Every time I turn on the television to watch golf, I think of the career I never had. The green fairways and gleaming white sand remind me of the game to which I devoted heart and soul for 13 years—until June 1958, when I was 23. After I successfully defended the Metropolitan Open outside New York City for the second time, some said I was poised to become a star. Instead, I decided to walk away from tournament golf.
I like to think that I would have been one of the best of my time, up there with JoAnne Carner, Kathy Whitworth and Mickey Wright, and made lots of money. But did that tempt me? Not for a moment.
When I quit, I was confident enough to believe that I had the skill to win—that was enough for me. In addition to those three straight Met titles, I won the '58 New York State amateur and in the previous year placed 15th in the U.S. Open, at Winged Foot, even though I shot 81 in the third round. I played the final two rounds at that Open with Patty Berg, who finished second, and heard her say, "Judy Frank is the best golfer in the U.S. today." I felt there was nothing left to prove.
There were other reasons I stopped playing. I had to decide whether or not to turn pro. The LPGA had started in 1950 and the pro game was blossoming, but my roots were firmly planted in the amateur tradition. Heroes don't play for paychecks. It also bothered me to see "Women's" in front of the names of all the tournaments. The USGA didn't—and still doesn't—put "Men's" in front of the National Open. No matter how good I became, women's golf would always be an adjunct of men's golf.
Finally, I wanted to lead a normal life in a real world. Golf was only part of the real world, but playing the pro tour would have been my whole life. I wanted new challenges, new learning, another field to master outside golf. Being newly married, I also wanted to raise a family. At the end of my tournament days, I was struggling against a lethargy that would settle on me as soon as I arrived at the course. I had stopped loving golf. It was time to quit, and I didn't touch a club for eight years.
I'm playing again, but only about 10 rounds a year. Golf is fun as a respite from life, not as life itself. Free from having to play, I love the game again: The flags fluttering, the glittering morning dew or the lengthening afternoon shadows seem too lovely for words. But pro golf? Only on television.