WAPL Champion Memories: Kelly Fuiks Leadbetter (1977, 1978)

Before she met her husband, noted golf instructor David Leadbetter, Kelly Fuiks Leadbetter claimed the first two U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links titles in 1977 and 1978. (USGA Museum)
By David Shefter, USGA
July 2, 2014

At one point during her childhood, Kelly Fuiks (now Leadbetter) thought she might win a gold medal throwing a stick instead of using one. Fuiks appeared in Sports Illustrated’s Faces in the Crowd on March 20, 1972, for setting a national 12-13 age-group record in the javelin at 127 feet, 3 inches. But Fuiks, who grew up in Phoenix, discovered golf at 14 and became a high school champion, earning a scholarship to Arizona State University. In 1977, she claimed the inaugural U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship at Yahara Hills Golf Course in Madison, Wis., defeating Kathy Williams, 1 up, in the championship match. She successfully defended her title in 1978 at Myrtlewood Golf Club (Palmetto Course) in Myrtle Beach, S.C., with a 5-and-4 win over Diana Schwab. Fuiks turned pro in 1981, where she met her husband, renowned golf instructor David Leadbetter. The two were married in 1983 and have three children: Andy, Hally and James. Fuiks played on the LPGA Tour from 1981-83 and again in 1987 before becoming a stay-at-home mom. She is now a golf instructor, focusing on the short game.

What’s it like to be the first champion of a USGA event?

I remember my boyfriend saying to me, “You’re going to be the first one on that trophy.” One funny story is that my daughter, Hally, started out as a Razorback at the University of Arkansas. And Emily Tubert won the Public Links a couple of years ago (2010) and one of the members [of the school’s golf club] bought a replica of the trophy with the names [of the champions] on it. So, the first thing I see when I go into the Arkansas clubhouse is this trophy with my name on it.

What do you remember most about the titles?

I was really excited. My mom and dad were from Wisconsin originally, so it was really neat that a lot of my family could be out watching when they had the first event at Yahara Hills. At that time, I don’t think I was the best player in the field, but I was very competitive and I was able to win my matches. The second one, I was a little better player. I had this caddie who was really awesome. He was from the area. He was over 60 years old, so he used a pull cart. I was the only player in the field with their caddie pulling clubs on a cart.

Was there a particular match that stood out?

In the first [WAPL], I won on the last hole. She [Williams] made a bogey and I made a par. In the second one, I had a semifinal match that went [to the 18th hole] and I was playing against a really good player, Sarah LeVeque. In the final match, I played Diana Schwab. Years later, she got paired with my daughter in the [2012] SALLY (South Atlantic Ladies Amateur). I went to watch my daughter play with the same gal I had beaten 30-plus years ago. That was fun to see what she was doing. I remember [in that final match] hitting my ball from a water hazard over the green and down in this hollow, but I was really great at getting the ball up and down. I hit it to within a foot and she gave it to me and I won, 5 and 4.

How did you transition from the javelin to golf?

I had read the book, This Life I’ve Led, by Babe Didrikson Zaharias. She was my idol and I saw how she went from being in the Olympics [in track & field] to playing golf. It’s funny because none of my family played golf. I was 14 or 15 when I first started. I hated golf at first, because you would shoot 100 and the repetitiveness of it all as far as blisters [on your hand]. But then I got the bug after three months. I got better. As a freshman at Arizona State, I won a couple of tournaments.

What made you such a good player?

I was competitive. And I was a good putter. My boyfriend [at the time] was a good putter, too. We would just putt for hours. I never really played junior tournaments. I wasn’t groomed. I had so much to learn. I just set my mind one match at a time and came through it all.

As a WAPL champion, you received an exemption into that year’s U.S. Women’s Open at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Edina, Minn. What was that experience like?

I played a practice round with Nancy Lopez the year she finished second [to Hollis Stacy]. And she was telling me, “Kelly, I don’t think you want to take the ball out of the hole with your putter.” This is how raw I was with the game. I grew up on Papago Golf Course [in Phoenix]. I was definitely a public-course player.

What kind of confidence did you glean from the WAPL victories?

It kept me in the game. I finished school, turned pro, got my [LPGA] Tour card and met my husband.

David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org.

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