San Antonio, Texas – Marcy Austin has never been afraid of the spotlight.
Whether posing for a Japanese golf magazine cover, doing a radio interview with major-league slugger Mark McGwire, playing a variety of live theatrical roles at the Woodland Hills (Calif.) Theater or doing a television skit on the Tracy Ullman Show, Austin has shown an aptitude for performing on the big stage.
This week at Briggs Ranch Golf Club, the 48-year-old from Thousand Oaks, Calif., is getting another opportunity to shine in the limelight. Following three unsuccessful attempts, Austin, in early September, qualified for her first U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur at San Diego Country Club in Chula Vista, Calif.
“I basically said as we were driving [to the qualifier], I am making it this time,” said Austin, who opened stroke-play qualifying on Saturday with a 11-over 83. “I am going to San Antonio.”
Call it a successful audition.
Austin seemingly has an inherent ability to deliver under pressure.
While working for KVEG Radio in Las Vegas in 1988, one of her first assignments was to interview then-Oakland Athletics slugger Mark McGwire. Austin, who had been hired by Sun Belt Sports to do golf updates and “anything else” related to sports in Las Vegas, was told McGwire was doing an autograph signing at a local memorabilia store. Twenty-four hours before the interview, she had never heard of McGwire.
She jotted down some questions, maneuvered her way to the front of the line and not long afterward was interviewing one of baseball’s superstars. Her bosses also wanted Austin to arrange for McGwire to come to the station the following day for a live interview.
McGwire initially balked. Austin persisted. They had lunch and McGwire finally acquiesced, agreeing to do the interview with some provisions.
“I made him a promise that a bunch of people would not be hanging around [the studio],” said Austin.
When Austin later moved to Los Angeles with her husband Gene, a former bass player with Spiral Starecase, which had a hit song in 1969 entitled “More Today Than Yesterday,” she wanted to get into live theater. Having hired an agent but without any formal training, Austin landed auditions and roles at the Woodland Hills Theatre. In 2000, she received a regional award for her role in "Don’t Dress For Dinner." She also appeared in the female version of "The Odd Couple," "California Suite," "Rumors" and "I Take This Man," in which one local paper described her as a cross between Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett.
“I had good comedic timing,” said Austin of her acting. “I loved it. I didn’t take any lessons. I just did stuff. I would do auditions and get call-backs and get cast.”
During that five-year period, she also landed a role on the Tracy Ullman Show to perform in a golf skit with 1980 U.S. Women’s Open champion Amy Alcott, whom Austin had known from her junior golf days. Before filming, Austin approached Alcott, who also won the 1973 U.S. Girls’ Junior, to see if she remembered her.
“Are you that little girl who used the pink putter?” Alcott asked.
“That’s me,” said Austin, who later marveled, “She remembered me. I hadn’t seen her in like 20 years.”
As a young girl, Austin had dreams of playing with the likes of Alcott, Nancy Lopez and JoAnne Gunderson Carner on the LPGA Tour. She grew up just off the 13th fairway at Las Vegas Country Club, and when she was 6, her father, Murray Richman, bought Austin a starter set and cut the shafts down. Austin proved to have a natural swing, and to this day, has never had a formal lesson.
In 1970, she was the youngest competitor to make the cut in the 10-and-under division at the Junior World Championship. She would post three top-five finishes, including a playoff loss, over the next few years. In high school, Austin was the top female golfer in the state. She won both the Nevada State Junior (1978-82) and Clark County Junior (1975-79) five consecutive times.
But the University of Nevada at Las Vegas did not offer women’s golf when she graduated from high school in 1982. She enrolled for a year before leaving to pursue her professional golf aspirations. While playing one day at Las Vegas C.C., where she worked in the pro shop, she was approached by a Japanese businessman. He was impressed enough by Austin’s game to invite her to come to Japan in hopes of playing on the Japan LPGA Tour.
Austin moved to Tokyo in 1985 and played out of two clubs an hour outside of the city: Kiakawa C.C. and Hatano C.C. She also was the subject of a Japanese golf magazine article about an American trying to play her way onto the Japan LPGA Tour. She once played with Yasuhiro Nakasone, then Japan’s prime minister.
“It was an exciting time for me,” said Austin.
But it wasn’t paradise. Austin ran into issues with her sponsors and returned home to Las Vegas.
A year later she went to California to compete on a mini-tour sponsored by Group Fore. Just before departing, Austin was in a restaurant with friends. Sitting at another table was Gene Austin, who inquired about her, but Austin didn’t notice him.
Austin’s stay in California lasted a year before she decided to retire her golf clubs and go in another career direction. She tried the radio gig, but less than a year later, the station had disassociated itself from Sun Belt Sports.
She then took a job at a local restaurant, where her first customer happened to be that former Spiral Starecase bass player who had noticed Austin two years earlier.
“He looked at me and said, “You’re the golfer.”
They eventually dated and married.
“It was destiny, I guess,” said Marcy Austin.
They relocated to Thousand Oaks in 1997 so Gene could be involved in a family business. Marcy eventually gave up acting in 2001 to focus on her full-time job with Western General Insurance.
When Gene decided to join Las Posas Country Club in 2006, he urged Marcy to play the game again. She was a little reluctant at first, but slowly regained her thirst for competitive golf. She applied and got her amateur status back, going on to win the club championship. Last year, she won the Thousand Oaks City Championship and Ventura County Women’s Championship.
In June, Marcy was in San Antonio for business and arranged to play Briggs Ranch Golf Club with some customers. Even in 110-degree heat, she fell in love with the course. It turned out to be an early practice round for the Women’s Mid-Amateur.
This week the entire family is in San Antonio, with Gene serving as her caddie, and the couple’s 8-year-old son, Zane, who has appeared in two television ads for Zaxby’s Restaurant (with actress Jill Hennessey) and Round Table Pizza, enjoying the kid’s camp at the hotel.
“He thinks chasing a golf ball around a golf course is silly,” said Marcy.
Marcy has rediscovered her love for competition and the big stage.
Acting and competitive golf do have similarities. Both require plenty of preparation and good timing – acting in the delivery of lines and golf with the swing.
And Austin feels ready for her first national golf cameo.
“I’m just so thrilled to be here,” she said. “I am not going to say I don’t get nervous. It’s just like that anticipation as you are getting ready to step on stage. Take that deep breath. Here we go.”
David Shefter is a USGA senior staff writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.