By last January, after another four months teaching at a high school just outside Lake Charles, La., she had saved more than $2,000. She quit her job and joined the Florida winter circuit to get her game in shape for a spring and summer bid to make the Curtis Cup team. She won the very first tournament she played in, the South Atlantic Amateur, and has been winning ever since.
The fact that Clifford Ann is a gifted, ambidextrous athlete is certainly a factor behind her winning record, but her mental attitude toward tournament golf is very likely a more important factor still. She has an approach that is not going to let the high drama of what she is doing interfere with the mechanics. It comes as a surprise to hear such a grim outlook explained by such a superficially buoyant young lady.
"I get a certain amount of pleasure from winning, of course, but essentially winning means nothing to me," she says. "What does mean something is losing. I hate to lose a match. Winning doesn't make me happy. I just get mad at myself when I lose."
It is difficult to determine whether the stern thought is father to the victorious deed, or vice versa, but such an attitude is not unknown among habitual winners. Jack Nicklaus admits to having felt the same way when he was the unbeatable man of amateur golf. Talking about it brings an embarrassed smile to Clifford Ann's face.
"Maybe you're thinking that if winning is no fun and losing makes me miserable I should quit golf," she says. "Well, maybe you're right but I guess I don't quit because I just have to prove myself this way."
It is certainly a fact that defeat makes her as prickly as a cornered porcupine. She lies awake at night for hours after a losing match, playing over every shot again and again. She denies the story, however, that after losing to Marge Burns in the quarter-finals of last February's Palm Beach amateur she marched furiously into a hotel bar and downed eight consecutive Martinis.
Clifford Ann, the somber tigress on the golf course, can nonetheless be Clifford Ann, the bon vivant, off it. Her face relaxes and her green eyes become gay and flirtatious. She is a member of the Church of Christ, which looks askance at such debilitating pastimes as smoking, drinking and dancing. But Clifford Ann will have an occasional drink, smokes a package of cigarettes a day and is reputed to be the best jitterbug south of Natchitoches. Once, during the International Four-ball in Hollywood, Fla., she hopped up on a table in the golf club's crowded grill room and did the twist, just because one of her table companions bet her a dollar she would not do it.
While there does not seem to be much doubt that this energetic young girl will be winning many more golf tournaments, there is some doubt about what she will be winning them for—pride and a trophy, or a check and her daily bread. Clifford Ann's savings will be just about exhausted by the time this week's Amateur is over. The women's professional tour is offering increasing rewards to young, talented golfers who crave tournament golf but cannot afford to enjoy it as amateurs, Clifford Ann is undecided.
"I think I could stand up to it," she says. "I think I could finish in the top 10 in every tournament. But I also think the tour is harder mentally than physically. I just don't know if I could take that kind of life."
No matter what way she decides to pursue her career, don't bet her a dollar that she won't succeed. She never loses that kind of bet.