Sandra Spuzich, the player who completed one of the more improbable victories in U.S. Women’s Open history, died at her home in Indianapolis on October 6 at the age of 78. The Indiana native will be remembered for headline-generating bookends to her 30-year professional career, most notably her triumph in 1966 at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minn.
A graduate of Indiana University, Spuzich turned pro in 1962 after a brief 2½-year career as a physical-education teacher, yet entered the Women’s Open that year as a winless LPGA Tour player who was starting to question whether she had a future in the professional ranks. She had played poorly in her first 12 events of the 1966 season, and a club manufacturer had recently dropped its sponsorship of her.
“It’s no fun driving the country over, if you’re trying to do it the way I did – play them all,” Spuzich told Charles Bartlett of the Chicago Tribune after her victory. “I played in all 30 LPGA events last year  and made $8,928.50 in prize money. That was my third full year on the tour, and I began to wonder.”
All that changed during over a steamy July weekend in Minnesota as Spuzich went head to head with two of the game’s titans and came out on top. She shared the 36-hole lead with four-time U.S. Women’s Open champion Mickey Wright and was paired in the final round with defending champion Carol Mann. Spuzich overcame an early double bogey that allowed Mann to take a one-stroke lead by holing a 30-foot birdie putt on the fourth hole and kept her composure as Wright rallied, as well. The three players were tied at several points throughout the final round.
The par-3 16th hole proved pivotal for Spuzich. She hit a 3-iron from 178 yards that came to rest less than two feet from the hole, setting up a birdie that put her one stroke ahead of Mann. She made another birdie on the par-4 17th and arrived on the 18th tee with a two-stroke lead and the eyes of many in the record-setting gallery – more than 5,000 on the final day and close to 16,000 for the week – on her to see if she could handle the pressure of getting her first professional victory. She did, completing a final-round 72 for a championship total of 9-over 297, one stroke ahead of Mann.
“Did I win?” Spuzich asked Mann after tapping in her bogey putt on the final hole. “You sure did, Sandy,” said the gracious Mann, who was attempting to become the first back-to-back champion since Wright in 1958-59.
It would be three more years before Spuzich tasted victory again. In all, she won six more times on the LPGA Tour, with her last two being another part of her legacy. In 1982, Spuzich won the Corning Classic and Mary Kay Classic, becoming, at 45, the oldest player to win two LPGA tournaments in a single season. Her record still stands, and she retired from professional golf in 1992.
Spuzich is survived by her longtime partner, 17-year LPGA Tour professional Joyce Kazmierski, as well as her sister Mary Lou Spaulding (husband David), nephews Steven and Chip Spaulding, niece Lori Spaulding and grandnephews Michael and Cameron Spaulding and grandniece Alyssa Spaulding. The family has planned a private celebration of life service at the Conkle Funeral Home in Indianapolis.