As if it were not enough to have France's Le Grand Charlie forever spitting in our eye, now comes La Grande Catherine to do the same thing. Without an iota of reverence for the traditions she was breaking or the talent she was humiliating last week at Hot Springs, Va., 22-year-old Catherine Lacoste, of such well-known golfing centers as Paris and Biarritz, became the first amateur ever to win the U.S. Women's Open, the first foreigner to win it and the youngest player to win it.
While all the big names of the women's professional game stood around with sand in their shoes and egg on their sunglasses, Miss Lacoste made beating them look ludicrously simple. For three days she played the short but exacting upper course of the Cascades Golf Club with such consistency that on the last day she could even allow herself the luxury of a blowup and still win with a 71-70-74-79—294 that was good enough to beat runners-up Beth Stone and Susie Maxwell by two strokes.
While Miss Lacoste was performing in such a professional manner, the real professionals, including the leading money-winners of the Ladies' PGA, were playing not as if mere cash was at stake, but their very last dollar. Kathy Whit-worth started off on Thursday with an 81, as did Jo Ann Prentice. Sandra Haynie had an opening-day 70 that preserved the pros' honor and immediately followed it with a 79 on Friday. Who couldn't break 80 that day? Mickey Wright, Judy Torluemke, Marlene Bauer Hagge and Betsy Rawls, to drop a few familiar names. As she came into the final holes Friday, Miss Lacoste found herself with an eight-stroke lead on the entire field. By Saturday Carol Mann was about the top U.S. pro still in the running, so Carol shot an 82. "It detracts from us as champions to have an amateur beat us," Miss Mann said that night. "But what can we do?"
In the face of the way Miss Lacoste was playing, they couldn't do much except realize that they had been hit with one of the biggest golf upsets since Ouimet unglued Vardon and Ray half a century ago at Brookline.
The young lady responsible for last week's marvelous misdeed is constructed along the lines of Jack Nicklaus, with nerves to match. Though golf is so popular in her home country that crowds numbering in the 10s sometimes watch top events like the French Open, Miss Lacoste does have a strong golf background. Her father, Rene Lacoste, twice a Wimbledon and U.S. tennis champion, is the founder of the company that keeps the world's golfers in alligator shirts—Chemise Lacoste. Her mother, the former Simone Thion de la Chaume, won the British Women's Open about the time her father was victorious at Wimbledon in 1927. Today the family owns Golf de Chantaco, near Biarritz, where Catherine learned the game, and a home near Paris on the Saint-Nom-La-Breteche course that was the site of the 1963 Canada Cup. "I was brought up in golf," she says.
Unlike the pros, who were playing in Cincinnati the week before, Miss Lacoste had a chance to acclimate herself to conditions at Cascades, and she took advantage of it. Fresh from a successful spring, in which she had won two French championships, including the Women's Amateur, she arrived at Cascades eight days before the tournament was to begin. In her second practice round she shot a 69 and beat the club pro.
As is done with the Men's Open, the USGA tailors a course to its own tough standards for the Women's Open. Consequently, the lady pros, who have become accustomed on the LPGA tour to courses that are long but have easy pin positions, faced a situation they were not familiar with at Cascades, where USGA Executive Director Joe Dey shortened the total yardage to 6,191, but placed the pins in extremely demanding spots. This may have been one reason why the pros were put on the defensive by the fine Cascades course. They kept hitting their usual low iron shots and watching them scoot past the pins and over the greens, from where they were having trouble saving pars. Lacoste, meanwhile, was taking advantage of her very powerful upright swing to hit high approach shots that held the slick greens.
The events of the first day gave little hint of what was to come. Mickey Wright—always the favorite at a women's tournament—had arrived and announced that she was giving up smoking, just like Arnold Palmer. The STP girls were ready for action, these being the nine younger players who have been outfitted in red jackets given to them by a motor-oil company. There was the usual borrowing of hair shampoo and the unusual excitement of a pending wedding, that of Judy Torluemke who announced she was quitting the tour a day before Miss Lacoste gave most of the other women pros the same idea.
On Thursday, Sandra Haynie, who plays out of Colonial in Fort Worth but says she has never seen Ben Hogan, much less talked to him, began the 1967 Women's Open by treating Cascades with professional coolness. Two under par for a time, she finished with a handy one-under-par 70 to be the leader. At 71, and causing no concern, was Lacoste.
But Friday, while the pros were struggling around the Virginia mountainside, France's latest insult to America was playing her same smooth game again, and putting superbly to finish with a 70 that was suddenly good for a five-stroke lead. "Her putting amazes me," said Susie Maxwell, "especially from four or five feet. She never misses."