With an iron in her hand—a Sunbeam, not a five-iron—Anne Sander contemplated, first, the pile of clothes and, second, the drizzle outside her Seattle home. "I told you, I'm basically a housewife," she said. But there's nothing basic about the way she handles an iron—a five-iron, not a Sunbeam. A few days earlier she had enjoyed her most recent moment in the sun, a nine-stroke victory in the U.S. Women's Senior Amateur.
The 52-year-old Sander expresses no regrets that she didn't turn pro in the 1950s or '60s, when she and her friend JoAnne Gunderson dominated women's amateur golf in the U.S. "I just never wanted that kind of life," Sander says. "There were long stretches in my career when I only played in two tournaments a year. I've always wanted to prove that it's possible to compete on a limited basis, live a normal life, and yet remain competitive at the highest level."
Her play over the past three years has more than proved her point. Sander's convincing victory over runner-up Alice Dye and the rest of the Senior Amateur field at the Tournament Players Course, at The Woodlands, in Houston, in October was her second Senior Amateur title in three years. She reached the quarterfinals of the '87 and '88 Women's Amateurs. She won last year's Western Amateur—at 50—and was ranked as high as third this past summer in the Golfweek amateur rankings. Thirty-one years after her first Curtis Cup appearance, Sander seems likely to make the 1990 U.S. team, which will try to win back the cup from the British and Irish next July at Somerset Hills, in New Jersey. If she is chosen for the team, it would be for the eighth time (her seven appearances is the current U.S. record) and she would be the first U.S. woman to play in the Curtis Cup in five different decades.
One measure of Sander's longevity—and ability—is the number of USGA championship rounds she has played. Not counting sectional qualifying, she has turned in 228 USGA scorecards, more than any other player in history. Another measure might be the number of biographical data sheets she has filled out for tournament officials. Says Sander, "When they ask me how long I've been playing, I write, 'Forever.' When they ask, 'Did you play college golf?' I say, 'I predate college golf.' "
December 11, 1989
The latter statement is literally true. As Anne Quast, she played in her first Women's Amateur in 1952, at age 14, and she won the Amateur for the first time in 1958, just before her senior year at Stanford University. Stanford had no women's golf team at the time, and Sander paid greens fees to play the university's golf course, where the low 16 men played for free. When Sander, the reigning national amateur champion, applied for a waiver of the fee, Stanford's athletic director at the time, Al Masters, turned her down, saying, "A woman's place is in the classroom or the kitchen. The next thing you know, you'll be on the football field."
"It was just a different era," says Sander, showing no bitterness. "He was the last of the old guard. Things were beginning to change."
If Sander is less than a household name today, that is partly because the convention of a woman taking her husband's name in marriage did not change. Anne Quast won her second Women's Amateur, in 1961, as Mrs. Anne Quast Decker, and her third, in 1963, as Mrs. Anne Quast Welts. Both of those marriages ended in divorce. In 1971 she married Seattle stockbroker Stephen Sander, and she played on the 1974 Curtis Cup team as Mrs. Anne Sander. But from 1970 to mid-1973, she was missing from tournament golf. "I was very embarrassed about making a mess of my marriages, and I didn't play for three years," she says.
Whatever name she played under in the '50s and '60s, Sander invariably found herself cast in a continuing drama with Gunderson (who changed her name to Carner when she was married in 1964), a buoyant blonde from Kirkland, Wash., who could smack a ball 260 yards. In The Story of American Golf, writer Herbert Warren Wind, struck by the opposite styles of the two women, marveled at Sander's ability to control "a high-pitched sensitivity that bordered on the tremulous in certain situations," and he described her swing as graceless and mechanical: "...there was a bit of a lift on the backswing, a bit of thump on the hit-through...."
Carner, who won five U.S. Amateur titles before turning pro in 1970, says Sander's austere image derived entirely from her style of play, not from her personality, which was then, as now, ebullient and spontaneous. "She was a Ben Hogan type," says Carner, "very accurate, down the middle every time. In my youth—I have to laugh—I thought that was boring golf. I was all over the place. I made more birdies from the woods than from the fairway, and people like to watch that. Anne was a very mechanical golfer, but she did express herself. She used to knock in those 30-foot putts and yell, 'Oh, Anne!' like it was the first time she ever made one!"
Interestingly, although they were the Nicklaus and Palmer of women's amateur golf for more than a decade, Carner and Sander met only three times in U.S. Amateur play. Sander won their 1958 semifinal match, one up; won in the 1963 semis, 3 and 2; and lost to Carner in the 1968 final, 5 and 4. Says Carner, "I used to try to hit my drive on the first tee as hard, as long and as straight as I could. I'd try to scare her, because the only thing she had a fear of was length. Otherwise, she could whup me."
