BROOKLINE, Massachusetts (AP) — The winner of the first major tournament held at the historic US Open golf course this week taught many useful lessons that are still relevant today.
Her name is Genevieve Hecker.
Hecker’s victory in the U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship in 1902 made her an ideal candidate for writing “Golf for Women”, the first manual written specifically for women. This guide, in some ways, remains as relevant in 2022 as it was when it was released.
Hecker won a second consecutive title in the country’s most prestigious women’s tournament 11 years before Frances Wimet made golf famous in America by winning the US Open at The Country Club. Her victory came seven decades before Title IX forever changed the position of women in sports in the US.
It was Hecker, not Ouimet, who became the first national champion of any kind to be crowned at The Country Club. At the time, golf was a distraction from the club’s main activities, which included horse racing, polo, and ice skating.
“When you have someone like Genevieve who shows up at 18 and becomes quite a skilled player, she automatically becomes one of the best in the country and can rival some of the best in the world,” Michael said. Trostel, USGA Historian.
Hecker’s book was published in 1904. Cost: $2. Magazine ads that day advertised the book as a must-read for several thousand female golf enthusiasts across the country.
“No female player, no matter how skilled, can’t fail to benefit from her close scrutiny,” says one review published in the New York Post.
Other reviews also assured readers that the advice “will be good for men too.”
While other educational books have gained great acclaim—think Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons and Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book—none of them has the same history and authority as Hecker’s 217-page trailblazer.
Very few in the early 20th century had reason to believe that women’s golf had a large audience, a reality that Hecker acknowledged in her opening remarks.
She called it “so comparatively unimportant that no woman felt it her duty to pave the way for her indecisive but enthusiastic sisters.”
“Fortunately, that time has already passed and will never return,” she concluded.
Yet women’s golf still has a long way to go.
The first US Women’s Open was not held until 1946. Professional golf for women did not begin in earnest until the mid-1940s, and the LPGA Tour was not founded until 1950.
In the early 1900s, the women’s game was an amateur activity played by a few dozen highly skilled players in clubs mostly scattered around the East Coast and Chicago.
It was far from a celebration of comfort in shorts and a golf shirt, as it is today. Pictures and illustrations in “Golf for Women” show women demonstrating the various parts of the game of golf, wearing ankle-length skirts and long-sleeved blouses buttoned up to the neck. Some wear a tie. (The men didn’t fare much better. They were still walking around in shorts and ties.)
However, some of Hecker’s lessons could be ripped out of a 2022 golf magazine. The book is full of timeless advice that reminds us that no matter how complex the game is, some concepts remain frighteningly simple:
— On the fanciful tendency of amateurs not to hit enough with their club to get to the green or get over an obstruction: “It’s much easier to play a shot correctly that would cover the distance with ease than it is to play it with a club that needs to be pressed.”
– About the production: “One of the most true and most famous axioms … “Never get up, never enter.”
On fast play: “Anyone who has been subjected to the vexatious waiting and waiting after each shot while someone a couple of hundred yards ahead is making half a dozen pointless swings, I think he will heartily support everything I have said. “
Hecker’s success in relationships, not to mention the fame she gained from writing the book, made her a name in the golf circuit.
When she married the famous gambler Charles Stout in 1903, a New York Times headline appeared in the wedding announcement calling the union “an affair in touch.” Hecker took a break from competitive golf for nearly two decades while she had children. When she won the New York Women’s Golf Tournament at the Siwanoy Country Club in 1925 at the age of 41, the Times called it “one of the most remarkable comebacks in the history of golf”.
Meanwhile, the book’s potential audience increased after Ouimet’s breakthrough victory at The Country Club in 1913. This historic victory sparked a surge in golf in the US from 350,000 to around 2 million players over the next decade.
Nearly 120 years after the first book was published, about 25 million people in America play golf. About a quarter of this total are women, and their future is promising.
According to the National Golf Foundation, golf among girls in the United States is growing at a faster rate than among boys. In 1995, girls made up only 17% of junior golfers. Last year, they accounted for a third of the juniors.
It would be hard for just about anyone, woman or man, not to find at least a few useful snippets in Golf for Women. There are also a few words in the book that may be helpful to the 156 players trying to follow in her footsteps and become USGA Champion at The Country Club this week.
“To be a successful tournament player, no matter how skilled,” she wrote, “it is necessary to know how to seize the opportunity and “play better than anyone can,” as the sports newspapers say, when the occasion calls for it.”
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