Betty Jameson is standing amidst a still life of her past, a
lovely clutter of precious things yellowed, brown,
brittle--sepia tones in an otherwise sunny living room in Delray
Beach, Fla. She was a golf prodigy by age 12 on the sand-greens
courses of Texas during the Depression, then twice U.S. Amateur
champion with a perfect swing but a fitful putter, then an
unabashed pro at 25 in a time when the term was frowned on, then
a pioneer and glamour girl of the LPGA with 10 tour wins,
including the 1947 U.S. Open title, then a charter member, at
age 32 in 1951, of the LPGA Hall of Fame. But Jameson stands
now, at 76, perhaps 40 pounds thinner than she should be, on the
brink of homelessness in a house that is not legally hers but,
she says, "is me."
The only semblance of order is by the fireplace, where her seven
favorite golf clubs stand. Away from the hearth in all
directions is a jumble of photographs, letters, calendars,
clippings, books, paintings, sketches, easels, brushes, palettes
... and, especially, some pottery and pictures and diaries of
her late great friend, another early LPGA star, Mary Lena Faulk.
Mary Lena. Jameson does not just say the name, she nearly sings
it: "MaryLEENah." For more than 30 years, in this house, "we
Then last year Faulk suffered a recurrence of lung cancer and
fell gravely ill and incoherent with an awful suddenness that
caught the two admitted procrastinators unprepared. She died
last Aug. 3, at 69. Faulk was the one who had attended to most
of the household financial matters. The house was in her name,
and she had not gotten around to revising her will to provide
for Jameson. The will, drawn up in 1981, left the house and all
of Faulk's financial interests, mainly stocks and bonds, to
blood relatives, primarily a niece.
May 5, 1996
So here stands Bess--"She called me Bess," says Betty--amidst
this marvelous mess. She could be sent packing any day on short
notice to god knows where, should Faulk's relatives invoke the
harshest application of Florida law. Her monthly Social Security
check is $246, which doesn't even cover the storage bills for
her paintings and golf clubs. Since Faulk passed away, Jameson
has lost close to 40 pounds ("At least," says a friend) off a
once athletic 5'8" frame--"My, you're a big girl," Babe
Didrikson Zaharias remarked when they met long ago. Jameson's
gauntness is due to a lack of interest in food, she says; due to
lack of grocery money, friends think.
"When friends say to me, 'Well, Betty, you've got to apply for
food stamps. You deserve them,' I say, 'No. I don't want to talk
to you anymore.' I won't do that."
At the moment she has, to her name, "$40, I think," the last of
the $700 she got for parting with two of her precious paintings.
The LPGA has found a way to help--with an advance check on
proceeds from the pro-am before this week's Sprint Titleholders
Championship. But none of that promises to secure this house for
her, and moving would be devastating: "I can't imagine not
living in this house," she says.
But she will not think about that now. Besides, "this is a bad
dream--the whole thing," she maintains, true to the chronic
state of reverie that has never let her take life hard, in
nearly 77 years of living it. To have planned and run the
household more pragmatically "wouldn't have been us, I guess,"
she says. "We just lived for the day."
She stops among her paintings to say a lot about herself: "This
is my portrait of Samuel Beckett. It reminds me, in ways, of
Tommy Armour." Such are the connections in a mind wherein golf
imitates art and art, golf; and life is largely an interval for
Suddenly she is reading aloud from her beloved T.S.
Eliot--specifically from Burnt Norton, first of the Four
Quartets--in a volume Eliot personally inscribed for her on
April 24, 1958. ("It was," she recalls, "a wet day.") In a voice
that is half-knowing old woman, half-breathless girl, she gasps:
What might have been
and what has been
Point to one end, which is
This is both admonition and solace ringing down the years to her
from her favorite poet. A few lines later he is telling her what
is being done to her life, and her voice grasps the meaning with
But to what purpose.
Disturbing the dust on a
bowl of rose-leaves
I do not know.
Is that it, Betty? Is that what they are doing to you, these
unanticipated intruders so foreign to your reverie: law,
finance, inheritance, harsh truths of kindred blood over kindred
"Yeah, yeah," she says. "Oh, yeah." Thus disturbed, the dust may
as well be blown from this lovely clutter, this bowl of
rose-leaves, these several thousand memories in photographs and
letters and clippings.
