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Every so often someone in the gallery would murmur, "I hope she cuts it too much," as Miss Catherine Lacoste of Saint Jean-de-Luz, France addressed a key iron shot. Once a lady even said, "Oh, I hope she cracks," after Miss Lacoste hit a rare imperfect drive. The fact that she was grinding up a very American-looking girl—Miss Shelley Hamlin of Fresno, Calif., who was game and pretty and said things like, "She's a super keen-o-type player"—had something to do with it. But it wasn't just chauvinism.
What it was, in the U.S. Women's Amateur championship last week at Las Colinas Country Club in Irving, Texas, was that Miss Lacoste seemed too strong and detached a player to need or to attract any sentimental favor. She looked more like a steely-eyed Walt Disney chipmunk or, as someone called her, "La Bulldog," She latched on to par and wouldn't let go, and thus did la gloire of the 1969 American amateur crown go to the girl who is also this year's champion of France, Great Britain and Spain.
Nobody ever won such a grand slam before, and Catherine is the first foreigner to win the U.S. title since 1936. Through 105� temperature and lightning and rain, she continued to hit long enough to cause a shaken young Dallas-area boy to say, "Mom, she used an iron where dad would have used a wood." She went on sending her approach shots high in the air and plunk on the pin. And she putted well enough to get the job done and push on to the next hole. In each of her five matches she won convincingly and aggressively, and twice she came from behind. She appeared in a cowboy hat when she accepted her trophy and said, "I'm a Texan now and I hope to come back very soon." She was, as everyone said during the ceremony, a real champion.
She was not seen chumming around, however, with any of the other candidates for champion. Privately, one of her opponents said of her, "She is a magnificent player, even though her swing is basically bad. [She rises, if not quite up off the ground, at least way up on her toes, during her swing.] But if she's such a great player, why does she have to act like she thinks she's such a great player?"
Furthermore, Catherine's tone was more washed-out than triumphant when she disclosed to the press, under questioning, that she would probably not defend her American title next year. "I'm going to quit international competition very soon," she said. She had won all the tournaments she wanted to win. Her father, the tennis champion; and her mother, the golf champion, retired at their peaks. "I think it's a great thing for any sportsman, or any sportsgirl, to quit at the maximum," she went on. But the way she talked, things didn't sound so maximum. "I've had enough of it," she said. "I've had enough attention." Would she ever play competitively in the United States again? "I doubt it."
If Catherine does indeed settle down in France, it will come as a great relief to the leading lady golfers of this country. She first raised their hackles when she not only beat them all—including the pros—in the 1967 U.S. Open, but went on to complain about their over-seriousness and their unfriendliness toward her (SI, July 10, 1967).
"Catherine just doesn't understand," says one of the leading U.S. amateurs. "I've known Mickey Wright since I was 14, but I wouldn't think of going up to her and asking her for a round of golf." The reference is to the time during the '67 Open when Miss Lacoste sauntered up to a breakfast table full of noted U.S. lady pros and asked if anyone wanted to play a practice round—causing the pros' mouths to fall open and Catherine to feel rejected.
This year her visit may have been chilled by a misapprehension. She avoided criticizing the set of opponents—the amateurs "were very kind to me," she said at the end. But the story got around that, after Mrs. JoAnne Gunderson carner was eliminated in the first round, Catherine told somebody, "Now there is no one left worth beating."
No one knew exactly to whom she was supposed to have told that, and when she was asked about the alleged slight she snapped, "That is a ridiculous story. I didn't win a match before the 16th hole. I think that's enough competition."
What she did do, she said, was tell Mrs. Carner that, "It was a lousy thing for her to do, to get beaten. She beat me last year in the semifinals, and I couldn't get back my own. Of course I I said it in a kidding manner. I wasn't really cross."