125 Years of Golf in America: Georgia April 10, 2019

The USGA was founded on Dec. 22, 1894. With the 125th anniversary coming at the end of 2019, every week throughout the year we're highlighting how all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, make the game we all love a great one in the United States. 

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Watch: 2014 USA Curtis Cup competitor, current LPGA Tour player Mariah Stackhouse on the role growing up in Georgia has had on her golf career

After Hall-of-Fame Career, Stacy Still Treasures Amateur Golf

By Scott Lipsky, USGA

 

Hollis Stacy (right) has enjoyed a friendly rivalry with her sister, Martha, since taking up the game in their native Georgia. (USGA/Chris Keane)

It would be easy to forgive Hollis Stacy if she thought little about the virtues of amateur golf. With victories in four major championships, three of those U.S. Women’s Opens, and induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2012, the Savannah, Ga., native carved out a memorable professional career. But Stacy understands that her journey in the game is not one that is easy to duplicate.

The only player in history to win three consecutive U.S. Girls’ Junior titles, Stacy, 65, has always stayed close to her roots in the game, and continues to take an interest in the development of junior golfers. From 2001-18, she followed in the footsteps of her mother by serving on the USGA’s Girls’ Junior Championship Committee, and she credits friendly matches with local youths in Bradenton, Fla., with getting her ready for her rare turns in competition.

Last week, she played in the ANA Junior Inspiration, a 54-hole event that leads into the season’s first women’s professional major. Her partner in the competition, Kaleiya Romero, is headed to Pepperdine University to continue her golf career in the fall of 2020. When the San Jose, Calif., resident told Stacy about her post-college plans, it was music to her ears.

“I encouraged her to go four years, and then she said she wanted to go into law and I said, ‘Fabulous.’ Pro golf is tough, it’s really tough, and you can be a professional in law and use your golf,” said Stacy. “Not everybody is going to be grinding it out and winning Opens and holding up the trophies, so I always encourage, if you’re getting a scholarship, go the four years. I went (to Rollins College) for two years; I wish I’d gone four.”

Indeed, Stacy doesn’t have to go far to see how rewarding being a lifelong amateur golfer can be. Her younger sister, Martha Leach, decided against the professional ranks after a successful career at the University of Georgia. She instead opted for a career in real estate, and her list of amateur golf successes includes the 2009 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur. As the low amateur in the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open last July at Chicago Golf Club, Leach was tied with her sister through 36 holes before finishing tied for 10th, while Hollis finished in a tie for 28th.

While their golf lives would take very divergent paths, their respective ascents began in similar fashion in their home state. Nearly a decade before Martha, the eighth of 10 children, won the 1978 Georgia Girls’ Championship, Hollis, the fourth, won the state women’s amateur at 15, the same year she became the youngest U.S. Girls’ Junior champion to that point. Annual trips to Augusta National for the Masters Tournament gave Stacy the chance to see the world’s best players up close, and six-hour drives to Atlanta Country Club for lessons with Davis Love Jr. proved invaluable.

Hollis Stacy claimed the last of her three consecutive U.S. Girls' Junior titles in 1971 at Augusta (Ga.) Country Club. (USGA Archives)

Being used to the Georgia heat also no doubt contributed to one of the biggest accomplishments of her career. Her third Girls’ Junior title was achieved in 1971 in her home state at Augusta Country Club. Stacy squared off in the 18-hole final against Amy Alcott, whom Stacy had beaten in the first round in 1969 (“I figured she’d be out for blood, and she was,” Stacy recalled fondly). The duo combined for nine birdies on that hot summer day and played bogey-free for 15 consecutive holes until Stacy tripped up on No. 18, sending the match to extra holes. A 15-foot birdie putt on the 19th hole sealed the title yet again for Stacy. Alcott would go on to win the 1973 Girls’ Junior, the 1980 U.S. Women’s Open, and eventually a spot in the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Stacy, who now resides in Florida but occasionally returns home to Georgia, is certain her wizardry around the greens is due not only to the experiences she had growing up, but another element she often dealt with in the Peach State.

“I think it’s because of the bermudagrass; I had to develop a style which was setting the club and hitting down on it, and letting the bounce do the work,” said Stacy, who also noted that the small greens she grew up playing forced her to rely on her short game. “The great golfers in the Southeast, I think they’ve developed a short game that is more conducive to take all over the world. I think it’s the bermuda rough, getting a technique to get it out.”

Even though she doesn’t compete often these days, Stacy is doing what she can to make sure the head-to-head sister battle turns out differently in next month’s U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club. Despite 18 LPGA Tour wins over an illustrious career, she hasn’t lost sight of the fact that those who don’t play for pay can provide stiff competition.

“Up to the Open, I will be playing 4 to 5 times a week, because I’m going to be in better shape than last year,” said Stacy. “I told my sister [in 2018] that I was gunning for her. I told her going into the third round, we had to shoot even par. She did, she listened to me, I didn’t listen to myself. We had a lot of fun.”

Scott Lipsky is the senior manager of content for the USGA. Email him at slipsky@usga.org.