U.S. WOMEN'S AMATEUR
Three-time USGA Champ Ingram Feeling Nostalgic at Women’s Am August 9, 2018 | Kingston Springs, Tenn. By Bill Fields

It's been a nostalgic week at The Golf Club of Tennessee for 3-time U.S. Women's Mid-Amateur champion Sarah LeBrun Ingram. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

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To most players in the 118th U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship, Sarah LeBrun Ingram has been a name in the championship program and a welcoming face in the clubhouse. Given the youth of the field, many competitors weren’t alive when Ingram, a co-chair of the event at The Golf Club of Tennessee, was one of best amateurs in the world.

“It’s pretty amazing,” Ingram said. “In working on this the last three years, I know it’s the Women’s Amateur, but I keep calling them girls. Doing the locker room, we kind of geared it to girls, not women. It’s amazing to see the depth of the talent. Lots of them are starting earlier. It’s competitive out there. The mentality of all sports for young people seems to be that you specialize early.”

A Maryland native, Ingram, 52, has lived in the Nashville area since her 1989 marriage to David Ingram, a Tennessee businessman, philanthropist and current president of The Golf Club of Tennessee. She was a multi-sport athlete growing up – equestrian, lacrosse, swimming, field hockey, tennis, golf, basketball – before concentrating on golf in high school.

Ingram was an All-America player at Duke University, where she met David, a member of the Blue Devils’ men’s golf team. It was after graduating with a history degree in 1988 that Ingram’s game truly blossomed. Over the next decade, she became a star.

Winner of the 1990 Canadian Women’s Amateur by nine strokes, Ingram won the first of her three U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur titles in 1991. She won the championship again in 1993 and 1994, and is one of only five players to win the championship multiple times. Only Ellen Port, who made the match-play cut this week at 56 years of age, and Meghan Stasi, who failed to qualify for match play, have won more Women’s Mid-Amateurs (four apiece).

Her national titles helped made her a regular in international play, earning appearances on three USA Curtis Cup Teams (1992, 1994, 1996) as well as the USA Women’s World Amateur Teams in 1992 and 1994.

“My parents, especially my dad, Henry, really loved the amateur ideal,” Ingram said. “My mother, Gillian, was English. I really wanted to be in the Olympics in something. The Curtis Cup was the closest. It was important for me to play. My dad loved all of that.”

A quarter-century ago, Ingram made her strongest run in the 1993 U.S. Women’s Amateur, losing in the final at San Diego Country Club, 1 down, to Jill McGill.

“I think about that a lot, especially when I see the trophy, or the posters on the drive in to the club this week with the people holding that trophy. That could have been me,” Ingram said. “But I can’t complain at all. It was a great week – I will always say that was probably the best week of golf I ever played. I just had my worst round of the week the morning of the championship match. I was 4 down, but I came back and lipped out on the last to go to extra holes.”

Ingram competed on a national level for the last time in 1996. Early that year, she began to feel severe pain. Later, she wasn’t able to bend two fingers on each hand. “I couldn’t grip a club,” she said. “Just picking up the salt shaker hurt.”

Three-time U.S. Women's Mid-Amateur champion Sarah LeBrun Ingram was also an accomplished equestrian rider. (Sarah LeBrun Ingram)

She was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in October 1996. The autoimmune disorder, combined with a desire to concentrate on her family – the Ingrams have two sons: Henry 23, and Bronson, 21 – curtailed her playing career.

“Truthfully, I was kind of ready to step back,” she said. “I wanted to be able to give my children what my parents gave me, a full opportunity, to be there for them, whatever they needed.”

Ingram also immersed herself in charitable activities. For two decades, Ingram, who competes as a hunter/jumper, has been involved with Saddle Up!, an equine-based program in middle Tennessee for children with disabilities.

“It’s great to see what the horses can do for them,” Ingram said. “A lot of these children, it’s the only sport they do, and they have brothers and sisters who do lots of other sports. They’re always so proud to have their own sport. Some kids, they say their first words on a horse. We’ve seen kids who are in a wheelchair get stronger and then move to a walker and then to being able to walk on their on.”

Ingram has played very little golf in the last 15 years. Preparing for the Women’s Amateur, though, has piqued her interest again..

“Doing this obviously gets you thinking,” Ingram said. “My arthritis is a lot better with the new drugs that are out. I’ve had full mobility for a long time. One son is out of college and the other is a junior. David plays a lot of golf. If I want to see him, I better get back out there.”

She still had two persimmon-headed clubs in her bag when she stopped competing in the mid-1990s – two fairways woods – so getting a new set this year was a revelation.

“The new equipment is pretty amazing,” Ingram said. “My new driver, when I hit it well, I hit it as far now as I did when I was playing, and I haven’t played in however many years.”

A member of Tennessee Golf Hall of Fame, Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame and Duke Athletics Hall of Fame, Ingram has played a handful of times in 2018 and has an upcoming Montana vacation in which she plans to play five straight days with her husband. “I would like to get to at least to the point of playing a decent round whenever I feel like going out,” she said.

Ingram hosted Port, a seven-time USGA champion, at her home this week, and then watched her become the oldest player since Anne Sander in 1994 to earn a spot in the match-play draw.

“It’s inspiring, very inspiring,” Ingram said. “It’s fun for Ellen and [2009 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champion] Martha Leach to be here. But I don’t think I would want to play in the Women’s Amateur. That would be very nerve-wracking.”

Ingram isn’t sure if she wants to compete again, but if she does, there is the newly created U.S. Senior Women’s Open and U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur, as well as the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur.

“It just depends,” she said, “if I can juggle things and get myself out to practice. But it’s been great fun to back in the golf scene.”

Bill Fields is a Connecticut-based freelance writer who contributes frequently to USGA websites.