WEST PALM BEACH, FLA.- When the opportunity to play golf with two legends arises, it’s mandatory to take it.
So it was that I teed it up last Tuesday at Emerald Dunes with Marlene Streit and JoAnne Carner, two members of the World Golf Hall of Fame. Streit is the only Canadian enshrined.
Streit, who turns 78 on Friday, won everything in amateur golf: 11 Canadian Women’s Amateur titles, the 1953 British Ladies Open Amateur (after which 15,000 people turned out in downtown Toronto to applaud her as she drove by in an open convertible), 1956 U.S. Women’s Amateur, 1963 Australian Ladies Amateur, and the 1985, 1994, and 2003 U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur. (Streit was 69 when she won in 2003, the oldest player to do so.)
Then, there’s Carner, who addressed a large and enthusiastic crowd about Streit when she was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2004. Born JoAnne Gunderson, she won five U.S. Women’s Amateurs between 1957 and 1968, when she was known as The Great Gundy.
She turned pro at 30, and won 43 LPGA Tour events. Carner will be 73 on April 4. She plays a half-dozen or so tournaments on a senior circuit for women, where the purses are in the $200,000 to $300,000 range.
Streit and Carner have more in common than their many championships.
Above all, they retain their competitive spirits. That was apparent at Emerald Dunes, one of South Florida’s finest courses, and, perhaps, architect Tom Fazio’s best work. He recently directed an upgrading of the already-fine course.
Carner, Streit and I were seeing it for the first time. Ned Steiner, an accomplished senior amateur from West Caldwell, N.J., who was down to play this weekend’s Seminole Member-Guest event, joined the group. He’d played the course this winter.
“Keep your tee shot to the left side,” Steiner told Carner and Streit on the first hole. “There’s some trouble down the right.”
Streit glared at him before breaking into a smile.
“Don’t tell us the bad stuff, just the good stuff,” she said. Not that she had to worry, she knows where her ball is going.
She stood over the ball, waggled a couple of times, took a bead on her target and swung. Streit’s routine is unvarying. The ball zipped down the left side of the fairway, penetrating what felt like a gale that would continue for the entire round.
Carner, who had hit first, also found the fairway. Her backswing remains long and fluid. It’s what Al Barkow in the current issue of Golf World calls a “one-speed swing.” There’s no sensation of a hit. Back and through, à la Sam Snead. She and Snead were close friends. Carner took some lessons from him.
“The lesson was usually the same,” Carner said. “Sam would tell me to move the ball back about four inches in my stance, and move it in about five inches. Five inches is a lot.”
Carner recalled the first lesson: “He was hitting the driver straight as a string, but then the ball would fall to the right just at the end. Most golfers who fade the ball, it starts fading much earlier. His would fall only at the end. I asked him how he did that. He told me, ‘Just keep the face open a little longer at impact.’ Sam knew where the face was.”
Along we went, the impeccably-conditioned course all to ourselves.
Carner split the fairway on the second hole, as did Streit. Carner’s approach was a dart at the flag, while Streit came up just short of the green and then nearly holed her chip shot.
“You can’t hide talent,” Steiner said.
The talk soon turned to the two times Streit and Carner met each other in the final of the U.S. Amateur, 10 years apart. Each won once, Streit in 1956 and Carner in 1966, when their scheduled 36-hole final went 41 – the longest final in the event’s history.
At the ninth, Streit hit another crafty chip shot that nearly fell.
The group was put in mind of the way Rory McIlroy played last Sunday to win the Honda Classic, when his short game was so sharp.
“I loved the way he scrambled,” Streit said on the ninth green while Carner was giving Steiner a putting lesson. (He was suffering, and he knew he’d soon be putting Seminole’s extremely fast greens.)
Meanwhile, Streit was focused on the art of getting up and down, something she’s done well her entire career.
“When I played the Doherty [a popular women’s invitational in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.]in the ’50s, I had a caddy who used to say, ‘That Miss Marlene sure can unscramble.’ ”
That’s one reason Streit can still score so well in her late 70s. She’s never been the longest player, but she’s been one of the most accurate.
But what’s this? Streit missed a five-foot par putt on the 11th. The ball horseshoed around the hole. “At least we know she’s human,” Carner said.
On we went. Of Tiger Woods, who shot 62 in the last round of the Honda Classic to tie for second, two shots behind McIlroy, Streit said: “He looked like he was swinging within himself. He wasn’t off-balance.”
The round was soon over. The wind was still howling. Carner had shot 75, and Streit 78, the age she was about to turn.
“What a treat,” Streit said on the last green. That was true, especially for Streit’s and Carner’s companions.
It was a treat, and a privilege, to play with two legends who have retained their form, and their feelings for the game. We went into the clubhouse, where Carner ordered a vodka on the rocks. Streit had a glass of wine.
Their stories continued.
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