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Les girls: life under pressure
Herbert Warren Wind
September 08, 1958
A look-back at the Curtis Cup and the Women's Amateur and their heroines, Mrs. Smith and Miss Quast
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September 08, 1958

Les Girls: Life Under Pressure

A look-back at the Curtis Cup and the Women's Amateur and their heroines, Mrs. Smith and Miss Quast

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1958. Brae Burn. A victory in the foursome with Janette Robertson and, as we have described, once again all the way to the 36th in the cup-deciding singles.

How does Frances Smith do it? What does she have that enables her to work such wonders? Her friends explain it something like this. She holds onto her timing in the most nerve-wracking situations because she has superb concentration. She holds onto her concentration because she has a purposefulness that never wavers and a wondrous heart. I suppose that this is all there is to it except a fine talent for golf.

Frances Smith had to fly back to England the day after the Curtis Cup matches were over and, so, could not play in the Women's Amateur Championship, which started about a week later at the Wee Burn Country Club in Darien, Conn., in the heartland of what sociologists, I believe, call the Gracious Living Belt, where a Martini is usually referred to, in an intimate tone, as a Martin or even a Mart and where a few old timers are still persevering with automobiles operated by an automatic gear shift. Had Mrs. Smith been able to appear at the championship, I am sure she would have been struck by the size of the field (a record 189 entrants owning handicaps of 6 or less) and by the thought-provoking youthfulness of the large majority of the entrants. The end of summer seems to be the time of year when one realizes with some acuteness that another year has flown by and that this no doubt is the reason why the old calf muscles bunch into a hard knot after he has ascended a little pimple of a hill. For myself the ever-swifter flight of the years used to be symbolized by the sudden realization in late August that we were already voting for a new Miss Rheingold when it could not possibly have been three months before, five at the most, that we were registering in the primaries for the last election. The Women's Amateur has now become for many of us an even sharper annual dagger because, as one gets older, the field keeps getting younger. Two of the best golfers at Wee Burn were Judy Eller, the 17-year-old National Junior champion, and Sherry Wheeler, the 17-year-old runner-up in that event. They are not just good "girl golfers"—they are good golfers. Well, as Old Tom Morris said to Andra Kirkaldy in his famous burr as they walked off the 18th green at St. Andrews, "Nel blu, dipinto di blu."

Anne Quast, the 21-year-old charmer from the state of Washington who gained the championship at Darien, is a perfect illustration of what this tournament has been coming to. She was all of 14 when she made her first appearance in it at Portland in 1952 (and incidentally won her first-round match). Between then and her notable victory at Wee Burn, she has twice been a quarter-finalist and once a semifinalist. En route to becoming a champion she has had to work hard, not so much on her game as on her competitive temperament. High-keyed by nature—she is an unusually aware and responsive girl—she has had to learn how to muffle her intensity and allow enough breathing space to enable her obvious aptitude for playing golf shots to come through. Over the years Anne's swing has remained fairly much the same. It is a good and sound swing, necessarily, but by the best standards not a really pretty one, there being a sense of lift in the way she takes the club back and a fairly pronounced dip in the downswing as the shoulders turn the arms into the ball. I mention these aspects of Anne's swing because they are usually part and parcel of the technique of a scatter-hitter, and she is exactly the reverse—as straight as a string. On her afternoon round in the final against Barbara Romack, the 1954 champion, Anne hit every fairway when she was playing a wood off the tee. All in all, she was off the fairway only three times on those 16 holes: on the short 7th or 25th where she pulled her iron into a trap; on the 26th where she made a similar error on her approach; and on the 30th, a par 5, where her second, a long fairway wood, rolled over the left side of the green into the fringe of tall grass which Joe Dey of the USGA, "The Father of the American Rough," had ordained as a collar.

