SI Vault
Jack Olsen
December 18, 1967
From father Ren�, who could always beat Tilden, to daughter Catherine, who won the 1967 U.S. Women's Open in one of golf's most astonishing upsets, a remarkable family has brought championships home to France
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
December 18, 1967

The Dynasty Lacoste

From father Ren�, who could always beat Tilden, to daughter Catherine, who won the 1967 U.S. Women's Open in one of golf's most astonishing upsets, a remarkable family has brought championships home to France

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

The house in Saint-Jean-de-Luz abounds in stuffed crocodiles and laughter. The crocodiles are there because they have become the symbol of the family. Say "crocodile" in sporting circles in Paris and you are saying " Lacoste." And the same has become almost as true in Rome, Mexico City and New Delhi. As for the laughter, that is merely the residue of victory, as Branch Rickey might have said. The Lacostes can afford to relax and laugh. The Lacostes are winners.

Through a large window in the summer house in southwestern France, one can sec the rolling green hills of Golf de Chantaco, the golf club that has been in the family for decades, and, farther off, the browning edges of the Western Pyrenees of Spain, which have not yet been taken into the Lacoste family. It is raining. Curtains of blue-gray spray fizz against the house; the flowers in the slightly unkempt garden are drooping with wet, and the weeds in the slightly unkempt lawn are doubled over to the ground. No matter. This is the yard of a family that does not have to keep up a front. When you can walk down your block and come to a street sign bearing your father's name you need not worry about such status symbols as lawns and flowers.

At the moment, housebound by the rain, the Lacostes are looking at photographs. "Oh, Mummy, this one is wonderful!" says 22-year-old Catherine Marie Lacoste, amateur golfer, French champion and perpetrator of one of the grandest upsets in the sport when she won the U.S. Women's Open championship last July.

"I like this one of Murle Lindstrom," says the mother, Simone Thion de la Chaume Lacoste, a 15-time winner of French amateur golf championships. "She has such a lovely figure."

"A very attractive figure," echoes the father, Ren� Lacoste, former Wimbledon and Forest Hills tennis champion and magnate of French industry, from shirts to ships to satellites.

"Oh, shut up, both of you!" the daughter exclaims in feigned annoyance. "You're only trying to make me angry!" Catherine Lacoste is aware that her own figure is less than Grecian—or really more than Grecian—but she can stand it.

In a country preoccupied with prestige the Lacostes of France have become national monuments almost on a par with the Cit� de Carcassonne or the Mus�e du Louvre. In France the winner of a local boules tournament often finds himself treated like Marshal Foch. Imagine, then, the acclaim accorded the Lacostes. "They are the first sporting family of the world," says a Paris newspaper editor. "It is indisputable. You have only to regard the record."

Indeed, if one does regard the record, taking care to throw out such provincial activity as mah-jongg, caber-tossing and the Eton wall game, one cannot but agree that the Lacostes are unique. In two sports that are generally considered truly international—tennis and golf—the Lacostes have records that are remarkable not only for their high order but for their ubiquity. "They bash into competitions all around the world and have the nerve to win!" said an amazed British visitor to Golf de Chantaco. Simone Lacoste, back when she was Mile. Thion de la Chaume, was the first foreigner ever to win the British Women's Open, and before her retirement from serious competition she had won innumerable other championships as well. Ren� Lacoste failed to become the first Frenchman to win at Wimbledon only because his teammate, Jean Borotra ("the Bounding Basque"), beat him to the achievement by one year. In 1926 "The Crocodile," as he was already known, became the first Frenchman ever to win the U.S. Nationals, repeating his victory the following year and leading his team to the Davis Cup for an encore.

After Ren� retired from tennis, at 25, there followed a hiatus of several decades in the sports-headline life of the Lacostes, and then along came Catherine ("The Crocodile Kid") to win the U.S. Women's Open and send American professional golfers into snarling fits of frustrated anger. "It is satisfying," says Ren�, "but one must not overvalue our family's achievements. We cannot be called a sporting dynasty."

Perhaps not, but as the Lacostes sit for a family portrait—the way they have many times since Catherine brought the U.S. Open trophy back from the New World—there is a sense of dynasty. Mme. Lacoste is dressed with studied nonchalance in a skirt, blouse and cardigan, plus a green crocodile pin and a pair of flat-soled, spikeless golf shoes. Her gray-blonde hair is perfectly groomed, her posture is precise and so is her British-accented English. She has about her some of the coolness, some of the chilling perfection, that one might expect to find in Princess Grace in 10 or 15 more years, if the Princess doesn't run to fat. Simone Thion de la Chaume Lacoste, well along in her 50s, has not.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6 7