Cudone, USGA Champion, Dies at 90


March 20, 2009

By Rhonda Glenn, USGA

Carolyn Cudone enjoys the third of five straight USGA Senior Women's Amateur titles in 1970 at Coral Ridge Country Club in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (USGA Museum)
Carolyn Cudone, a merry, gracious player and the only golfer to win five straight United States Golf Association championships, died Thursday in Myrtle Beach, S.C., at the age of 90.

Cudone won the USGA Senior Women's Amateur Championship five times from 1968 to 1972. Of the more celebrated players who have won the Senior Women's Amateur more than once - Dot Porter, Anne Quast Sander, Marlene Streit and Carol Semple Thompson - none touched Cudone's five straight victories, although Thompson won four straight from 1999 to 2002.

Just one week ago, on March 12, she was inducted into the Myrtle Beach Hall of Fame . The Hall of Fame was created to honor men and women who have played significant roles in all aspects of the Myrtle Beach golf industry, including playing, teaching, course design and construction, marketing and administration.

Growing up in Staten Island, N.Y., Cudone was the scourge of Metropolitan women's golf. She won the New Jersey Women's Amateur five times, 11 New Jersey stroke-play and five Women's Metropolitan Golf Association match-play titles.

During the 1950s and early '60s, when women's amateur golf garnered big headlines, Cudone captured a number of important titles, including the 1958 North & South Women's Amateur, the 1960 Women's Eastern Amateur and the 1962 Hollywood International Four-Ball with her fellow Met player, Cookie Swift Berger, as her partner.

Cudone was a member of the 1956 USA Curtis Cup team, where she clinched her lone match, a foursomes encounter with her partner Mary Ann Downey against Janette Robertson and Veronica Anstey, 6 and 4. It was one of only four points the USA managed in a losing cause against Great Britain and Ireland's six points.

A strong player, Cudone smacked her fairway woods in shots that screamed low off the clubface, then rose and dropped to the green, much like Patty Berg, who Cudone somewhat matched in her physical stature.

While she assembled a wonderful collection of titles, Cudone never quite cracked the elite group of women amateurs of her era: JoAnne Gunderson, Barbara McIntire, Anne Quast and Barbara Romack. Her nemesis was the feisty Polly Riley. A canny match-play specialist, Riley knocked Cudone out of the semifinals of the 1953 Women's Amateur, beat her in the third round of that championship in 1955 and eliminated her in the fourth round in 1958.

"It's that top echelon that you always hope for," Cudone told a reporter six years ago, "but it never occurred to me that I would be good enough." Reminiscing about losing to Riley in the Women's Amateur three times, Cudone was characteristically frank. "That's sickening," Cudone said. "I kept trying. That's all I could do."

Cudone was part of a little known slice of history in the 1956 Women's Amateur. In the first round of match play at the Country Club of Indianapolis, she defeated Ann Gregory, the first African-American woman to compete in a USGA championship, 2 and 1.

In 1990, Cudone recalled an ugly incident at that long ago championship. A parking attendant told Cudone's father, "Your daughter better win today or you'd better not come back to this parking lot."

Introduced on the first tee, Cudone got a huge ovation while Gregory received only polite applause.

"Every reporter in Indianapolis was there," said Cudone.  "You couldn't stir them with a stick!  She must have been as nervous as a wet hen because, as we left the tee, she said if she didn't count her strokes right, it wasn't on purpose."

Cudone continued to chase the game's elite, consistently playing in the national championships and, with her husband Philip, spending the winter on the Florida Orange Blossom circuit.

It was as a senior golfer, however, that Cudone proved herself. She played in the USGA Senior Women's Amateur 10 times, won five of the titles and twice finished as runner-up.

In 1968, she led every round at Monterey Peninsula C.C. in Pebble Beach , Calif. The championship was then played at stroke play and Cudone won by 10, shooting 236 for 54 holes and equaling the championship record.

In 1969, she defeated Mrs. Lowell D. Brown in a playoff, 76 to 84, at Ridglea C.C. in Fort Worth, Tex. Cudone birdied three of the first four holes. The year 1970 was historic when she became the first USGA champion since Virginia Van Wie (1932, '33, '34 U.S. Women's Amateur champion) to win three straight titles. At Coral Ridge C.C. in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Cudone fired a championship record 231 for 54 holes.

Cudone became the first player to win four straight USGA titles when she captured the 1971 USGA Senior Women's Amateur at Sea Island (Ga.) Golf Club. Ironically, she edged Gregory, her opponent in the 1956 Women's Amateur, by a stroke.

In 1972, Cudone did what no one had done before, capturing a fifth straight USGA national championship. She won by six strokes.

In her remaining five championships, she contended every year, garnering two runner-up medals, one third-place and two fourth-place finishes.

Time dulls her achievements a bit, and Cudone herself couldn't recall them clearly in an interview several years ago. Her double-digit win in 1968 caused her to say, "I did? By 10 shots? Wow, that's pretty good."

Her incredible fifth straight in 1972 at Manufacturers Golf & Country Club in Oreland, Pa., jogged her memory. "The last one was the big surprise," she said. "Helen Sigel Wilson was eligible and it was her neck of the woods. It was a foregone conclusion in my mind that she was going to win. So I was out there beating it around."

In her later years, Cudone lived in Myrtle Beach, where she had settled with her late husband. She founded the Myrtle Beach Junior Golf Program in 1981 and led the organization for 21 years before turning over the reins at the age of 83. Players from ages eight to 18 were welcomed, but one year Cudone allowed seven-year-old Kristy McPherson to sign up, as had her three older siblings.

"She let us in before we were old enough to be playing and she took care of us," said McPherson, now a professional. "Carolyn Cudone is a cool lady. She's one of the reasons I'm playing golf right now."

She was a gracious winner and a cheerful loser who loved to laugh. Many a young player found herself shaking hands after a rare victory over Cudone and being greeted with the heartiest congratulations.

In reminiscing about winning half of the 10 USGA Senior Women's Amateur Championships she entered, and never finishing worse than fourth, her reaction was typically modest and succinct.

"Not bad," she mused.

RhondaGlennis a Manager of Communications for the USGA. E-mail her with questions or comments at rglenn@usga.org.





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