If players could qualify for USGA championships based on their number of appearances, Brenda Pictor might lead the list at this year’s U.S. Women’s Amateur.
At 17 USGA championships, Pictor’s résumé includes seven U.S. Women’s Amateurs, one U.S. Women’s Open, four U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateurs, four USGA Senior Women’s Amateurs, and one USGA Women’s State Team, all in a stretch dating to 1980.
Pictor’s greatest achievement in that 32-year span of USGA championships is advancing to the semifinals of the 2009 Senior Women’s Amateur and earning stroke-play medalist honors at last year’s U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur, where she fell in the quarterfinals to eventual champion Ellen Port.
The Marietta, Ga., resident has also enjoyed quite a bit of success within her own state tournaments as well. In 2010 and 2011, Pictor was awarded the Georgia State Golf Association Tommy Barnes Award, which is Georgia’s equivalent to a Player of the Year Award for men, women and juniors.
But that’s not what truly sets her apart from her competitors at this year’s Women’s Amateur, where she’ll be playing alongside some of the world’s best players, including members of the 2012 USA and Great Britain and Ireland Curtis Cup Teams, an NCAA Division I champion, a Women’s Amateur Public Links runner-up as well as 15 players ranked (as of July 31) in the top 25 of the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking, including World No. 1 Lydia Ko, the low amateur at the 2012 U.S. Women’s Open.
With virtually the entire field being less than half her age, the 56-year-old Pictor is the oldest golfer to have qualified for the 2012 U.S. Women’s Amateur to be conducted at The Country Club in Cleveland, Ohio, Aug. 6-12.
Pictor is a self-proclaimed family woman at heart; so much so, that she traveled to Illinois, the home of her mother-in-law, to qualify for the Women’s Amateur. With an increasingly busy competition schedule this season, Pictor knew she had limited time to plan a trip, so instead of qualifying in her own backyard, she doubled a family vacation with golf.
“I kind of qualified on a whim. I was playing well, and I wanted to see my husband’s mom who lives in the Chicago area. She’s 94 years old, so I took the opportunity to travel up there and qualify before my schedule got really busy,” said Pictor who carded a 71 at Blackberry Oaks Golf Course in Bristol, Ill., to earn medalist honors out of a field of 51 players.
Pictor credits all her recent success to her life caddie and husband of 35 years, Brad Pictor.“He’s really the key to my golf success, if he wasn’t as supportive as he is, I can’t imagine I would have been able to play this long and enjoy it this much,” said Pictor. “We really enjoy it together.”
It was actually Brad who led Brenda to try her hand at the game of golf. As Brenda recalls, “I didn’t learn golf until I met Brad. He played a lot of golf so I knew if we were going to be together, I was going to have to learn how to play.”
A natural-born athlete who competed in volleyball and basketball at the Mississippi University for Women, Brenda began to realize her true potential in golf quickly. Only two years after picking up the game, she won the Mississippi State Amateur, and her golf career took off from there. “I’ve been blessed with the God-given talent to play well, I believe,” said Pictor.
After an 11-year hiatus from the game while raising sons Eric and Zac (now 22 and 24, respectively), Pictor started playing golf competitively again at the age of 51. She has since seen tremendous success, especially in Georgia State Golf Association events.
Then, a few years after renewing her love of golf, the economic collapse of 2008 slowed things down at her job, allowing Pictor an influx of time to focus on her game. As a commercial realtor for JEBCO Ventures, Inc., she has cut back on work over the last couple of years, swapping time at the office for tee times. “Now I’m playing more often, three or four times a week at a minimum, sometimes even five,” she said.
When she arrives at The Country Club, Pictor will be making her eighth U.S. Women’s Amateur appearance, but first since 1994. In her past seven attempts at the title, Pictor has qualified for match play in all but one, but hasn’t advanced past the round of 32 (1984). This time she hopes to hit a hot streak, even though the odds are heavily stacked against her.
These days, it’s rare that any mid-amateur (age 25 and older) qualifies for match play, and it’s been 34 years since anyone younger than 24 has won the title (Cathy Sherk was 28 in 1978). In the past 58 years, nobody under the age of 29 has claimed the title. JoAnne Gunderson Carner and Barbara McIntire were both 29 in 1968 and 1964, respectively.
Pictor is one of four golfers 50 and older in the field and only 51-year-old Andrea Kraus qualified. Port (50) and Mina Hardin (51) were exempt by winning the 2011 Women’s Mid-Amateur and 2010 Senior Women’s Amateur, respectively.
“I don’t know about everyone, but for me golf can be streaky,” said Pictor. “You can have good weeks and not so good weeks and that’s kind of the way golf is. It’s hard to back up good rounds for the whole week but I’m looking forward to giving that a try.”
Keeping her game consistent is what Pictor needs this week. This is her first trip to The Country Club, but she thinks her ability to keep the ball in the fairway off the tee will help her succeed.
“II haven’t seen it yet, but I think my ability to drive the ball is going to be the key and of course navigating the putting greens,” said Pictor. “My course management is going to be huge this week and just to be able to hit my spot [will be the key].”
Pictor’s goals for the week are simple: play well enough to get exempt into the USGA Senior Women’s Amateur, set for Sept. 8-13 at Hershey (Pa.) Country Club’s West Course. Quarterfinalists from the Women's Amateur earn exemptions into the Senior Women's Amateur. Coming off a fourth-place showing at the Georgia Women's Amateur, Pictor hopes her good form will carry her through against this extremely formidable field.
If anything, Pictor can draw on her previous USGA experiences. Pictor is more than comfortable with the format of 36 holes of stroke-play qualifying followed by match play, where the low 64 scorers advance into the draw.
“Shooting a low enough number to qualify to get in to match play is the key for me in this amateur. Especially since the competition is at such a strong level, with some world-class women and even 10-year -olds (Latanna Stone) for goodness sakes, I will definitely have to have a good week to qualify,” said Pictor.
As Pictor pointed out, the field of golfers is continuously growing younger, as she will face girls younger than her own sons this week. Ko, the top-ranked female amateur, is a 15-year-old from New Zealand. World No. 2 is Ariya Jutanugarn, a 16-year-old past U.S. Girls’ Junior champion who is coming off a victory at the Canadian Women’s Amateur. Minjee Lee, 16, of Australia, currently ranked third, won this year’s U.S. Girls’ Junior, beating Jutanugarn in the semifinals. Hyo-Joo Kim, 17, of Korea, currently ranked fifth, just tied for fourth at the LPGA Tour’s Evian Masters in France.
Even in this year’s U.S. Open, the world watched as 17-year-old Beau Hossler flirted with the lead at The Olympic Club before fading in the final round, and 14-year-old Andy Zhang, of China, became the youngest U.S. Open qualifier.
So at 56, how does one find the desire to keep competing at an increasingly youthful game?
“It’s just a matter of how I’m playing,” said Pictor. “I’ve played more and more in the last couple of years so I’ve become more competitive and my game has improved, having more success in my competitions, so at the end of the day, I just feel compelled to carry on.
“If you can go out there and have a chance to do well and win, well that’s the exciting part of golf and the nature of the sport. It’s a lot of fun to be able to compete. I don’t look at my age as a setback, as long as I’m healthy and my muscles hold up, that’s all that matters.”
Some say the third time is a charm. But for Brenda Pictor and her ever improving golf game, eight could prove to be great..
Kelly O’Shea is a communications intern for the USGA. Email her at email@example.com.