The biggest, toughest, sharpest thing in women's amateur golf this year is the little, placid, downy southern peach at left. Her name is Clifford Ann Creed. She comes from the Spanish-moss-and-gum-tree country of rural Louisiana, the kind of place where water moccasins abound but championship lady golfers do not. She weighs about as much as a two-iron, eats once a week or so and has been known to dance a dandy twist when her golf is going well. But she would also be likely to twist a dandy's neck when it is going badly, a fierceness of attitude that her opponents are fast learning about, to their very considerable dismay.
"Clifford Ann," says Anne Quast Decker, the two-time winner of the Women's Amateur championship and a competitor who has scorched a few opponents herself with her golfing aggressiveness, "is a female Ben Hogan. She is so determined that she puts you on edge. She is one of the two women that I least like to play against. [The other: long-hitting JoAnne Gunderson.]"
Whatever happens during this week's Women's Amateur golf championship in Rochester, N.Y.—and match-play golf is as unpredictable and treacherous a way of settling an issue as a pistol duel—this has been the year of Clifford Ann. A tournament winner at 12 who seemingly gave up the game at 18, she has returned at 23 to put on an astonishing display of successful golf. Since last January she has won four important amateur events, including the North and South and the Southern Amateur. She has been the low amateur in three open tournaments, including the Titleholders and Women's Western Open, and two weeks ago she helped the U.S. to its overwhelming victory against Great Britain in the Curtis Cup. During this eight-month period she has won 29 of her singles matches, while losing only four.
Not that Clifford Ann, her off-course charm and her you-all drawl were completely unknown prior to this summer. In 1957, while an undergraduate at Lamar Tech in Beaumont, Texas, she won the Southern Amateur and the women's amateur divisions of those two madcap championships that were put on by the late George S. May at Tam O'Shanter in Chicago—the World and the All-American. She has also long had an impressively compact, efficient and masculine golf swing that produces surprising distance for somebody who stands 5 foot 3 and weighs 110 pounds with a driver in her hand.
She learned the swing from her father, Clifford Creed, a lean, small-town golf professional who gave his daughter part of his name and taught her his game. She still lives with her family in a bungalow adjoining the Rapides Golf and Country Club, just north of the farming and lumber community of Alexandria, La., where her father is the pro. The club itself is modest, pleasant and southern middle-class—as are the Creeds. A visitor there feels he has arrived at a golfing outpost, a small oasis of the sport so unreservedly backcountry that it could never be touched by, or contribute to, the national golfing scene. He can sit in the clubhouse, be offered a can of Jax beer and meet Carl Rylee, the circulation manager of the
Alexandria Daily Town Talk (circulation 24,966). Rylee is also president of the Southern Outboard Racing Association, which holds its annual championship on nearby Lake Fort Buhlow. He is an outboard man. "But the Southern Outboard championship is only the second biggest thing that has happened around here," he quite openly confesses. "The biggest is Clifford Ann Creed."
Little Clifford Ann has been big around Alexandria since she won the city women's golf championship at the age of 12, only one year after Cliff Creed began teaching her.
"I never had to work much on her swing," he says. "She just took to it naturally, like she did to every kind of game. When she first started out, her swing was too long and I had to compact it, but that was all. I'd stand behind her when she practiced, holding out a club. If she swung back too far she'd hit the club and I would make her start all over again."
Clifford Ann had to develop an unusually sound swing to make up for her size. The same year she won the city title she went to Shreveport to play in her first state championship. She weighed only 75 pounds, but she was as eager as a puppy when she bounced onto the first tee with her ball and her driver. She was in for a shock.
"Little girl, little girl, you better get away from here," scolded the official starter, apparently expecting a player in a championship event to be a slightly more substantial specimen. " Clifford Ann Creed is supposed to tee off now."
"But I am Clifford Ann Creed," she remembers protesting, on the verge of tears.