IMPACT
Senior Women's Amateur Competitors Embrace Friendships, Opportunity September 7, 2017 | FAR HILLS, N.J. By David Chmiel, USGA

Martha Leach made big sister Hollis Stacy proud when she won the 2009 U.S. Women's Mid-Amateur. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

As the old saw goes, golf is the game of a lifetime. This weekend, 132 competitors from 38 states and five countries – ranging in age from 50 to 73 – will begin play in the 56th U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur Championship at Waverley Country Club in Portland, Ore.

Defending champion Ellen Port, one of the most decorated golfers in USGA championship history – of any age – will try to win her eighth USGA title.

The championship is open to any amateur qualifier with a Handicap Index® no higher than 18.4 and a birthday no later than Sept. 9. 1967. The field is full of players with great stories of lives dedicated to golf.  Here are a few: 

THE LITTLE SISTER

Ask Martha Leach why golf appealed to her and she has one simple answer: the quiet.

When you are one of 10 siblings, you find peace anywhere you can get it, even if that means you are playing the same game as your older sister, Hollis Stacy, the three-time U.S. Women’s Open champion and three-time U.S. Girls’ Junior champion.

Leach, who sells real estate in Hebron, Ky., introduced her sister at Hollis’ 2012 World Golf Hall of Fame induction. But the 2009 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champion and 2015 inductee of the Kentucky Golf Hall of Fame has plenty of game herself.

“I love the competition, the solitary challenge and the way you have to give 100 percent to golf. Still, for this championship, it is thrilling to be among women who have the same goals,” she said. “We appreciate the opportunity, try to accept the challenge, but respect each other.

“I absolutely love the USGA. I remember being about 8 years old, thinking that it stood for ‘US, Ga.’ because we were from Georgia. And to give us the opportunity to keep competing and making us feel like rock stars, is awesome. We play the best courses, with great facilities and supportive members. My mom was a volunteer Rules official for the Junior Championship Committee for two decades and I have so much respect for the volunteers. We get to take a vacation to play championships and they take vacation to work so hard.”

The 55-year-old doesn’t want to discuss it for fear of jinxing it, but Leach does admit that the prospect of playing well enough to qualify for the inaugural 2018 U.S. Senior Women’s Open is exciting.

“I am trying to trick my mind into thinking, I am not playing for that, but it would be a wonderful opportunity to play in that championship with Hollis. We have played more together in the last two years than we ever have before because our schedules allow and we have a wonderful time. We have never had a rivalry. We always pull for each other.”

Pamela Kuong didn't start playing golf until she was 35 years old, but she has more than made up for lost time. (USGA/Jonathan Ernst)

THE QUICK LEARNER

Pamela Kuong is a fast learner. At 35, the Wellesley Hills, Mass., resident finally accepted a colleague’s offer to teach her to play golf. “He said it would be good for business,” the 56-year-old Kuong said. “Nobody in my family ever played golf. I played soccer, softball and swam at Ohio Wesleyan University. I knew nothing, but I guess I did pretty well.”

A year later, the senior vice president of commercial lending at Bank of America jumped at an opportunity to play The Country Club in Brookline – but she had no idea what she was getting into.

“I was told I could play it and it would be cheap, so I signed up. Then I found out it was the 2007 Massachusetts Women’s Amateur,” she said with a laugh.

Kuong had never competed in a tournament. She finished second – and won the title a year later and started working hard on her game.

“I play to a 1.4 Handicap Index at Charles River Country Club in Newton,” she said. “I love it there because we have the most single-digit men and women in the state. It really helped advance my career.”

“Advance” is an understatement. Kuong also won the state title in 2008 and 2010, and she was the 2011 New England Women’s Amateur champion and 2012 Massachusetts player of the year. All of this was a prelude to her upsetting Port on the way to a runner-up finish in the 2015 U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur to Karen Garcia.

Kuong says her experiences in the game have inspired her to help young women get into the game sooner than she did. “I have volunteered with the Women’s Golf Association of Massachusetts for years and we have a program at the club where women serve as mentors to girls there. I am most thankful to the men and women at the USGA. They were fabulous advocates for me and I want to return the favor by volunteering at championships, too.” 

Courtney Myhrum is thrilled to be able to serve on the USGA Women's Committee and still play competitive amateur golf.  (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

THE VOLUNTEER

Courtney Myhrum, 55, of Pittsburgh, Pa., is a member of the USGA Women’s Committee who serves as chairman of the U.S. Girls’ Junior Committee. Like most who devote their time to work in golf, she doesn’t get to play as much as she’d like, but she’s ready for the challenge at Waverley.

Myhrum, who is playing in her sixth straight Senior Women’s Amateur, also has competed in one U.S. Women’s Amateur and five Women’s Mid-Amateurs.

