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Original Issue

British bombers downed by U.S. spitfires

Even the booming drives of Irishwoman Mary McKenna couldn't get the Curtis Cup away from the Yanks

Now that Tony Jacklin of England has won the U.S. Open, everybody on the British Isles thinks he can beat the ruddy Yanks at golf. Last week the Great Britain and Ireland team came to Boston for the biennial Curtis Cup matches against the best lady amateurs in the U.S., well infused with Jacklin aggressiveness and prepared, as they said, "to play one more Tony on the Yanks."

"Tony told us that we have been good losers in golf for too long," said Dinah Oxley, the comely 21-year-old English national champion. "We've won the cup only twice in 15 tries, and every time we lost they called us good losers. I do think we'd prefer to be called bad winners, if that need be."

The competition appeared to be a mismatch when the cup players convened on the first tee of the Brae Burn Country Club. Attired in the sort of outfits favored by American meter maids, the British-Irish team looked, for the most part, like late draft choices of the Boston Patriots. Mary McKenna of Dublin checked in at 5'10" and, as she said, "12 stone" (168 pounds). Most of the others looked equally strong. The American girls, on the other hand, were dressed smartly in red blazers and white dresses and mostly looked like Girl Scouts trying to win a golfing merit badge. Some of the Yanks, particularly Nancy Hager, 17, and Jane Bastanchury, 22, could barely see over the top of their golf bags.

If this decisive victory in the tale-of-tape competition inspired the British and Irish girls, then their great hopes soon were deflated on a symbolic level. First of all there was no green-orange-and-white Irish flag to hoist alongside the Stars and Stripes and the Union Jack at the opening ceremonies. "The same thing happened when they had the cup matches here in 1958." said Seàn Donlon of the Irish consulate in Boston. "This time I brought an Irish flag with me, and it's in the trunk of my car. I sort of hope they'll ask me for it." The next day they did.

Then a member of the British delegation discovered that the Union Jack was hanging upside down. "You know," she told an official of the U.S. Golf Association, "when the flag hangs upside down it's supposed to be a mark of distress." In that case both the British and the Irish flags should have been hanging upside down last week, for the foreigners were in distress most of the time at Brae Burn. The American girls, who were often outhit by as much as 50 and 60 yards off the tee and who were hitting fairway woods when their rivals were hitting medium irons, played meticulously around the greens and won the Curtis Cup for the sixth straight time by a score of 11½-6½.

For a time during the first day's play (Scotch foursomes in the morning, singles matches in the afternoon) it looked as though the visitors were taking Tony seriously. Miss Oxley and Miss McKenna won a 4-and-2 victory over Shelley Hamlin and Miss Bastanchury, supposedly the strongest U.S. pair. Then Mary Everard and Julia Greenhalgh defeated Cynthia Hill and Janey Fassinger 5 and 3, and the invaders took a 2-1 lead into the singles. "I warned all of you that this was not our usual Curtis Cup group," said Jeanne Bisgood, the British-Irish team captain. The Americans also were impressed, particularly with Miss McKenna.

"She's probably the longest hitter in women's golf," said Shelley Hamlin. Or, as Dinah Oxley said, "How many Americans knew there was another Jack Nicklaus playing golf in Ireland?" Miss McKenna, 20, used a two-wood off the tee and still hit her drives between 260 and 280 yards. "I've been playing for just six years," she said. "Recently I've been playing every day, though, because I work for a bank in Dublin and the banks are on strike. What scares me is that I've been writing checks like mad, and when I go back to work I'm going to have a pretty good overdraft."

Miss McKenna had not realized that Boston was like a suburb of Dublin until some people in the gallery started talking to her in Gaelic. "Is everybody in Boston Irish—or does it just seem that way?" she asked some Boston writers. The writers—two Monahans, an O'Hara, a Looney, a Fitzgerald and a Concannon—laughed.

Miss McKenna then returned to the golf course and beat Tish Preuss 4 and 2 in the singles, winning five straight holes on the back nine, including the 470-yard par-5 13th, where she reached the green with a two-wood and a two-iron and barely missed her putt for an eagle. But three of her teammates lost their matches, while Mrs. Belle Robertson and Miss Hamlin played even and, with only one match still on the course—Julia Greenhalgh against Mrs. Alice Dye—the U.S. had taken a 4½-3½ lead.

Mrs. Dye, called Old Folks and Senior Citizen by her teammates—some of whom have dated her sons—was two down and struggling after 15 holes, and it appeared that the two teams would finish the first day tied at 4½ points. "Suddenly I had a large gallery filled with USGA officials and all the players, and then I realized how important my match must be," Mrs. Dye said. She promptly won the 16th and 17th holes to halve the match. On 18 she had a three-foot putt for a win after Miss Greenhalgh hit over the green and made bogey. Her husband, golf architect Pete Dye, commented, "She's got about as much chance of missing it as man does walking backward to the moon." She hit it into the back of the cup, and the U.S. led by two points.

After winning two and halving the third Scotch foursome match Saturday morning, the Yanks were ahead 8-4, needing only a victory and a half in the final singles matches to retain the cup. "All this is so bloody frustrating," Dinah Oxley said. "I really don't think it means that much to the American girls. This is the only one that matters to us, you know. We just want to be one up on the Americans. Doesn't everybody?"

When Jane Bastanchury defeated Ann Irvin 4 and 3 the U.S. was assured of at least a tie. Out on the course, though, the other foreigners were more than holding their own, and for a time it appeared that they might make a great comeback. The key match suddenly was between Miss Oxley and Miss Hamlin, who were even after 16 holes. Shelley, who maintains a grinning Howdy Doody face while she plays—something that irritates her rivals—then won the 17th hole to go one up. On 18, assured of at least half a point the U.S. needed to win, Shelley was on the green in three, about 40 feet from the hole, while Miss Oxley was 25 feet away in two.

Miss Hamlin stood over her putt, then unexpectedly reached down and picked up the ball. "It moved," she explained to Dinah. "I concede the hole. You know, I was going to hole the putt."

Miss Oxley was insulted. "I was going to hole my putt, too," she said, "For a birdie." Later, Dinah was still incensed. "First of all it was so difficult to play someone with such an inane smile," she said, "and then the girl becomes a hero because her ball moved. Why, she was going to lose the hole anyway. But now everybody says, 'Poor Shelley, what a tough break.' It's all a bloody shame."

At last. The British have learned how to lose poorly.