Linda Smythe Recalls 1956 Girls’ Championship
It has been 44 years since Linda Smythe competed in the 1956 U.S. Girls’ Championship in Toledo, Ohio, but the memories are still fresh.
Smythe, a native of Syracuse, N.Y., who retired to the mountains of North Carolina with her husband, Jeff, in 1995 and now lives on Pinehurst No. 6, will be an interested spectator when the USGA stages its 61st Girls Championship at the Country Club of North Carolina July 19-24.
Times were different in 1956, and the fledgling Junior Girls’ event was only seven years old. But it was the first national experience for Smythe.
“I had just completed my junior year in high school and my parents drove me to Toledo,” she recalls. “There was only one day of qualifying then and the field was broken into three flights after that for match play.
“I was in the first flight and made it through three matches before losing in the finals,” she said, holding up the bronze medal she earned.
JoAnne Gunderson (Carner), who had lost 4&3 in the 1955 championship in Florence, S.C., defeated Clifford Ann Creed 4&3 to win in 1956, when 70 girls were entered.
There were a record 1,005 entries in the event this year, with local and sectional qualifying held to determine the field of 156 advancing to CCNC for 36 holes of stroke-play qualifying.
“That’s how it’s grown,” Smythe said. “Back then, you only had to meet a certain handicap and you played only 18 holes of stroke play to qualify for match play.”
Smythe began playing golf when she was 10 and played in the New York State Women’s Amateur at the age of 13. She played in the 1962 and 1963 U.S. Women’s Amateurs, the 1973 U.S. Women’s Open and the 1998 U.S. Senior Women’s Open.
“I played the whole cycle,” she said, laughing. “But I skipped the Mid-Amateur. My career is really about longevity; I’ve lasted a long time. I have some awards that are separated by a lot of years.”
Those awards cover a wide spectrum. As a 16-year-old, she was named the Female Athlete of the Year in Syracuse, and 32 years later in 1987 was the Capital District Golfer of the Year in Albany, N.Y.
She was the New York State Senior Champion in 1995, won the 1997 U.S. Senior Olympics national title in Tucson, Ariz., won the 2003 North Carolina Super Senior Championship and the 2007 Carolinas Women’s Amateur Super Senior Championship.
She and Jeff moved to Pinehurst in 2005, and she’s won the Pinehurst Super Senior Championship each year since. In 2006, she added the No. 6 Course Club Championship to her list of accomplishments.
One of the career highlights was an exhibition match she played in 1974 when she paired with Lanny Wadkins against Laura Baugh and a male amateur.
“I might be an example for the young girls in showing them that they have a lot of years to play,” she said. “I’ve been playing 61 years, so they have a lot to look forward to.”
Smythe still has plenty of game, carrying a 6.9 handicap index. She played Pinehurst No. 2 just over a week ago and posted a 74. “That was one of my good days,” she said.
Smythe isn’t sure she has a lot of advice to offer the girls coming to CCNC next month.
“Things were so different when I was growing up,” she said. “I was just a little girl playing golf. My dad started me when I was 10, and he took me for lessons every Saturday until I got married at 23. Nowadays, there are so many things for juniors to play.”
There was little thought of making golf a professional career.
“When I was growing up, the LPGA was just getting started, and the stars were Louise Suggs, Patty Berg and Mickey Wright,” she said. “My father thought it was more admirable to be a good amateur, so that’s what I did. After the 1963 U.S. Amateur, I started a family and really didn’t play anymore for a while. I had two little boys to occupy my mind.”
If there’s one piece of advice she could pass on to the girls competing at CCNC, it would be to enjoy the experience.
“The thing I remember most is being with my mother and father,” she said. “We made it into a vacation. We had fun. It wasn’t just golf; we went to the movies and had some great meals and they followed me around the course. To me, it was the little things. It was something we enjoyed doing together.
“In my day, there wasn’t nearly as much pressure. It was finding camaraderie with the other girls and developing friendships. The girls should know that they’ll have plenty of time to develop their games.
“But golf for children has been taken to a new level now. The equipment has changed so much. Our clubs were heavy and now they’re light and easy to swing.
“The only thing I can tell anyone is how I would handle it. I’d try to really focus, concentrate on what I need to do. Don’t get caught up in what the other players are doing and play one shot at a time.
“If the shot you have isn’t to your liking, don’t try to do too much with it. Get out of trouble the best way you can. Just play the course. But these girls know that; they’re pretty experienced.
“Golf is for a lifetime, and the girls will appreciate that more as they get older. It’s something that can bring great joy to them, and they’ll be able to play all their lives.
“I’ve thought often that my mother and father gave me golf as gift, and it’s definitely the gift of a lifetime.”
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