The generation gap now spans as many as six decades, but that hasn't stopped Barbara Romack, the 1954 U.S. Women's Amateur champion and former LPGA president, from giving tips to young golfers. By her estimate Romack, 72, has instructed hundreds of juniors, but she especially remembers seeing one who needed no advice: Michelle Wie. The two met in 2000 when Wie, then 10 years old, was hitting balls at a driving range in Aberdeen, N.C., site of that year's Women's Amateur Public Links. "The rhythm of her golf swing was just absolutely beautiful for a little girl her age," says Romack, a volunteer at the tournament. "In a sense, it was like watching a ballet dancer."
Romack was known as Little Tiger because of her diminutive stature (5'4", 115 pounds) and a fierce competitiveness that made her tough to beat in match play. She won her first significant tournament, the Sacramento junior boys' city championship, at 16. The defining moment of Romack's career came at the '54 Amateur, when she beat Mickey Wright (who later would star on the pro tour) in the final, 4 and 2.
A blonde-haired, blue-eyed Californian with all-American charm, Romack became a regular among golfing celebrities. She was friends with President Dwight D. Eisenhower and hit the course with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. (She fondly recalls Crosby's taking her to dinner on several occasions.) In 1956, as she prepared for the second of her three appearances for the U.S. Curtis Cup team, SI made her the first female golfer to grace its cover.
After a runner-up finish at the 1958 Women's Amateur, Romack turned pro and spent 19 years on the LPGA tour, winning twice, at the '60 Leesburg Pro-Am and the '63 Rock City Open. She also served as LPGA president in '58 and had to inform Althea Gibson, who broke the tour's color barrier that season, that sponsors of two tournaments in the South didn't want her to play at their events out of fear that her presence would spark a racial incident. Throughout Romack's pro career and up until 1990, she was a spokesperson for MacGregor Golf. She remains involved with the game, teaching clinics, volunteering at four USGA events each year and giving free lessons to juniors.
Eleven months ago, after a 11/2-year break from golf following neck surgery, Romack played four holes at a course near her home in Atlantis, Fla. Could the old champ challenge Wie in match play? "She'd be toast," Romack says, laughing. "You know, old age and treachery will always overcome youth and skill."
The onetime Little Tiger of women's match play still gives tips to juniors but has only admiration for Michelle Wie.