Following her three-year break from the game, Sander exchanged the American golf scene for the British one, from 1974 through '79. The Sanders sold their house in Seattle and moved with their two children to England, where Steve supervised the European operations of Brittania Sportswear, Ltd. In four attempts, Anne got no farther than the second round of the Ladies' British Open Amateur Championship, and she observed a gradual decline in the quality of her play. "You practice all the time in the wind, and I developed a reverse pivot," Anne says. "I hit so many wind shots that I never got off my left side." In 1979, Steve sold his interest in Brittania and the Sanders moved back to Seattle, where Anne regained her balance on the practice range of the Broadmoor Golf Club. A year later, she returned to England and won the British Open Amateur, at Woodhall Spa in Lincolnshire. "Isn't that ironic?" she says.
It's impossible to watch Sander play today without wondering what impact she and Carner would have had on the LPGA if they had turned pro together. Sander's self-deprecating wit; her quick, intelligent speech; and her bold body language (she sometimes grabs her stomach and staggers when she laughs) would surely have won over fans and the media, while her accuracy and consistency would have been well-suited to medal play. "Anne would have been a terrific pro," says Carner. "Back then, we used to play such short golf courses. She would have eaten us all up."
A couple of decades have passed since they last met head-to-head, but Carner would recognize her old rival Anne Quast in the present-day Anne Sander—the same trim figure, the brisk pace, the almost morbid fascination with her rare muffed shots, which Sander calls "diabolicals." And Sander still has her old habit of blurting "Oh, Anne!" or "Oops!" when she makes less-than-crisp contact on a shot. In a first-round match at last fall's Women's Mid-Amateur, held at The Hills of Lakeway Golf Club, in Austin, Texas, she yelled "Uh-oh!" when an eight-iron to the 10th green didn't feel right.
" 'Uh-oh'?" her opponent, Lynne Cowan, said, looking baffled as the ball flew straight at the pin and checked up within birdie range. "It almost went in the hole!"
Cowan's caddie, Dwayne Reynolds, shrugged. "You gotta learn," he said. "She says that every time."
What Carner would not recognize is Sander's swing, which has lost the little lift that displeased Wind. Sander says she was playing so badly three years ago that she nearly quit. She got some help from teaching pro Billy Derickson in Seattle, but couldn't get back to her consistent game. Eventually she sought out Phoenix teaching pro Ed Oldfield, who works with LPGA stars Betsy King and Jan Stephenson. "Ed told me, 'You know, at your age I don't think you can time four inches up and four inches down anymore,' " Sander says. "So we changed my swing completely. I have to think down now, not let myself come up. It took me three months to get a fairway wood airborne." She keeps her swing tuned up with periodic visits to Bill Tindall, the Broadmoor pro. "Even now, not one thing I'm doing out there comes naturally."
The field at this year's Senior Amateur would have found that hard to believe. When unseasonably frosty weather and a bitter wind made the course almost unplayable for the second round, Sander kept hitting greens with her controlled draw while the other seniors were splashing shots in ponds and ricocheting them through the pines. At tournament's end, with her nine-shot margin intact, Sander apologized for playing "chicken golf—as if it would have been more sporting to pitch a few balls into the water to make the tournament close. "Believe it or not," she said in a confidential whisper, "I was more nervous with a nine-stroke lead than I was the first two days."
While Sander has been successful at golf, she has been just as successful at her goal of leading a "normal" life. Sander works in her garden for an hour every day, plays the piano, prepares spectacular meals for dinner parties and dabbles in interior decorating. She taught history in high school for three years and spent another two years operating an art gallery. "She's a much better cook and gardener than she is a golfer, if that's possible," says Steve. "She has a real feel for those, whereas golf is something she has to work at."
Whenever possible, the Sanders play golf together, Steve from the championship tees (he is a one handicapper) and Anne from the men's. "We would like to play again in the Worplesdon Mixed Foursomes," says Steve, referring to the prestigious mixed event held in Surrey, England. "Everybody who's anybody has won that."
Each one of Anne's three sons—David, 25; Ned, 17; and Mark, 12—has caddied for Mom. David was 15 and a golfing neophyte when he carried for his mother as she won the British Amateur, and Anne recalls his brash advice when she couldn't decide between a four-iron and a five-iron on one hole: "Mom, it's a four-iron. Trust me."
Says Anne with a laugh, "I took the four-iron and hit it 10 feet from the hole."
While careful not to appear to be campaigning for a spot on the Curtis Cup team, Sander can't conceal what it would mean to her to play for her country again. "When the flag goes up and they play the Star-Spangled Banner, you can't help but get tears in your eyes," she says. "I would love to help the U.S. win back the cup." The eight-woman team will be chosen by a USGA committee in the spring.
Carner, for one, will be pulling for Sander. "Just when I think Anne is slowing down, she goes out and wins another tournament. I tell her I'm getting my amateur standing back and I'm coming back to play her again."