Virginia Beach, Va. – Martha Lang was 16 years old when she played in her first United States Golf Association championship, the 1969 U.S. Women’s Open at Scenic Hills Country Club in Pensacola, Fla.
“When you’re that age, you don’t know what you’re doing,” said Lang. “I can remember that it was the first time that when you got on the tee, things didn’t quite go like you thought they would.
“All of a sudden, you were doing things that you didn’t even do on the practice tee – hitting shots straight left. You realized how different things were when someone gives you a scorecard with your name on it.”
In the 42 years since, there have been hundreds of scorecards with Lang’s name – along with one trophy, for winning the 1988 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship. She still continues to play in championships, even as she completes a busy summer as chairman of the USGA Women’s Committee.
In this volunteer role as the chief administrator of women’s golf and its championships, the 58-year-old Lang has attended every women’s and girls’ championship this year – Women's Amateur Public Links, Women's Open, Girls' Junior, Women's Amateur, Senior Women's Amateur, Women's Mid-Amateur – as well as the U.S. Open and Amateur on the men's side.
That schedule didn’t leave much time for playing and practicing, but Lang also played in two championships, the Senior Women's Amateur and Women's Mid-Amateur. Curiously, it was more difficult to get into the field for these championships than it was to play in the 1969 Women's Open.
“There was no qualifying back then,” recalled Lang. “All you did was send in your entry. That shows how much women’s golf has grown over the years.”
There were only 99 entries for the 1969 Women's Open, whereas 390 players applied for this year’s Women's Mid-Amateur, with 132 making it to Bayville Golf Club after enduring gauntlets at 25 qualifying sites around the country.
Lang, who is a member at Alabama’s Shoal Creek, was an alternate from the qualifying site at Old Waverly Golf Club in West Point, Miss., but made the field when Susan West withdrew. During the first stroke-play round at Bayville, Lang’s aplomb in the heavy rain and gusty wind evinced her maturity as a competitor and impressed fellow players.
“She’s a tiger out there,” said Janet Yoder, who played with Lang. “I was amazed by her focus. I let the conditions get to me, but Martha never did. She remained in control.”
Although Lang came to Bayville primarily to be a player, she also had her mind on the administrative side of the championship while she was on the course.
“While I was dealing with the frustrations of being out on the course, in the rain, battling the elements,” said Lang, “I also knew that [the USGA staff and volunteers were] working their hardest behind the scenes to move things along. It’s a challenge for everybody.”
Lang was immersed in the non-playing, non-public side of championship golf in a major way earlier this summer at the U.S. Women’s Open at The Broadmoor in Colorado. The numerous weather delays that resulted in a Monday finish taught her plenty about the challenges of conducting a championship.
“I can’t say enough about how well the USGA does things,” said Lang. “The more you work with the staff, the more you realize how good they are. It makes it easy for the volunteers. I’ve really enjoyed my role more than I thought I would.”
Lang’s husband, Ken, was surprised by how much she relished her new position as head of the Women’s Committee. “I’d never seen her so energized as she was at the Women’s Open,” he said.
Lang’s administrative experience has added to a base of golf knowledge that already had been considerable.
“There’s nobody that understands the game better than Martha,” said Laura Saf, the chairman of the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Committee. “She is what golf is about: honesty, integrity. She’s a class act, and a great ambassador of the game.”
While Lang cites her Women's Mid-Amateur win and 1992 Curtis Cup Match appearance as her two finest accomplishments in golf, she also cherishes the lifelong friendships she has made over more than four decades, during which she has played in eight different USGA championships. For example, she played college golf against 2012 Curtis Cup Team Captain Pat Cornett, who is also playing at Bayville.
Although she plays less competitive golf, Lang’s involvement with the USGA has allowed her to keep up relationships. “That’s one nice thing about being on the [administrative] side,” she noted. “You get to still see the players and stay involved.”
Lang is involved with the game on many fronts, and all have been very rewarding. But at heart, she is simply a player.
“I still play when I am at home,” she said. “My husband and I play together. I still love to play golf. I’ve always stuck with it.”
Hunki Yun is a senior writer for the USGA. Email questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.