Here's a photo of the LPGA Hall of Fame's charter members,
previously known as the Big Four--Betty and Babe, Patty Berg,
Babe. What a character. Babe and Betty were on a U.S. women's
team that went to England in 1951 and defeated not only the
British women but also a top team of amateur men. "Babe said to
Leonard Crawley, who was both an excellent amateur and a
renowned golf journalist, 'I'll play you for your mustache,'"
recalls Jameson. "I have no idea what she wagered against it.
But his big walrus mustache was all him, all his identity. And
their bet was that if he lost, he had to shave it off. She beat
him badly, and he was gone--disappeared. Babe never found him.
'Play you for your mustache.' That was Babe. So bragadocious, so
entertaining because she always delivered on what she said. She
was Muhammad Ali, all the way, many years before.
"Driving between tournaments, she might see a golf course and
stop and say, 'Let's go out there and give these guys a treat.
Let's play a few holes. Wait'll they learn who stopped here.'
"One Sunday morning, I think it was in Indianapolis, we were
sitting around and I said, 'I'm going to church. Would anybody
like to join me?' Everybody looked at one another. Babe said,
'Oh, what the hell, let's all go to church.' Off we went. On the
way up the steps Babe said, 'Hey, can we smoke in this place?'"
That was the sort of Bette Davis-Lauren Bacall-tweed slacks
world Jameson lived in. Then, "sometime in the late '40s," she
happened upon another world entirely, in the deepest South,
south Georgia. "Thomasville was an angelic little town," she
says. "I went in the spring. The dogwood was in bloom all over
town, and of course it was the Rose City, and it was a special
little environment, with all the plantation people."
It was the first and last time she would feel welcome there, in
the hometown of the Tomboy from Thomasville, as sportswriters
dubbed Faulk. At the time, says Jameson, "I was just a fan of
hers. You know, you'd pick an amateur, or somebody
[up-and-coming] that you were watching."
Their friendship didn't flower until 1961 when Jameson, somewhat
impromptu, coached Faulk to the Western Open title.
"Psychologically I helped her," recalls Jameson. "I talked to
her every day. And she marched through that tournament, won it.
That's when I first got to know her. I don't remember what I
said. It was just something." But when Thomasville celebrated
Faulk's triumphant homecoming, "they never asked me," says
Jameson. "The family never welcomed me. Mr. Faulk [Mary Lena's
father] was rather brusque, and Mrs. Faulk was never--I don't
The Faulk family "thought I was, I guess, maybe too
domineering," says Jameson. "I don't know why. But I did not
care. I didn't find them that interesting, for one thing. If I'd
found them that interesting, I could have had a little set-to:
'Why? What's going on here?' But I had lots of other things on
my mind. And certainly Mary Lena, when she got out from under
there ... it would have been very hard for her to live with her
family and stay down in Thomasville after she'd been around. She
was interested in cultural things, like I was, and that's why I
was attracted to her. She was writing poetry when I first met
her on the tour."
But to what purpose.
Disturbing the dust on a
bowl of rose-leaves
I do not know.
"We didn't like talking about death," says Jameson, "but over
the years Mary Lena assured me I'd be taken care of, that I'd
have a place to live and money to live on."
"The estate was opened, and Betty got nothing, despite spending
more than 30 years with Mary Lena," says Bill Layton, the
attorney who is representing Jameson, on contingency, in civil
litigation. "The basis of the litigation is breach of contract.
There was an oral agreement. Florida statutes say that sharing a
house is evidence of some kind of agreement. As it stands,
eviction proceedings could begin on three days' notice, because
she has no lease and nothing in writing."
"The heirs offered [Jameson] a settlement to keep her in the
house for two years, but she filed a suit to keep what I'd call
a widow's portion of the estate," says John Ross Adams, an
attorney who represents Jane Watt, who is Faulk's sister and
executor of the will, and, indirectly, Kate Sedgwick of
Washington, D.C., who is Faulk's niece and the sole beneficiary.