Anne is nearly always this straight, and my guess, for what it is worth, is that this enviable down-the-middle-ness comes from the superb "square" position on the club her left hand commands from the beginning of the address and from her cultivated instinct for driving her hands and the clubhead square through the ball no matter how hard she may be toiling on a shot. She also has the valuable gift, which is not common among women players, of judging distance very well on her iron shots, and this as much as any one factor set up her 1-up victory over JoAnne Gunderson, the defending champion, in their semifinal match, in which Anne was outdriven by 25 yards on the average and on one hole, where she did not miss her tee shot, by 65 yards. JoAnne does that to everyone. Her wonderful hip drive puts her hands in the strongest position possible, as it does for the best male players, and she can powder that ball 265 yards on occasion, swinging within herself. She probably averages about 240 yards off the tee.

JoAnne—to digress for a moment—is the most colorful personality women's golf has produced in quite some time. On the course, in addition to playing such full-blooded shots, she goes at the game as if it were a game, approaching the whole complicated business with a genuine friendliness of spirit that makes the speeches on sportsmanship by self-appointed character-builders seem like the palest gauze indeed. On the 14th hole of her semifinal with Anne Quast (with whom she roomed during the week), Anne outdrove her for just about the only time during the match. JoAnne had just lost three holes in a row, and you could certainly have excused her if she had been all grimness at the moment but, as she walked past Anne on her way to the ball, she looked over, as casual as ever, and said with a private wink, "Hello, slugger." She has apparently limitless energy. In the Curtis Cup, she was carried to the 36th green by Jessie Valentine in an exhausting match. The next minute she was running full tilt out onto the course and up the steep wall of the hill on the 17th to root home some of her teammates who were still deeply embroiled in their matches. At Wee Burn in her semifinal, when her drive on the crucial 16th ended in an unplayable lie in the rough, she loped all the way back to the tee, laced out a magnificent drive and came loping all the way down the fairway again, easily. She is something, this girl!

To defeat JoAnne (who had gone to the turn in 35, two under), Anne, as we have mentioned indirectly, had to make up a three-hole deficit on the last nine. Earlier in the week, in the fourth round, Pat O'Sullivan, returning to amateur competition in this tournament, had also thrown an outward 35 at Anne and had also stood 3 up at the turn. To play yourself back into a match when your opponent is hitting everything right and holes are running out fast takes an absolutely indelible determination and, since the ball must be hit in the last analysis, great golf. In the 36-hole final against Barbara Romack, Anne fell behind early in the morning round and at the halfway point was again in her familiar position, 3 down. She was lucky to be that close, for her swing was noticeably flatter than usual and her action tight, and Barbara, in peak form, was playing easily and well and looking as if she would go on doing so all day. Early in the afternoon round, swinging better and looking a bit more relaxed in general, Anne picked up two holes when Barbara missed shortish putts, but when she went over par on the 25th and 26th—and was lucky to lose only one of them—she was 2 down once more and in trouble. And then, once again, when most golfers would have subconsciously started rehearsing a graceful runner-up's speech and trying to remember the greenkeeper's name, she mounted a rally which changed the complete complexion of the match. She took the hard 27th with a par when Barbara needed three putts from the edge of the long green. Only 1 down after this, she then went bursting off on a streak of such brilliant golf on the next seven holes that she won four of them, and the match, despite the fact that Barbara played par golf over that stretch. Here is how the new champion did it, shot by shot.

She squared the match on the 28th, a par 5, 477 yards long, with a birdie: a drive down the right side of the downhill fairway; a big three-wood on which she gambled on carrying the key fairway trap and did so by about four yards; a fine pitch with her nine-iron about eight feet from the cup; and the putt, her first of any length in the afternoon.

On the 29th, a 355-yard par 4 where the green is tucked just beyond a menacing burn, she pumped a three-iron just over the hazard to within 10 feet of the stick. She missed the putt and halved the hole with Barbara, who had played it equally well.

The 30th is a sharp dogleg to the right, 330 yards long. Barbara was in trouble off the tee. Anne was down the middle with her drive and on with her six-iron approach, about 25 feet below the pin. She holed for her birdie 3 and went out in front, 1 up.

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