One hundred and sixty thousand came to watch the Masters this spring and 72,000 saw the U.S. Open, but the most viewable golf tournament of the year had to be the one witnessed last week by a paying gallery of zero at the Hiwan Golf Club high in the lodgepole and ponderosa land of Evergreen, Colo. The event was the 17th U.S. Girls' Junior Championship, in which for two days of medal play and then four days of demanding match play the country's 78 best girl golfers put forth as much bounce as a Beatle concert, and a few therapeutic tears and wails as well. While playing the kind of golf that most of their elders never will—it took a two-over-par 75-73 to be the medalist—they fought their way around the course swigging Bubble Up, downing Hershey bars and even gnawing on their hair when the going got tense, which it usually did.
The girls ranged in age from 12 to 17. Some of them looked no larger than the bags their equally small caddies carried, but they made their own little world of big-time golf. Their mannerisms were often those of the pro tour—approach shots paced off with Jack Nicklaus care, putts lined up in Gary Player's plumb-bob style. Many had well-traveled leather bags with their names stenciled on, swings that showed why they could shoot in the 70s and the playing experience that came with being state or regional champions. (Eight of them are playing in the Women's Amateur this week.) Finally, almost all of them had suffering parents who tried hard not to root too openly: "'What's wrong with her?" a father would whisper as a putt slid by.
In the mountain mist of early Monday morning, Tournament Director Purvis James Boatwright Jr. of the USGA donned his most fatherly look and sent the field off on the qualifying rounds that would reduce it from 78 to 32 by Wednesday, (P. J. BOATWRIGHT NEW BROADWAY STAR said a fake newspaper headline that one of the girls had tacked on the USGA's official scoreboard. Poor P.J. winced.)
There were hot favorites and sentimental ones: Californian Shelley Hamlin, who was to shoot the 75-73 in the qualifying rounds; Texan Lou Dill, cousin of Muleshoe's Terry Dill, a touring pro whom Lou describes as "spooky"; Florida's glamorous Laura Maclvor, the runner-up last year who, it was closely noted by more than one of the younger players, has pierced ears and wears eye shadow; Alabama's Candy Phillips, who has played only 14 months but has a four handicap; Indiana's Vida Stoshitch, a former national backstroke record holder who gave up competitive swimming because she is, at 17, too old; Jackie Fladoos, the Iowa hotshot; and a Texas pixie named Nancy Hager who, though 12 years old and weighing no more than her driver, came in with an 81 on Monday, only to be distraught at missing the cut after a sudden-death playoff late Tuesday. ("She doesn't realize," said an 18-year-old friend sadly, "that she has all those years ahead of her, and nothing you can say will convince her.")
Girls' golf being as hard to handicap as maiden races, nobody paid much attention to 16-year-old Meezie Pritchett of North Carolina or 17-year-old Gail Sykes of New York. Both had played in the National Junior before and been eliminated in the first round.
Heavy rain fell during those first two days, and lightning stopped play for a while. Girls like Susan Moore of Scottsdale, Ariz., who had never before been on a golf course in the rain, grew cold and their games did, too. When night came they turned in the keys to their lockers, packed and went home.
The survivors played two 18-hole matches on Wednesday, and the field was down to eight by nightfall. Only then did people around the clubhouse begin to learn that the friendly brunette from Schenectady who spoke with a New York twang and walked away from her matches barefoot but a winner was named Gail Sykes. In her morning match she had been 3 down to Lou Dill after six holes, but she pulled her game together ("I say to myself, 'You animal. Do you want to get beat 10 and 8?' "), and won six of the next nine holes to upset Lou 2 and 1. She immediately took off her shoes and began walking around barefoot. An hour's rest later she teed off against Shelley Hamlin, and the Californian, who usually competes in stroke-play tournaments and has never won a match-play championship, found once again that a course can be easier to beat than a person. Shelley began playing Gail rather than her own smooth-swinging game, and by the 16th hole she was asking her mother if she had found the airplane tickets they had lost for the return trip to California.
Jackie Fladoos lost on Wednesday morning and, if the truth be told, none too soon for her 12-year-old caddie. He had found a speckled salamander in a neighbor's swimming pool that morning, named him George and brought him to work in a paper cup. By noon Jackie was beat and George was none too wiggly either. His keeper kept pleading with mother to take them both home before George died.