"In California, [Jameson] might have a case, but I don't think
she does in Florida. California is much more advanced in terms
of palimony. I've had no pleasure in handling this case. I don't
think the niece wants to evict her, but she doesn't want to
support her for the rest of her life, either."
"The Faulk family," Layton alleges, "is basically representing
Betty as a housekeeper."
"You've got to be kidding?" says Sally Iglehart, who has known
Jameson and Faulk since they moved to Delray Beach in 1964. "No.
That's insanity." Iglehart, widow of polo hall of famer Stewart
Iglehart, laughs out loud. "I mean, you've been to the house!"
The lovely clutter. "If anybody was a semblance of a
housekeeper, it had to be Mary Lena. Mary Lena did all the
cooking. The farmer and the artist, I always called them. Mary
Lena liked to dig up the backyard and plant flowers and
vegetables. And Betty was the abstract intellect. Never in my
wildest dreams could I ever believe that Mary Lena would have
wanted Betty to be left like this."
Here is a photo of Betty at maybe 44, but still the glamour
girl, blonde with the quintessential Pepsodent smile. ("I've had
some trouble with my teeth lately, and the dental bills--they
called me the other day and said, 'Ms. Jameson, if you could
just pay $5....'") In the photo she is leaning over the shoulder
of Mary Lena, who is sitting, legs crossed, maybe 38 at the time
but still youthful, wide-eyed. This was circa 1963, when they
decided to share a house and settled at first in Southern Pines,
N.C., where they opened a sportswear shop together and
immediately, merrily, failed at it.
When friends offered them a better location at Pinehurst,
Jameson recalls, "we said, 'No, thanks, we're going south to
Delray Beach.'" There on the sweet spot of the Gold Coast,
between Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale, they settled and went to
work as teaching pros. Jameson first worked at Delray Beach
Country Club--where Armour, her close friend and guru since
1938, held court and taught, gratis, in his later years--and
then at the very exclusive Gulf Stream Golf Club.
So, for a long time the household was two-income, but "I was
never as well-versed at making money as Mary Lena," says
Jameson. Faulk also had inherited money and left a stock
portfolio Jameson estimates at "maybe $200,000, maybe more. I
She dismisses the matter with a sort of grooved gesture of her
left hand, still the one-handed perpetual practice swing of the
pro, and still, in her case, the perfect swing. Here's a
picture--shot by a friend--of Betty on a practice tee in Texas
"four or five years ago." She was in her early 70's, and behind
her, by coincidence, Kathy Whitworth was hitting. They happened
to hit at the same moment, and both women's finishes were caught
in the photo. They are identical, one the mirror of the other.
Here's the little diary Mary Lena kept of her last trip abroad,
to Greece. In her meticulous hand, it opens on her day of
departure: "Bye, Poppy [her dog]. Bye, house. Bye, flowers. Bye,
"When she traveled, she would never stay with friends or
family--always in a hotel, where she could smoke," says Jameson.
After Faulk's illness was first diagnosed as lung cancer 10
years ago, the removal of part of one lung appeared to arrest
the disease. "She gallantly tried to kick the habit but
couldn't," says Jameson.
Here's one of Mary Lena tan-faced, healthy, impish, beaming from
beneath the floppy old straw hat she wore while gardening.
"She looked like Mahatma Gandhi at the end," says Jameson. So
weak and confused was Faulk that "when they [relatives] asked
her, 'Do you want to be buried or cremated?' MaryLEENah...."
Here Jameson, who is standing, bends double with resounding
grief, and gasps: "MaryLEENah said, 'I want to be buried, and I
want Will Watt [a nephew] to sprinkle my ashes behind the 6th
green at Glen Arven [Thomasville's turn-of-the-century course].
And two days later ... she ... died. In those last days she was
so weak she couldn't talk, only whisper: 'Is this ... the way
... it is?'"
And now in the predawn hours, when Betty Jameson indulges in her
one luxury of each day, a sausage-biscuit and coffee at
McDonald's, she is disturbed by what she sees: "Every morning
there is a woman sleeping on a bench outside. I see her, and I
wonder what she does, where she goes from there."
But she cannot imagine herself in that position, for surely this
is all a bad dream, Disturbing the dust on a bowl of