“It’s certainly not as many as the majority of women in this field, but I am proud of the fact that I have played in USGA championships for four decades and I have a perfect streak since turning 50.”

Myhrum started playing as a girl. “I followed my mother out to her golf lesson when I was 8, and the rest is history. I played field hockey, tennis and lacrosse in high school and college, knowing I could play golf for a lifetime. Amateur golf is special. I have been able to play at the highest level, but still been able to raise a family and have a career and other interests. I never got excited about playing golf for money, never even wanted to have side bets. I just want the bragging rights!”

For Myhrum, getting into the field qualifies as bragging rights. “These women are my peers and my role models,” she said. “When I look around the room at the players’ dinners, I see women who have won multiple USGA championships, women who have raised families, women who have held major positions in companies, women who have served our country. We have taken many paths, but we all love this game and amateur competition at its finest.

“Golf has taken me to so many wonderful places in this world and I have met and made hundreds of friends through the sport,” she added. “It’s an honor and a privilege to serve on the Women’s Committee and the Girls’ Junior Committee before that. If I can give to the game half of what it has given me, I will be satisfied.”

Tara Fleming, center, was the playing captain on the victorious 2013 U.S. Women's State Team champions. (USGA/Chris Keane)

THE ROOKIE

Tara Fleming’s father, Steven, was an insurance salesman, “so of course he played a lot of golf, so we played as a family in Burlington, Ontario. Then he got transferred to Houston and we really started playing golf.”

In high school, Fleming also ran track and played volleyball and basketball. Her hoops coach said golf would have to go. “I loved team sports and loved golf. My mother said, ‘You can play basketball in college, for four years. Or you could play golf forever,’ so I walked on to the University of New Mexico golf team. After graduation, I was ready to pack my suits and get into business, but they told me to take a shot at golf. I played on the LPGA Tour, in four U.S. Women’s Opens and mini-tours in Florida. But by 1996, I knew it was time to start working for a living.”

Fleming gave up golf, until her bosses at AIG in New York City found out that she had played professionally. “They saw the value in having me play some client golf, so it was time to play. In 1999, I petitioned the USGA to be reinstated as an amateur. I closed my letter by writing, ‘If you don’t recognize my name, you should reinstate me.’ I thought that was funny and they must have agreed.”

“I am a real trunk-slammer,” said the Jersey City, N.J., resident, who recently turned 50 and is competing in her first U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur. “I don’t practice. I drive out to New Jersey National Golf Club, put on my shoes and just play, as often as I can.”

Fleming got back into competition in the 2005 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur in Texas. “I look at my tee time and see that I am paired with Ellen Port. Seriously?! One of the most renowned amateurs? She was great and has been a big help to me.”

As playing captain, Fleming teamed up with Alice Chen and Cindy Ha to help New Jersey capture the 2013 U.S. Women’s State Team Championship. “It was exciting to play with these talented young women. They look at me like I know something. Really, I think they wanted me on the team because I had a driver’s license! And now I get to go to Portland and be the baby in the bracket. That will be fun!”

Carolyn Creekmore got a new lease on her golf life after taking a year off to recover from a 2014 shoulder injury. (USGA/Fred Vuich)

THE COMEBACK KID

Carolyn Creekmore, from Dallas, Texas, is a member of the Arkansas and Texas golf halls of fame. She has been playing since she was a kid.

“My grandfather, dad and brother all played. They competed in, and won, so many tournaments that that’s where our vacations were,” she said. “We were always in great places, so, in reality, golf was always a big part of my life. I finally started playing for good when I moved to Corpus Christi in 1974.”

The woman known as “Creekie”, who served as the tournament director for the George W. Bush Presidential Center Warrior Open from 2011-13, has never been more thankful to play golf than right now. The 2004 U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur champion fell and tore her rotator cuff in 2014 and was forced to take a year away from the game to heal and work her way back. 

“I was not sure if I'd ever play again, much less compete on a national level…. Competing in USGA events is the ultimate goal for serious amateur golfers,” she said. “These championships are majors for us. The joy of getting to go to the tournament first of all, then seeing old friends and finally competing and seeing how your game measures up is beyond fun!”

“Creekie” says that, without golf, she would be up one without a paddle. “I helped start, run and play in The Women's Texas Cup, a Ryder Cup format that pits the best amateurs from South Texas and North Texas. This summer, after studying with Pam Murray, Chris Meadows, Sandy Delahite and Jacque Cooper, I served as a Rules official in a couple of local tournaments. Even with all of this, I will never be able to give back as much as I have received from this game!”

David Chmiel is manager of members content at the USGA. Email him at dchmiel@usga.org.