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THE TRAGIC FOURTH
Herbert Warren Wind
July 08, 1957
Jackie Pung's failure to report her score correctly was the technicality which lost her the Women's Open golf title
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July 08, 1957

The Tragic Fourth

Jackie Pung's failure to report her score correctly was the technicality which lost her the Women's Open golf title

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You will probably never see an unhappier group of people at a golf championship than was gathered at the Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y. last Saturday evening at the close of the National Women's Open. This gloom came hard on the heels of a very deeply felt elation. Mrs. Jackie Pung, the 235-pound Hawaiian lady, who is quite a golfer and quite a person, came ripping down the final 18 (after a par 75 in the morning) to catch the leader, Betsy Rawls, and edge her out by a stroke, 298 to 299. The gallery's great delight in Mrs. Pung's triumph was occasioned partially by the magnificent 72 she had shot when nothing short of the most brilliant golf could have won for her. And it was occasioned partially by the knowledge, common to just about everyone present, that the rotund Hawaiian, a self-taught golfer whose talent for the game is as instinctive as the young Sarazen's, really needed the money which victory would bring.

After Mrs. Pung, then a complete unknown, won the Women's Amateur in 1952, she turned professional as the logical means of getting the wherewithal to pay for the education of her two daughters. In 1953 she lost the playoff for the Women's Open to Betsy Rawls. Some two years ago, physically and emotionally far from well, she went back to Hawaii to try to reorganize her life. She returned to the States and to the pro circuit only two months ago. This is just brushing the surface of Jackie Pung's story. There have been many hard knocks in it, but she has managed to survive them all quite valiantly. In this day and age of public-relations personalities, her manner, always natural and altogether honest, is extremely refreshing.

About 40 minutes after Mrs. Pung had walked off the 18th green, the apparent winner, the United States Golf Association announced—with the most genuine unhappiness—that she had been disqualified for reporting an incorrect score on one hole (the fourth) on her final round. It is hard to describe the feeling this created at Winged Foot. First, it seemed incredible, like a bad dream. Second, it seemed grossly unjust, however defensible legally. Mrs. Pung had handed in the correct total for her final round—72. Her card showed a 5 and not the 6 she had taken on the fourth, but her addition took into account that it had been a 6—her total was correct. The shocking news of Mrs. Pung's disqualification filled everyone with a personal sense of impotent anger and with compassion for the victim of so important a ruling based on so insignificant a technicality. The members of Winged Foot spontaneously undertook a collection for Jackie, and within a very short time over $2,000 had been contributed. Some of the most generous contributions came from the USGA officials, who, in pursuit of their duty as they saw it, felt compelled to uphold the rules, whatever their personal feelings. It had all the elements of classical theatrical tragedy. Mrs. Pung spoke at the conclusion of the ceremonies at which the cup was presented to the official winner, Betsy Rawls. Earlier, on hearing the bad news, she had broken down and left the club with her 15-year-old daughter, then she had calmed herself down and returned, honestly stoical about the whole hard experience. "Winning the Open is the greatest thing in golf," she began her remarks at the presentation ceremonies. "I have come close before. This time I thought I'd won. But I didn't. Golf is played by rules, and I broke a rule. I've learned a lesson. And I have two broad shoulders...."

THE SCORING SYSTEM

Let us now get the facts relating to the infraction clear. On the final day of the Women's Open, the contenders go out in twosomes ( Jackie Pung was paired with Betty Jameson). Each player has a scorecard on which she keeps the other's score (Jackie kept Betty's; Betty kept Jackie's). Each twosome is accompanied by a woman scorer, but she has no official function. The scorecard she keeps is for the convenience of the press. At the conclusion of a round, each player is handed her scorecard by her playing partner. It is each player's job to check and see that her score for each hole has been correctly recorded before signing it. (A player is responsible for reporting her scores for each hole—not for the total.) According to USGA regulations, once a card is signed and handed in it is an official return. If it is later discovered that a person has reported a wrong score for a hole, the penalty is disqualification. As it happens, this matter was given especial attention only this past winter by the Executive Committee of the USGA. In the 1956 Men's Open Jack Burke and Gil Cavanaugh both handed in incorrect cards and were penalized two strokes by the USGA. Same thing with Betsy Rawls in last year's Women's Open. Many old golf hands felt this lenient penalty to be an evidence of laxness on the part of the USGA, certainly the most conscientious and standards-guarding of all governing bodies in sport. The majority of the members of the USGA Executive Committee also felt this way. The present disqualification rule was passed.

Returning to the fourth hole of the final round—the fourth is a par 5—both Pung and Jameson took 6s. Each, preoccupied under the pressure of the Open with her own game, mistakenly credited the other with a 5. Each knew that she herself had played a 6. Jackie knew she had a 6 and the gallery knew she had a 6 and the keeper of the blackboard scoreboard following the match knew it and changed Jackie's standing with par for the round from 2 under par (she had birdied the second and third) to 1 under par. During the next three hours, everyone on the course knew correctly how she stood in relation to Betsy Rawls, who had started the final round with a three-stroke lead and was playing some two holes ahead of Pung. Everyone knew correctly that ultimately, when Jackie came to the 18th, she needed the 4 she got to win by one stroke. (As she was playing the 18th, an executive of the USGA announced to the gallery packed around the green that she had to get a 4 to win.) The round over, Betty Jameson gave Jackie her card, and Jackie gave Betty hers. Though neither caught the mistake on the fourth, both totals were correct—both knowing well how they stood with par. Each signed her card.

In disqualifying Mrs. Pung (and Miss Jameson), the USGA was legally correct. Each player had broken a rule. It is very questionable, though, if in serving the letter of the law the USGA served justice. There were some exceptional circumstances which the USGA could well have taken into account. Mrs. Pung's failure to spot her incorrect score for one hole—which, it should be repeated, had no bearing at all on her correct total score—came not at the end of a routine early round of a tournament. The moment she holed the winning 4�-footer, happy pandemonium broke out, made all the more joyous by the sight of Jackie's young daughter running out to greet her. It was a very exciting moment, and no doubt the press and radio men were wrong in rushing Jackie away as soon as they could to the press tent for the usual interview with the champion. In such a hurly-burly of happiness, it is small wonder that Mrs. Pung, glancing through the figures on her card which Miss Jameson handed her, could only note that the totals were indeed correct, sign her name, and turn her thoughts to the full significance of her winning the Open.

Just about all of us at Winged Foot felt that the unusualness of the circumstances and the irrelevance of the technicality to Mrs. Pung's known performance were sufficient grounds for the USGA to break its own rules and to justify this on the grounds that the error in bookkeeping had truly affected the winning and losing of the tournament by not so much as a gnat's eyelash. Sufficient grounds, also, to be indeed thankful that there were these good reasons for disregarding the technicality and officially accepting as the winner the golfer who has completed the 72 holes in one shot less than her closest rival. Had the technicality of disqualification been waived, the rules of golf would not have been weakened, and, I really believe, the spirit of golf more honestly served.

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