SI Vault
Edward B. Lockett
November 08, 1954
Despite a crippling back injury, Mrs. Betty Palmer Meckley has been playing championship golf for 20 years
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November 08, 1954

Indestructible Lady

Despite a crippling back injury, Mrs. Betty Palmer Meckley has been playing championship golf for 20 years

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The remarkable thing about the golf game played by Mrs. Betty Palmer Meckley of Washington, D.C. is not just that it has been of championship calibre for nearly 20 years but that it exists at all. By any reasonable medical or human standard, Mrs. Meckley should have been finished as a golfer when, one day in 1934, she keeled over on the course during the semifinal of a tournament in Bennington, Vt. Rushed to a hospital, she learned that a cartilage disc separating the vertebrae in her back had jumped completely out of place, and that immediate surgery was recommended. But Mrs. Meckley refused the operation, and came out of the hospital three painful weeks later with a two-way webbed brace on her back which, even without the doctor's strict orders, seemed to rule golf out of her life forever.

Mrs. Meckley stayed away from golf for a year and a half, but that was all the inactivity this tall, slim, brown-eyed golfing fan could take. She came back to the tees and greens, slowly and tentatively at first, putting and chipping rigidly as she felt her way back into the game. Her braced, unbendable spine forced her to develop a completely different stance and swing, and the going was hard. J. Monro Hunter, a Washington professional and former holder of the Western Canada amateur title for eight straight years, coached her through her comeback.

"We had to develop an unorthodox swing, and change Betty's footwork to accommodate that brace and stiff back," he explains. "A good golfer's back swing is a perfect arc. Betty had to take the club around at a relatively low level, and bring it up over her shoulder after she got it past her right hip. On her stroke, she had to learn to swing past her left side, and not against it."


"She had to learn new footwork, to move that left side out of the way. To accomplish all this, the back swing had to be shortened, and Betty had to use her hands and wrists very fast as the club approached the ball. She learned quickly, and became a more accurate golfer than she had been before her injury." Before very long, Mrs. Meckley was shooting in the 70's again.

After 32 continuous years of golf, minus time out for her back injury, Mrs. Meckley now plays to a two-year-old five handicap—her highest. For over 20 years her handicap was three or less. For a number of years she played to scratch. The Meckley collection of golf trophies, crowded into four open cupboards and every cranny of a small Washington apartment, would match the stock of most metropolitan silverware stores.

Mrs. Meckley has won, and held simultaneously, the Middle Atlantic, Maryland State and District of Columbia championships. Nobody else has ever done this. Defending this formidable trio of titles a second year, she held on to both the Middle Atlantic and Maryland championships, narrowly losing out in the District, where the field includes 14 country clubs. She has since won the Middle Atlantic women's amateur title four times, and has twice been runner-up—another unique accomplishment among amateur women golfers.

As if this weren't enough, Mrs. Meckley, braced back and all, has won the District championship three times in all and has three times been runner-up. She has won 13 club championships—five titles each at Kenwood, her own club, and at Indian Springs Club in Washington, and three at the famous Mohawk Club in Schenectady, where she learned to play golf under the instruction of its veteran pro, James K. Thompson.

At one time or another, Mrs. Meckley has held the course record for nearly every course within the environs of Washington. Some of her low scores carded years ago have never been bettered. Her best was a 73 on the tough Indian Springs Course. She has brought in 75's at Congressional and Colombia, 74 on the long 18 (6,216 yards) Kenwood fairways.


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