Supremacy in U.S. women's amateur golf is decided every summer on the final day of a demanding week-long tournament, the design of which was first presented in the last will and testament of Bluebeard. The two who have survived qualifying plus four rounds of tense match play get to tee off early in the morning and battle each other for 36 holes, or until one of them gets an insurmountable lead, wins a sudden-death hole or collapses from prickly heat. Ten years ago in Indianapolis, two young ladies, JoAnne Gunderson, 17, and Marlene Stewart, 22, met in a particularly wild finale. Miss Gunderson was 4 up with 11 holes to go but managed to lose the match because of her own goofs and Miss Stewart's hot putting. Last week the same pair, now married women, met again on doomsday, and JoAnne Gunderson Carner got her revenge by winning the longest final match in the history of the U.S. Golf Association—41 holes.
The match, to decide the USGA's 66th Women's Amateur title, lasted more than 7½ hours, not counting a lunch break after the first 18, and more than a few seemingly healthy spectators gave up because of sore legs, blisters or the heat. They retired to the clubhouse of the Sewickley Heights Golf Club, near Pittsburgh, to drink gin and tonics and await the results in comfort.
JoAnne was prepared for such a trial, however. Since her loss as a 17-year-old, she has made the finals four times and won thrice, improving on her reputation for being as long off the tee as the mightiest of the lady pros. She is a strapping, 5-foot 7-inch blonde, who seems not too anxiety ridden when her erratic drives keep her in the woods as much as Smokey Bear. JoAnne did not enter the Amateur last year because she and her husband. Don, had just opened a par-3 course in Seekonk, Mass. called the Firefly Country Club. This year they turned their business over to a trustworthy 15-year-old assistant and came to Sewickley, Don easy to spot in the crowd in his slacks the color of hot mustard. JoAnne had warmed up by entering two New England tournaments and winning both.
Miss Stewart, now Mrs. Marlene Streit of Willowdale, Ontario, had not won the Amateur since 1956 and had not even entered since 1959, but she had been busy getting married and having two daughters. A Canadian citizen who won the U.S. collegiate title when she attended Rollins College in Florida, Marlene wears glasses and freckles but seldom a smile, at least not on the course.
August 21, 1966
"Oh, I smiled," she insisted after one match. "I didn't mean to be grim. I have to work at concentration. After all, I came down to play in a tournament."
They started at 9:30 a.m. last Saturday with a small gallery and the grass dripping with dew. Marlene went 1 up on the 2nd hole, but by the end of nine JoAnne was 3 up and cruising along like Jack Nicklaus against a tour rookie. Then the pride of Seekonk felt the call of the wild. While Marlene kept to her careful, accurate short game, seldom gambling, JoAnne landed next to a tree on the 12th and barely budged the ball with a left-handed swing. On the 14th she took another woodsy detour, and it took two shots, one of them left-handed again, to get the ball back onto the fairway. By the end of 18 holes, safety-first Marlene was 1 up. Then came time out for a luncheon of roast-beef sandwiches that were mostly bread and butter.
The afternoon of the marathon started at 2 o'clock, and by that time the gallery was large, perspiring and groaning at every hill climb. Marlene's husband, who had flown in from Ontario the night before, was part of the hurry-up-and-get-it-over-with group, most of whom stuck it out to the bitter end. JoAnne again was master of the front nine and was 2 up after 27 holes, but her Smokey Bear predilection again helped fritter away the lead. She came to the 35th hole 1 down but evened the match with a par when Marlene three-putted from 32 feet. On the 36th Marlene's nine-foot putt bounced out of the cup. It would have won the match, which instead went into sudden death.
Marlene made a series of pressure putts to keep things even, until finally on the 41st she lost, JoAnne-style, going off the fairway with her tee shot and hitting a tree trying to get back on. The ball was deflected into a trap, and she could not recover. A white tee tucked behind her right ear, JoAnne kissed her husband, and Marlene managed a brave smile and said, "She's just too good, but it still was a thrill to be back playing her after 10 years."
JoAnne earner's victory made her only the second woman to win the Amateur more than three times. She intends to keep coming back to the tournament every summer and may well catch up with Mrs. Edwin H. (Glenna Collett) Vare Jr., who won six titles from 1922 to 1935 without exploring the countryside quite as thoroughly.
That the final would pit two such older players as 27-year-old JoAnne and 32-year-old Marlene was not anticipated in the earlier stages of the tournament, when most of the applause followed youth. Shelley Hamlin, 17, of Fresno, Calif., shot a record low of 73 on the first day of qualifying, then sauntered in the second day with a record 70. Her total of 143 was six strokes lower than anyone else's. At least 10 mature male hackers in the gallery watched with embarrassment and vowed to switch from golf to no-time-limit chess. Fully qualified then, Shelley won her first-round match 5 and 4 from Mrs. I.C. Robertson, a member of the British Curtis Cup team. It took three-time champion Mrs. Anne Quast Welts to knock her out in the second round on the 19th hole.
Another girl wonder, Roberta Albers, 19 (SI, Aug. 15), lasted a bit longer, undoubtedly because she was an old pro at this prodigy business, having reached the semifinals once at age 14. For the first time since then, Roberta got to the semis at Sewickley—and ran into Marlene Streit. Roberta played well, forcing the Canadian to chip from more than 40 feet away to within two feet of the cup and sink the putt to keep the match from being tied and going into extra holes. But this was a year for the veterans, not the Wunderkinder. Or, as weary but still wisecracking JoAnne Carner said at the presentation ceremony:
"Marlene, it's nice to know we old married women are still all right."