SI Vault
Barbara Heilman
June 19, 1961
For 10 months of the year, professional women golf players tour the U.S. They travel self-contained as turtles in their shells, but occasionally there are times when the only compensations for a life spent on tour are pure victory or unwavering camaraderie. Here is the journal of an outsider who, for a few weeks, shared the professionals' life
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June 19, 1961

On The Road With The Girls

For 10 months of the year, professional women golf players tour the U.S. They travel self-contained as turtles in their shells, but occasionally there are times when the only compensations for a life spent on tour are pure victory or unwavering camaraderie. Here is the journal of an outsider who, for a few weeks, shared the professionals' life

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I arrived in Dallas, and the next day an interview with Golfer Gloria Armstrong was published in The Dallas Times Herald. Gloria said the girls played poker and gambled with club members, and she described a birthday party in which she, her friends and her grandmother were all down on their knees shooting craps. Some of the girls on the tour, who are earnestly concerned that the world realize women professionals are really delicate blossoms, are in shock. Gloria's close friends are shaking their heads. Gloria just keeps saying helplessly, "The things that are there I said, but I didn't say them that way." The upshot being that now the girls are writer-shy. When they see me they stop talking about whatever they have been talking about, and tell me some more about what a grand group of girls it is and how they love each other like sisters.

As a matter of fact, they do get along together very well, as much as anything else because of the way they keep apart. The existing cliques don't accept anyone easily. It is not like an office, where it is no worse than tiresome to have someone intrude at lunch. On tour an intruder would be with you all the time—breakfast, lunch, dinner, golf course and motel room. If the lines weren't clearly drawn as to how much who can bear to see of whom, the girls would go mad. It all illuminates a remark of Betsy Rawls, "We get along real well. Some of the girls I won't have dinner with for a whole year," which at the time sounded like a non sequitur. The units into which the group breaks down seem to be the bridge players, the poker players, the new girls, the loners and Patty Berg.

The few further generalizations that seem to be defensible are: 1) Most of the girls were good athletes as children (it's degrading, I think, to call them "tomboys"—they were valid athletes, as much as Joe DiMaggio and Kyle Rote were) who took up golf when their parents wrested away their footballs and baseball bats as unbecoming to young ladies. 2) Whether they care for touring or not, they now get restless after several weeks in one place. 3) Allowing for no exceptions, they love the game of golf profoundly, more than anything else. And 4) their enthusiasm for a life on tour varies according to their ages. Seventeen-year-old Sandra Haynie, 20-year-old Carol Mann love it. "You get to see so many places! And to meet so many people!" But 28-year-old Jo Ann Prentice says, "When I started out it was fun. Now it's work." And 41-year-old Betty Jameson, "If I had it to do over again, I think I would marry and have a family."

Perhaps it doesn't mean much. Ask 17-year-olds and 40-year-olds how they like life in the ribbon factory and I suppose you'll get the same kind of answers.

April 16 The Dallas Civitan is over. Suggs won it (for the third consecutive year), and Sandra Haynie came in third. Sandra is so small (105 pounds) it seems unlikely that she could have the strength to be properly in competition with the Rawlses and the Wrights, but she is strong and, in time, may be one of the really good golfers.

The weather was windy and cold, and the Glen Lakes course apparently lies on real hardpan; hitting down into it brought out a grand crop of old injuries. Sore hands, wrenched backs, bad knees all reappeared as if by magic. Tremendous gallery, though, so the girls were pleased. I followed Betsy Rawls, Betty Jameson and Barbara Romack on the final round. Romack was finishing out the tournament despite the news that her father had died on the previous day. Pity she was paired with Betty Jameson, who is a perfectionist—high-strung and apt to be nervy and imperious on the course. Betsy was beginning to sharpen up after an indifferent start when, on the 10th hole, a fine drive bounced off someone inexplicably running across the fairway. The resulting lie was not desperate, but it would have been excellent, and the heart visibly went out of Betsy. Little Judy Kimball appeared from nowhere to say fiercely, "That just cost her the tournament," and disappeared again. Very hard on 22-year-old Judy, who worships Betsy and suffers and dies over every stroke of her game. They even look alike, as if Judy were so susceptible of impression as to have been stamped physically—straight blonde hair that turns up slightly, builds which are stocky but slender (or slender but stocky).

Betsy's 32, a Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Texas (major, physics), and she and Mickey Wright head up the bridge players. At the moment Betsy is president of the Ladies Professional Golf Association, an honor which is acknowledged to cost the holder money. The time it takes, the responsibilities on the golfer's mind seem to add an almost calculable number of strokes to the president's game. Betsy's is erratic in the first place—she will be on, and then way off. It seems likely to me that the presidency may be responsible for some of her disappointing tournaments this year.

April 17 Drove halfway to Beaumont with Shirley Englehorn, counting tractors. Her father is a John Deere distributor in Caldwell, Idaho, so the fact that we saw more Ford tractors than John Deere tractors was a matter of concern. They're tearing up the highway out of Dallas, and we had to pick our way through some messy construction. There are bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush all along the road, though, and the country turns green and wooded toward Beaumont. Pretty.

Shirley's 21, has played golf since she was 6 and has always known she wanted to be a pro. She's sponsored by the Athletic Roundtable of Spokane, and she was signed by Golfcraft, Inc. in 1959. That, of course, is the sort of arrangement which is the financial backbone of the pro system—the salary from the sponsor and the deal with a company, which varies according to the company and the stature of the pro. (Berg and Suggs have salaries, expense accounts, income from autographed clubs, clothing bearing their names, etc.) The pro gives clinics in her company's name, attends luncheons and generally is supposed to play brilliant golf to the greater glory of the Spalding Dot, or whatever.

Those girls who don't show promise enough to arouse the interest of a company probably are going to finish consistently out of the money. Betsy says of them that she doesn't see what they think is going to happen, or why they stay on. I don't see how. Living on tour isn't cheap. Marilynn Smith, a former LPGA president, estimates that a girl shouldn't take to the road for a season without $5,000 and preferably her own car. If she finishes regularly in the money she can manage comfortably. Last year first-place Louise Suggs made $16,892; Marlene Hagge, 10th place, $7,212; and Kathy Whitworth, down in 17th place, $4,901. Few of the girls travel together any more. They used to, but though they may share motel rooms to cut down expenses, most find it easier on the nerves to come and go as they like. Too, four seasons' worth of clothes and all your golf equipment take up a good deal of room.

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