As if it were not enough to have France's Le Grand Charlie forever spitting in our eye, now comes La Grande Catherine to do the same thing. Without an iota of reverence for the traditions she was breaking or the talent she was humiliating last week at Hot Springs, Va., 22-year-old Catherine Lacoste, of such well-known golfing centers as Paris and Biarritz, became the first amateur ever to win the U.S. Women's Open, the first foreigner to win it and the youngest player to win it.
While all the big names of the women's professional game stood around with sand in their shoes and egg on their sunglasses, Miss Lacoste made beating them look ludicrously simple. For three days she played the short but exacting upper course of the Cascades Golf Club with such consistency that on the last day she could even allow herself the luxury of a blowup and still win with a 71-70-74-79—294 that was good enough to beat runners-up Beth Stone and Susie Maxwell by two strokes.
While Miss Lacoste was performing in such a professional manner, the real professionals, including the leading money-winners of the Ladies' PGA, were playing not as if mere cash was at stake, but their very last dollar. Kathy Whit-worth started off on Thursday with an 81, as did Jo Ann Prentice. Sandra Haynie had an opening-day 70 that preserved the pros' honor and immediately followed it with a 79 on Friday. Who couldn't break 80 that day? Mickey Wright, Judy Torluemke, Marlene Bauer Hagge and Betsy Rawls, to drop a few familiar names. As she came into the final holes Friday, Miss Lacoste found herself with an eight-stroke lead on the entire field. By Saturday Carol Mann was about the top U.S. pro still in the running, so Carol shot an 82. "It detracts from us as champions to have an amateur beat us," Miss Mann said that night. "But what can we do?"
In the face of the way Miss Lacoste was playing, they couldn't do much except realize that they had been hit with one of the biggest golf upsets since Ouimet unglued Vardon and Ray half a century ago at Brookline.
The young lady responsible for last week's marvelous misdeed is constructed along the lines of Jack Nicklaus, with nerves to match. Though golf is so popular in her home country that crowds numbering in the 10s sometimes watch top events like the French Open, Miss Lacoste does have a strong golf background. Her father, Rene Lacoste, twice a Wimbledon and U.S. tennis champion, is the founder of the company that keeps the world's golfers in alligator shirts—Chemise Lacoste. Her mother, the former Simone Thion de la Chaume, won the British Women's Open about the time her father was victorious at Wimbledon in 1927. Today the family owns Golf de Chantaco, near Biarritz, where Catherine learned the game, and a home near Paris on the Saint-Nom-La-Breteche course that was the site of the 1963 Canada Cup. "I was brought up in golf," she says.
Unlike the pros, who were playing in Cincinnati the week before, Miss Lacoste had a chance to acclimate herself to conditions at Cascades, and she took advantage of it. Fresh from a successful spring, in which she had won two French championships, including the Women's Amateur, she arrived at Cascades eight days before the tournament was to begin. In her second practice round she shot a 69 and beat the club pro.
As is done with the Men's Open, the USGA tailors a course to its own tough standards for the Women's Open. Consequently, the lady pros, who have become accustomed on the LPGA tour to courses that are long but have easy pin positions, faced a situation they were not familiar with at Cascades, where USGA Executive Director Joe Dey shortened the total yardage to 6,191, but placed the pins in extremely demanding spots. This may have been one reason why the pros were put on the defensive by the fine Cascades course. They kept hitting their usual low iron shots and watching them scoot past the pins and over the greens, from where they were having trouble saving pars. Lacoste, meanwhile, was taking advantage of her very powerful upright swing to hit high approach shots that held the slick greens.
The events of the first day gave little hint of what was to come. Mickey Wright—always the favorite at a women's tournament—had arrived and announced that she was giving up smoking, just like Arnold Palmer. The STP girls were ready for action, these being the nine younger players who have been outfitted in red jackets given to them by a motor-oil company. There was the usual borrowing of hair shampoo and the unusual excitement of a pending wedding, that of Judy Torluemke who announced she was quitting the tour a day before Miss Lacoste gave most of the other women pros the same idea.
On Thursday, Sandra Haynie, who plays out of Colonial in Fort Worth but says she has never seen Ben Hogan, much less talked to him, began the 1967 Women's Open by treating Cascades with professional coolness. Two under par for a time, she finished with a handy one-under-par 70 to be the leader. At 71, and causing no concern, was Lacoste.
But Friday, while the pros were struggling around the Virginia mountainside, France's latest insult to America was playing her same smooth game again, and putting superbly to finish with a 70 that was suddenly good for a five-stroke lead. "Her putting amazes me," said Susie Maxwell, "especially from four or five feet. She never misses."
That night Catherine called her parents, as she did every evening, to report that France was conquering just as it had at Forest Hills in Daddy's day, and then she spent some time giving a small girl a horseback ride around the Cascades Inn. But life was less relaxed elsewhere. Mickey Wright, shaken over her 80, was smoking furiously. "I've done everything but whiff the ball," she said, inhaling deeply. "I'm not going to try to kick this until the winter. It's no use fighting it and playing golf at the same time."
There was considerable feeling, understandably, that Saturday would see a different Lacoste. The name of Marty Fleckman, the amateur who led the Men's Open two weeks ago and eventually blew to an 80, kept coming up. There was also a technical reason for hope. It had been observed that as grooved as Miss Lacoste was with almost every other shot, she seemed to go to a different swing when hitting a driver, a wild Gary Player type of swoop and slap that would be hard to control under pressure.
When Miss Lacoste went four over par on the front nine Saturday afternoon the I-told-you-so smirks began to appear. But two hours later they had turned to we're-dead frowns. Miss Lacoste had rallied with a 34 and had her five-stroke lead once again. With that, most of the pros did not bother to go to the practice tee after completing their Saturday rounds, and Mickey Wright was headed west, having dropped out after receiving news of her half brother's death.
"Mickey is the one who could have made a charge," said Carol Mann, "but she won't even be here tomorrow. Everyone else is completely out of it. I really don't think that girl knows what she is doing. She is beating the best professional golfers in the world, that's all."
She was also dancing a wild Charleston at her hotel that night.
Miss Lacoste has a theory about the game, and on Sunday it was put to a severe test. "With amateurs, golf is all psychology," she says. "You can't let anything disturb you. If you have your game and you play it, everything will go well."
In the end, it was playing her game that won for her. When Margie Masters, the Australian who was in second place, double-bogied the first hole, Miss Lacoste had a seven-stroke lead. Then she let it slip away with a long string of bogeys, six in seven holes.
By the time she reached 17 she was only one stroke ahead, but then she must have remembered to play her own game. She hit a wonderfully bold eight-iron over a pond and right at the pin, which was tight to the water. The ball stopped six feet from the hole, and she rammed the birdie putt in so hard it bounced into the air before dropping.
On 18, a par 3 that is again over water, she came through with a very crisp iron that backed up sharply on the rain-soaked green. A 24-footer was just short, and she tapped the ball in and broke into tears. Then she signed her card and rushed to phone her parents. "I told them I played like a clod all day," she said. "They just told me, 'Bravo.' "
Minutes later Rene's daughter, composed again, was being presented with the USGA's big silver trophy. More or less unnoticed in the victory celebration was the $5,000 winner's check. It, along with second-place money, was unobtrusively handed to the top professionals, Misses Maxwell and Stone, but then one should not get excited about money in a sport dominated by an amateur.
"I don't believe it," said Maxwell to Lacoste, "but you did it."
In a merry mood while piling up an early lead, the winner shares the fun with her gallery.