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Senior Women’s Amateur a Homecoming for Budke

By Tom Mackin

| Sep 9, 2017 | PORTLAND, Ore.

Mary Budke, the 1972 U.S. Women's Amateur champion and decorated Oregon amateur, is back in her home state this week. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

U.S. Senior Women's Amateur Home

There are not many things that bring Mary Budke, a resident of Palm Desert, Calif., back to her native Oregon these days. But a national championship is one of them.           

The 63-year-old, one of the most successful amateur golfers in the state’s history, is part of the 2017 U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur field at Waverley Country Club, 45 years after she won the U.S. Women’s Amateur at St. Louis Country Club as an 18-year-old Oregon State University student.           

“That’s why I am playing this week, because it’s in Oregon,” she said. “It’s very special to be here because this is my home. I grew up in Dayton, a town of 1,000 people about 30 miles south of Portland. My parents had a drugstore there, and I grew up playing a nine-hole course (Riverwood Golf Club in Dundee) with tiny greens and a lot of bad lies. After I got to play in tournaments at nicer places, I thought, ‘Ooh, I like this.’ I fared well as a young player and my confidence grew.”           

Indeed it did. Prior to her national championship win, she had won three consecutive Oregon Junior Girls Championships and advanced to the semifinals in the 1970 and 1971 U.S. Girls’ Junior Championships. Budke won the AIAW individual national championship in 1974 for Oregon State and played on the winning USA Curtis Cup team that same year.           

“That was the most fun I ever had, being part of a team with people I admired,” said Budke, who captained the victorious USA Team in the 2002 Curtis Cup Match. “We played at San Francisco Golf Club, which was wonderful. You’re treated like royalty by the USGA, especially as a past champion.”           

Budke also won eight Oregon Women’s State Amateurs, including her final victory in 1979 at Waverley Country Club. The accomplishments led to her induction in both the Oregon Golf Hall of Fame in 1991 and the Pacific Northwest Golf Hall of Fame in 2005.          

Winning the 1972 U.S. Women’s Amateur changed her life in more ways than one.

“The week before, I had decided I would go to medical school,” she said. “I didn’t want to play professionally. I thought I was good enough to be a mediocre tour player, and I never could stand playing three weeks in a row. I knew I was putting the game aside and it freed me to play really well that week. Once I won, it made my decision even easier.”           

She went on to work as an emergency room physician in Los Angeles, New York and Eugene, Ore., before retiring in 2011. She now lives in Southern California, playing up to three times a week at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage.           

But playing in club events is far different than competing in national championships.

“The setup of a course in a USGA event is very difficult,” she said. “Every shot is demanding. Besides having the physical game to play it, you need the mental fortitude to put up with the bad shots and make the right decisions. Even at the height of my golf career, I always had to work really hard to reach match play.

“Plus, in these championships, there’s a group of players who know they have a chance to win, and then there’s the other group. You can feel that. I’m in the second group at this point, but I make the most of what I do. I’m the third-best woman at my club, and both Kathy Kurata and Caryn Wilson are here and expect to have a chance to win. But I do think I belong here.”

Confidence was not an issue for Budke during her eight Oregon State Amateur wins.

“There was a point then where I planned my outfits to be in the final. I expected to be playing until the end,” she said. “And in a 36-hole final, you weren’t going to beat me. But then you move to a higher level in national championships, and you see quite a difference.”

Budke has realistic goals for her visit home this week.

“I’ve been playing well enough to reach match play,” she said. “So I have that expectation. And I think it would help knowing my way around Waverley a little bit. To be in the heat of battle would be fun, but nothing more than that. I will always be happy with what I have accomplished and how decent a player I am now. I still know how to play and I can still hit it. That is pure joy to be able to still play and belong at this level.”

Tom Mackin is an Arizona-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.

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