behind. On the 21st tee, Barbara took off her sweater and assumed such a grim expression that the dimples in her cheeks disappeared entirely. With the help of some erratic shots by JoAnne and some lovely and staunch play of her own, she won four of the next five holes. JoAnne, possibly disturbed by the sudden turn of fortune, ran into even more trouble when she happened to play a wrong ball from the rough alongside the 26th green and had to forfeit the hole.
Thereafter, Barbara never lost her lead. By the time she reached the 34th tee, she had a two-hole advantage with only three holes left to play. She thereupon struck one of her finest drives of the day. JoAnne got set to drive, then turned to Barbara with a big grin and said, "If I'm gonna go. I'd better go now." Her subsequent drive was right alongside Barbara's, but she put her second shot into a bunker by the green. When it finally came her turn to putt, she found herself needing a 12-footer to save the match. As she was lining it up, she looked at the gallery and cracked, "Anybody want to putt this one?" The crowd guffawed, but it groaned a moment later when she missed the putt.
With that, quiet Barbara, one of the most modest women who ever played anything superbly well, was the new champion, and the elaborate Robert Cox Trophy, which is gaudy enough to be a memorial to Queen Victoria, will spend the next year in Colorado Springs, Colo., where Barbara has a dress shop. It has been nine years now since anyone other than Barbara (who won in 1959), JoAnne Gunderson or Anne Quast Welts has been the U.S. Amateur champion. From the looks of things by the Kansas seaside last week, the status quo is not about to change.
'NO REASON TO STOP PLAYING GOLF NOW
One of the more memorable sights of the Women's National Amateur last week was that of Defending Champion Anne Quast Welts, not because of her play—which was ragged enough to keep her from even qualifying for the head-to-head matches—but because of what a more Victorian era would have delicately referred to as her "condition." She was defending her title while nearly six months pregnant. If there is a precedent for this in sport, it does not come readily to mind and, as a result, the sensitive Mrs. Welts found herself somewhat of a celebrity at Hutchinson, Kans., just when she most wanted to be ignored.
Her decision to compete had not been made easily, or quickly. When Mrs. Welts realized last spring that she would be giving birth to her first child in November, she put aside the fact that she and her husband would sooner or later have to decide whether she should defend her title. She was busily occupied teaching history in the Mount Vernon, Wash. high school. Time enough to worry about the golf after school was out. There was ample reason to procrastinate for, as Mrs. Welts put it, "We had been married less than a year, and we were on strange ground."
When Mrs. Welts finally decided to go to Hutchinson it was by her own choice, but she acknowledges that she was strongly influenced by three persons: her husband, David, a Mount Vernon attorney; her physician; and Joe Dey, executive director of the U.S. Golf Association.
David Welts had to overcome a kind of instinctive reluctance to let his wife whip off in the middle of her pregnancy for what could turn out to be as many as eight rounds of golf in six days. ' "He didn't encourage me," Mrs. Welts explained before the tournament began last week. "But he didn't discourage me either. I think that the trouble was that he had simply never thought of a pregnant woman engaging in championship athletic competition. The idea was completely foreign to him. If I had not been the defending champion I don't believe I would have entered, not because I didn't feel good but because I dreaded the attention that might come to center on the fact that I was nearly six months pregnant and playing championship golf. I was afraid of a fuss being made over what seems to me a perfectly natural fact. I couldn't bear to think of the possibility of reading newspaper headlines saying: ANNE WELTS, SIX MONTHS PREGNANT, RETAINS NATIONAL TITLE, OT PREGNANT ANNE WELTS KNOCKED OUT OF WOMEN'S NATIONAL. But then finally I said to myself, 'Look, golf is something you've been playing most of your life. There's no reason to stop playing it now.'
"A key factor in my decision to go ahead and play," said Mrs. Welts, "was the fact that golf is not a strenuous game. It is basically walking, and walking is supposed to be good for pregnant women. My physician, Dr. William V. King of Burlington, Wash., backed up my decision to compete. He told me, 'Pregnancy is certainly a normal condition of life, so why not try to live as you normally do which, for you, means to play golf.'
"Maybe it was fortunate for me that both Dr. King and my husband are avid golfers. If they had not been, one or both might have raised an objection based on the misapprehension that golf is a tough and strenuous game, which it is not. And don't forget that during the first months of my pregnancy I had gone right along handling 108 high school youngsters every day. After that, what's so tough about golf? Finally, a persuasive factor in my deciding to play was a strong sense of obligation, the obligation that any champion feels to return and defend his title. Every champion owes that to the game."
In June, Mrs. Welts wrote to Dey explaining her situation. She asked his advice. He wrote back, saying: "As long as your health is fine, the USGA will be very pleased to have your entry in this year's national tournament."
"If you know Joe Dey," Mrs. Welts said, "you know his restraint and that a statement like that from him is really an open-arms welcome."
Mrs. Welts approached the tournament at least outwardly serene. Her doctor had given her no special advice and no special diet. He had merely cautioned her to get plenty of rest between matches. But since this is precisely what Mrs. Welts has always done, his advice involved nothing out of the ordinary. About the only thing she did differently was to buy a couple of pairs of shorts a bit larger around the waist than usual.
On the eve of the tournament she had two main hopes: that attention would center on her golf, not her pregnancy, and that her putting would be sharp. She wanted the attitude of spectators and fellow players to resemble that of Ross Wilson, who has been the professional at Prairie Dunes Country Club since the club was founded in 1937. Upon first encountering Mrs. Welts at the Hutchinson course Wilson eyed her a moment and said, "I think, my dear, you have a secret. Let us keep it between us, shall we?"
Mrs. Welts got one of her wishes, for her "condition" caused no furor at all. And her putting? Well, she is a stern competitor, and after shooting two 81s she herself might well have said that she putted like a pregnant schoolteacher.