Two-Time U.S. Women's Open Runner-Up Jessen Dies
September 22, 2007
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By Rhonda Glenn
Ruth Jessen, 70, a colorful and fiery competitor on the LPGA Tour for three decades
and runner-up in the 1962 and 1964 U.S. Women's Open, died Friday night in a hospice
center in Phoenix, Ariz.
Jessen, a native of Seattle, Wash., had a fine amateur career. She was medalist
in the 1953 U.S. Girls' Junior Championship. In 1954 she won the Washington Women's
Amateur and the Pacific Northwest Women's Amateur, repeating in the Pacific Northwest
championship in 1955. In 1956, Jessen turned professional.
She rapidly became a gallery favorite on the LPGA Tour. Tall and blonde, she boasted
one of the tour's more colorful wardrobes, favoring bright colors in an era when
most players resorted to browns and blues. But her extremely wide putting stance,
in which her feet were spread more than four feet apart, garnered the most press.
Jessen won 11 times and her best year was in 1964, when she won five tournaments.
She very nearly won the 1964 U.S. Women's Open at San Diego C.C. in Chula Vista,
Calif. Jessen trailed Mickey Wright by one stroke as the two played the 72nd hole.
Jessen fired a fairway wood at the flagstick and her ball came to rest 3 feet from
the hole, setting up a birdie.
Wright hit her approach shot into a greenside bunker and was forced to get up and
down from a downhill lie. She hit what she later called the greatest bunker shot
of her life, then made the putt to tie Jessen.
Wright played flawlessly in the 18-hole playoff the following day, winning with
a 3-under-par 70 to Jessen's 72.
But it was Jessen's greatest year. She won five tournaments and finished second
to Wright on the LPGA money list.
Jessen had a superlative record in the Women's Open. She finished second in 1962,
two strokes behind winner Murle Lindstrom. She was third at Baltusrol in 1961, seven
strokes behind Wright. She also finished fifth in 1963 and seventh in 1965.
Jessen suffered numerous injuries and resulting surgeries over the years. She had
cancer surgery in 1965 and 1968 and returned to her old form just one more time.
In 1971, she played in just five events, but surprised even herself when she won
the Sears Classic in Port St. Lucie, Fla., for her final victory. The Golf Writers
Association of America presented Jessen with the Ben Hogan Award at the end of the
year to honor her comeback from injuries.
Jessen's lowest competitive round on the tour was a 64. The 1985 season was her
last competitive year and she then became a popular teaching professional, giving
lessons as late as last Friday before she was stricken.
Like so many of the early professionals, Jessen's lifetime earnings of $158,816
pale in comparison to today's modern winnings, but her friendliness to fellow competitors
and her public relations skills made her an important contributor in efforts to
keep the LPGA going during its early difficult days.
Rhonda Glenn is a manager of communications for the USGA. E-mail her with questions
or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.