Village of Pinehurst, N.C. – One of the more impressive streaks in U.S. Girls’ Junior history is about to come to end this year at The Country Club of North Carolina. But this remarkable record has nothing to do with strokes or victories.
For 31 consecutive years, ‘Nez Muhleman has come to this annual USGA championship for girls under the age of 18 to serve as a Girls’ Junior Championship Committee member. Not even lung cancer or heart bypass surgery could keep this iron woman away. You could say she has been the committee’s version of Cal Ripken.
“Isn’t that incredible?” said the Houston, Texas, resident Tuesday morning as she was working as the first-tee starter. “It’s the one thing that has been the carrot in front of the rabbit. I look forward to [the Girls’ Junior] every year.”
Muhleman’s first U.S. Girls’ was in 1980 at Crestview Country Club in Wichita, Kan., and this championship at CCNC in the North Carolina Sandhills will be her last. During that span, she has witnessed many great moments, including 1994 when Texan Kelli Kuehne claimed the title.
Other Texans such as Brittany Lang, Angela Stanford and Wendy Ward have gone on to represent the USA on Curtis Cup Teams, and in the case of Ward and Kuehne, claim U.S. Women’s Amateur titles. Lang was the runner-up at the 2005 U.S. Women’s Open and tied for fifth earlier this month at the Women’s Open at Oakmont Country Club.
Yet it’s the lifelong friendships that will always leave a soft spot in Muhleman’s heart, whether it’s been players, committee people or USGA staff. David B. Fay, the USGA’s executive director, flew back to the U.S. a day early from the British Open at St. Andrews just to be present at Monday night’s committee dinner.
Committee member Scott Hipp produced a special slide show dedicated to Muhleman, and designed a ball marker with Muhleman’s caricature. Another committee member, Barbara Barrow, did a parody of Muhleman replete with a platinum blonde wig that drew laughs from everyone.
“The committee, in a way, is her family,” said USGA Women’s Committee member and Girls’ Junior Committee chairman Cece Durbin of Winnetka, Ill. “It’s inspiring to have a committee member who is willing to donate that much time and energy to the Girls’ Junior. That’s one of the joys of being on a committee … is everyone enjoying your passion for golf.”
That love and enthusiasm goes back many years for Muhleman, who is retiring from the committee because it’s becoming harder to travel. She was involved with junior golf in Athens, Ga., and at Atlanta Country Club, where Davis Love Jr. served as the head professional. When her husband was transferred to Houston, Muhleman became involved with the Texas State Women’s Golf Association. Her chance to join the Girls’ Junior Committee came when a fellow board member had to resign due to her husband’s illness.
“I moved into her shoes and I’ve just about worn out the bottom of them since then,” said Muhleman with a laugh.
Quick with wit and a memory that is still very sharp, Muhleman has found pure joy in watching young ladies grow into their talents. Many have gone on to play in college and a few have become successful LPGA Tour players.
But her greatest legacy may be her financial benevolence.
When the Girls’ Junior visited The Orchards in South Hadley, Mass., in 1987, an alternate spot became available at the last minute. Muhleman contacted a girl in Texas, but the player’s family declined the invitation due to the extreme cost of airfare. That’s when Muhleman decided to start a travel fund. It began with a modest $250 of her own money and has since grown to the point where the fund will provide reimbursement to all 11 Texans in the 2010 field for their airfare and caddie fees.
Muhleman wouldn’t disclose the amount of money in the fund, but she said that donations have come from several Texas golf associations, members at her home club (Riverbend C.C. in Houston) and other private parties.
Since the fund’s inception, Muhleman has assisted more than 340 girls with travel expenses, which is allowed under the Rules of Amateur Status.
“Her generosity and commitment to helping young girls has left a lasting impression for all who know ‘Nez,” said Allison Jarrett, the USGA’s director of regional affairs, South Region, and a past staff director of the U.S. Girls’ Junior. “I first met ‘Nez in 1993 at the U.S. Girls’ Junior at Mesa Verde Country Club in California. ‘Nez’s passion for junior golf inspired me then and still does today.”
Even personal milestones have been celebrated at USGA championships. When Muhleman worked as a Rules official at the 1996 U.S. Women’s Open at Pine Needles, she happened to be celebrating her 50th wedding anniversary. Her son, Rick, had hoped to host a party back in Houston, but instead, a few committee members surprised Muhleman one night at dinner across the street at the Mid-Pines Resort.
“They all sang Happy Anniversary,” she said with a smile.
Monday night’s committee dinner was another special occasion for Muhleman. She was thrilled that Fay could attend since the two have been friends for 28 years.
And she had a good chuckle when Barrow, a past Curtis Cup player, impersonated Muhleman’s fictional cousin, Texarkana Bell.
“She’s so clever,” said Muhleman. “But I told her she needed to get a perm.”
Of course, Muhleman never joined the committee for the accolades. For her, it was all about helping the girls.
She recounted a story about Ward’s first Girls’ Junior in 1989 at Pine Needles. Her mother, Wanda, was reluctant to send her halfway across the country at such a young age. Muhleman stepped in and said she would meet Wendy at the airport and make sure she got to the championship site safely. Ward missed the cut that week, but to this day keeps in touch with the local family who served as her host.
Another fond memory came when Kuehne was playing in a Texas junior tournament and she came running from a water hazard saying she had scored a 10 on the hole because she grounded her club multiple times in the hazard. Someone had told her it was a two-stroke penalty for each touch.
Muhleman explained to the then-10-year-old that she could only be penalized once for grounding the club in the hazard.
Many years later, Kuehne was competing in a U.S. Women’s Amateur and when she saw Muhleman, she yelled to several people, “That’s the lady who taught me the Water Hazard Rule.”
For Muhleman, that’s all the satisfaction she needs.
David Shefter is a USGA communications staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at email@example.com.