Other caddies who lost their jobs at midday collected their pay and went back on the course where the action was—betting action. One match was obviously over when a girl hooked a tee shot deep into the woods. A caddie went to collect his winnings. "You owe me a nickel," he said to his pal. "Not yet, Babe," the other caddie replied, and he did not pay off until the hole was played out.
The golfer who won that match was Kathy Hutson, an unusual 15-year-old who is both athletically and artistically inclined—and each of these characteristics affects her golf game. Coming from the plains of West Texas, she relished the Colorado mountain country. At one point she told her uncle, Harry Holcomb, "You know, I walked up on one green and looked out and saw the clouds and the mountains, and they were beautiful. They calmed me." It is 10 years since Kathy announced in an oil field to this same uncle Harry that she would be a pro football player when she grew up. That seems unlikely now, but she might be a pro athlete for she has a swing like Nicklaus and nerves to match. She has played golf for five years, and has been West Texas Junior Champion for all five of them.
By Friday the field was down to four, Hutson against Sykes and little Meezie Pritchett against lovely Laura MacIvor. Laura had a man and a mouse, which added up to a problem. Doubtful about how hard she wanted to work on her game, she had made a weekend date with an Air Force Academy plebe. Early in the week she had decided she was past her peak in golf, being 17 and all, and talked about retiring. But on Wednesday she had crammed a lucky toy mouse into her pocket and run off seven birdies in the 15 holes she had to play. So she canceled her date at Colorado Springs and headed for the practice tee.
Meezie had a problem, too. It was Mr. Meezie, better known as Newton Pritchett, M.D., esteemed cardiologist from Raleigh, N.C. "Daddy, I told you not to follow me during the match," she complained after her semifinal against Laura. "You sneak around in the trees and I know you are there. I smelled your pipe smoke and I heard you cough."
Dr. Pritchett could be excused for bobbing through the woods like a Cheyenne stalking a scalp, for what he was peeking at was not only his daughter but perhaps the best match of the tournament. For the first 14 holes Laura was twisting and waggling and making eyes at the ball and pretty well having her girlish way. Newton Pritchett was hiding in the weeds and, said Meezie, "messing me up," as Laura held a two-hole lead.
But Meezie, 5 feet 2 and 107 pounds, is not the give-up type. She had come from five down after 10 holes to win the Carolina Junior Championship 1 up, and from four down after 10 to take her first-round match in the National Junior. "I get so far behind, I have nothing to lose," she said. "I knew if I could win one hole the pressure would be on Laura and I would have a chance." Meezie got her hole at 15 and another at 16, and still another at 17. Then on 18 Laura hit an approach to within six inches of the hole, only to see Meezie pitch up and one-putt for the win. Dr. Pritchett ran out of the pines and hugged Meezie. Her bespectacled kid brother, Newt Jr.—who is 10 years old and plays to an 11 handicap—kissed her and cried. "She's the prettiest girl in the tournament," a lady said. Told of this, Meezie observed, "Well, there's not much left."
What was left was Gail Sykes—Schenectady's Athlete of the Year in 1964. Hardly an unpretty package, she had beaten Kathy Hutson 2 and 1.
On Saturday the championship simply went to the strongest and most savvy. Long off the tee and ever-poised, Gail played the same steady, relentless golf she had all week. Gail's mother had told her not to walk fast because she might tire herself out at the high altitude, and whether she won a hole or lost it Gail dutifully walked slowly. "When Meezie lost a hole, she'd run like a pony to the next tee, and then all she could do was wait for me," said Gail after the round. "There used to be a woman at home who beat me that way, and I learned a lot from her."
On the 6th hole Gail took the lead. She won the next two holes as well, and Meezie went to the turn 3 down. She was taking three shots to get places where Gail would be in two and, even worse, the North Carolinian's short game had fallen apart, and her putting, too.
The match ended on the 14th hole with Meezie, the loser by 5 and 4, wiping away a tear and Gail, the winner by 5 and 4, also wiping away a tear, that being the way with girls' golf.
"What a pleasant tournament to run," Purvis James Boatwright had said early in the week. And what a refreshing tournament to see, for children seem to know some things that adults don't. One girl was four holes down coming into the 9th green. "She's got to gamble now, got to gamble," her father kept saying intently. The girl herself was looking at the dark sky, smiling and chanting, "Rain, rain, go away."