The 2019 Masters Tournament is unfolding at Augusta National this week just a few days after the golf world mourned the loss of one of its brightest lights - LPGA Founder and Hall of Fame member Marilynn Smith, who passed away on Tuesday at the age of 89. Marilynn claimed the two biggest titles of her illustrious career just a stone’s throw away from Augusta National, at Augusta Country Club, and 12 months ago she spoke to LPGA.com about the significance of those two wins.
As the eyes of the golf world focus this week on Augusta National and the Masters tournament, LPGA Founder Marilynn Smith will be reflecting on a golf property a mere stone's throw away where she produced the two most significant victories of her career - her twin 'Major Moments'.
In 1963, Smith fended off the challenge of legendary LPGA player Mickey Wright in an 18-hole playoff to clinch the Titleholders Championship at Augusta Country Club, which is located on the other side of Rae's Creek from fabled Augusta National. That was Smith's very first major championship crown, and just one year later she added a second when she triumphed by one shot over Wright - in the same event at the same venue.
"The majors were a very big deal to me because there were only four of them at the time (Titleholders, Women's Western Open, U.S. Women's Open and LPGA Championship)," Smith told LPGA.com. "Plus winning a major certainly does help your resume. There was a lot of tradition at the Titleholders and we played on a golf course right adjacent to Augusta National - and it was a tough golf course. It was a very special tournament and I always had a good feeling playing there.
"For two years in a row I won it and that was the biggest thrill for me that I ever got in golf, beating Mickey Wright, the top golfer in the world, in an 18-hole playoff. I shot 72, she shot 73 and she came up and gave me a big hug! We have been friends for a long time."
Asked what memories in particular stood out for her when she reflected on her back-to-back victories at the Titleholders, Smith flashed her magnetic and utterly charming smile: "I think of the fun nights we had that week. We would go in to have dinner with the people that hosted the tournament and they saw us in a different manner, not just as golfers.
"Babe Zaharias would play the harmonica and Betty Dodd would play the guitar, Jackie Pung did the hula and I would sing a couple of sings with Patty Berg and Shirley Englehorn. We were totally off-key but we didn't care! So the hosts saw us socially, and not just on the golf course. That was one of the biggest things for me about that week."
World Golf Hall of Fame member Smith, who was one of the 13 pioneering women who founded the LPGA in 1950, ended her professional career with a total of 21 victories on the LPGA Tour, but her two wins at the Titleholders will always provide the most abiding memories for her.
She still chuckles to herself as she recalls how her putting underpinned her stellar performances at Augusta Country Club even after she had discarded another putting method simply because it wouldn't have looked appropriate for a female golfer.
"I was the first women to go left-hand low back in the sixties," she said. "I was playing with Johnny Pott and he was using left-hand low and so many people came up and said to him, 'Gosh, you look funny putting that way.' Back in those days, a woman didn't want to look funny so I quit using that method. And it was the worst thing I did because it squares your shoulders up and you don't have trouble with your right hand breaking down.
"So many good putters, people like Inbee Park and Jordan Spieth, use that method. But I didn't use that method for the Titleholders, I was done with that! It would have looked funny. Thankfully I somehow became a good putter all of a sudden at that 1963 Titleholders."
In her autobiography 'Have Clubs, Will Travel', Smith describes beating Mickey Wright as like "going five-for-five against (baseball pitcher Sandy) Koufax, catching the winning pass in a Super Bowl or starring in a blockbuster movie with Clark Gable and getting top billing."
"I trailed in the playoff by three shots after 13 holes, but mounted a comeback to draw even,” she recalled. “Then I hit a career second shot at 18 - a three-iron that finished eight feet from the hole. My putt won the championship by one stroke, 72-73. I told reporters that I never hit the ball better - and meant it.
"Mickey says that day was her most memorable moment with me. At the time, she was not only the defending champion, she was bidding for her third consecutive Titleholders crown. If she feels that way, it truly defines her character. I was happy to win, but hated to beat Mickey, and told her so."
Smith, who was known as ‘Miss Personality’ because of her ultra-friendly nature and her outgoing presentations on behalf of women’s golf and the LPGA, produced sizzling form to win her second Titleholders crown in 1964. That victory was propelled by a course-record 66 in the second round.
"As it turned out, the 66 was my career best,” smiled Smith. “And wearing the (winner’s) green jacket was a privilege. It meant more to me than the $1,300 first prize check. It had to be the greatest golfing week of my life, but it wasn't easy.
“My 289 total was two strokes better than Patty Berg's tournament record 291, and I equaled the 54-hole record of 216 that I set in 1963. My second round 66 was two shots better than Patty Berg's record 68 in 1955. And my second nine 31 broke Kathy Cornelius' 33 in 1961."