Jackie Pung, the 1952 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion who was involved in the most notable scoring mishap in U.S. Women’s Open history, died on March 15 at the age of 95 in her home state of Hawaii.
Known as the first lady of Hawaii golf, Pung was the first golfer from the state to win a national championship when she captured the Women’s Amateur. As a professional, she won five tournaments on the LPGA Tour, but it was one victory that got away that garnered the most attention.
The runner-up in the 1953 Women’s Open, Pung made a dash for the 1957 title, shooting a superb final round on Winged Foot Golf Club’s East Course to apparently edge 1953 champion Betsy Rawls.
With the competitors playing the final 36 holes on Saturday, Pung had fired an even-par the morning, then came ripping in with a 72, sinking a 40-foot putt on the final hole to defeat Rawls by a stroke. A huge celebration ensued. Pung’s 15-year-old daughter dashed onto the 72nd green to hug her mother, Pung hurriedly scribbled her signature on the scorecard, and she was rushed to the media room to face reporters.
But there was a problem. Pung had been paired with Betty Jameson, who kept her scorecard. On the fourth hole, Jameson had marked down a 5 for Pung when she actually scored a 6. While the total score was correct, only the scores for each hole were counted. Pung was disqualified for turning in a lower score on the fourth hole than she actually shot. Interestingly, Jameson was also disqualified, because Pung had made the same error – marking a 5 instead of the 6 that Jameson had scored on the same hole.
“The shocking news of Mrs. Pung’s disqualification filled everyone with a personal sense of impotent anger and with compassion for the victim of so important a ruling based on so insignificant a technicality,” wrote in Sports Illustrated.
The hat was passed and more than $3,000 was collected for Pung, some of the most generous contributions coming from USGA officials. Rawls, the winner, received $1,700 for first place. Pung, in tears, immediately left the course after the ruling, but calmed herself and returned for the presentation ceremony. She said, “Winning the Open is the greatest thing in golf. I have come close before. This time I thought I’d won. But I didn’t. Golf is played by rules, and I broke a rule. I’ve learned a lesson. And I have two broad shoulders.”
The incident, however, continued to draw sympathy and followed Pung for the rest of her life. She later said that the subject came up more than any other when she was asked about her career.
Pung began playing golf at the age of 6 and won the Hawaiian Women’s Amateur in 1938, when she was 16. She had a flowing, classical swing, great power and a happy temperament, but her road to the top was a tough one. In 1952, at the age of 31, she won her most important title when she captured the 1952 U.S. Women’s Amateur at Waverley Country Club, in Portland, Ore. She had advanced to the third round in 1948, and then quit playing in order to care for her two children and to work as a saleswoman in a department store. She began practicing just three months before the 1952 championship.
Pung beat Pat Lesser in the semifinals and faced Shirley McFedters, a virtual unknown from UCLA, in the final. While McFedters was long off the tee, Pung was longer and used her power. One up at the 35th hole, a 510-yard par 5, Pung was hole-high in two and made a birdie to win. During the ceremony in which she was given the Robert Cox Trophy, Pung presented leis of orchids to McFedters and officials.