This is the fifth and final story in a series running on past USGA champions at Congressional Country Club, site of the 2011 U.S. Open. Previous pieces were on 1949 U.S. Junior Amateur champion Gay Brewer, 1964 U.S. Open champion Ken Venturi, 1995 U.S. Senior Open champion Tom Weiskopf and 1997 U.S. Open winner Ernie Els.
The two things you need to know about Barbara McIntire are represented by an oil portrait she owns. First, the fine painting of her gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated on Aug. 22, 1960, when she was the reigning champion of both the U.S. and British Women’s Amateurs, shows she was a very big deal.
Secondly, she keeps the painting in the garage.
In McIntire’s houses in Colorado and North Carolina, nothing shouts, “Champion!” The North Carolina house is warm and cheerful, with soft colors and lots of flowers. Whimsical photographs of dogs line the walls and two black Labrador retrievers lounge near the fireplace. The Colorado house, which is just as pleasant, offers only a small picture frame, about the size of a paperback book, which holds her U.S. Women’s Amateur, U.S. Women’s Open and British Ladies Open Amateur medals. But that’s about it.
Yet, Barbara McIntire is one of the pre-eminent amateurs of our time. She won the U.S. Women’s Amateur twice, the British Ladies Open Amateur, the North & South Women’s Amateur six times in 14 years and played on six USA Curtis Cup Teams.
In the 1960 SI cover story, when reporters weren’t as gender-neutral as today, writer Alfred Wright called her “pretty and determined” and referred to her “immaculate appearance” and “neatly tailored shorts.” People such as sports agent Mark McCormick said those qualities would make her a star in professional golf.
But McIntire loved the amateur game and that is where she stayed.
Barbara McIntire was always pleasant on the first tee. A slight smile revealed her dimples and her handshake was gentle. On the course, her golf was intelligent and methodical – point A to point B – and with it she won an astonishing number of championships.
The Ohio native was 24 when she won her first U.S. Women’s Amateur, at Congressional Country Club, in 1959. Astonishingly, three years before, she had very nearly won the U.S. Women’s Open while a student at Rollins College.
In 1956, no amateur had ever won the Women’s Open. No amateur had even thought of winning it, but at Northland Country Club in Duluth, Minn., McIntire finished the fourth round with an astounding flourish. From the 16th through the 18th holes, she fired birdie, par, eagle to tie professional Kathy Cornelius. It remains the only time anyone has eagled the final hole for a share of the lead.
McIntire’s longtime friend and business partner, Judy Bell, remembers finding her 21-year-old pal slumped in the locker room after the round, head down.
McIntire, who never cared much for the limelight, said glumly, “I think I just tied for the Open.”
In the ensuing 18-hole playoff she didn’t play to her usual standards, shooting 82 to the 75 fired by Cornelius. McIntire was given a silver medal, which she added to what was becoming quite a collection. She had also been runner-up in the U.S. Girls’ Junior in 1951 and ’52.
When the 1959 Women’s Amateur rolled around, McIntire had still not made that long leap into the winner’s circle. The decided favorites were JoAnne Gunderson, the 1957 winner, and Anne Quast, the defender.
It was hot at Congressional Country Club in August and the layout was torturous at 6,457 yards with a corresponding par of 74. There were no qualifying rounds and the 128 contestants went straight into the match-play draw.
The field ranged from teenagers to matrons in their final years of competition. In those days, most were lifetime amateurs and only a notable few, such as Sandra Haynie, Carol Mann, Sherry Wheeler, Cynthia Sullivan and Gunderson, would eventually play full-time on the LPGA Tour. Amateur golf wasn’t a stepping stone to the pro ranks but a life unto itself. In fact, the USGA’s Golf Journal called the championship, “…the simple fellowship of like-minded people interested in a wholesome sport… A golfing party among friends still animates the occasion, even though there are the newer elements of wide public attention and prestige for the winner.”
Not many regarded JoAnne Goodwin of Haverhill, Mass., as among the favorites, although she had won the ’56 Doherty and the ’57 Eastern Women’s Amateur. The petite daughter of a club professional relied on her chipping and cross-handed putting to get her around the long layout, and she did it brilliantly throughout most of the week.
McIntire nearly went out in her quarterfinal match against Quast. She was three holes down after No. 12 and one hole down after the 17th. But one of McIntire’s traits is that she never panicked and on the course, she was stoic. That is deceptive, for surely even she felt the screaming emotions that can turn a sound game into dust. Seldom, however, did she show her nerves.
On the 18th, the famous par 3, she hit the green while Quast hit into the bulrushes and the match was square. On the 20th hole, an uphill 183-yarder to a double-terraced green, McIntire safely parred to win.
In the semifinal she faced an old foe, Mrs. Paul Klinefelter Jr., of Philadelphia. The former Roseanne Schaffer had also attended Rollins and, like McIntire, was from Toledo. After Klinefelter dispatched Gunderson, 1 up, in the fourth round she was confident and against McIntire was 3 up at the turn. Then, starting with the 11th, McIntire won four straight holes, three with birdies, a sensational spurt that put her 1 up on the 18th tee.
The hole made a wonderful spectacle for observers who gathered on the hillside. Klinefelter and McIntire both hit the green of the 157-yarder, then Klinefelter holed a downhill, sidehill 20-foot putt for a deuce to even the match. At the 19th, McIntire’s par 4 won her a slot in the final.
Goodwin was in fine form in the semifinals, defeating former champion Dot Porter, 7 and 6, but her short game would desert her in the scheduled 36-hole final.
On that Saturday 52 years ago, McIntire was longer than Goodwin with her woods and sharper near the hole. Her chipping had improved and she later admitted, “I’ve always putted well in the tournaments I’ve won.”
Her putting style, which served her so well, was distinctive. She addressed the putt with upright posture, gently rocked her weight to her right foot and back to her left as she settled in, and then made a smooth unhurried stroke. Her calm, in fact, often could unsettle jumpier opponents. On this day, she did everything well and had four birdies, three of them on par-5 holes, the other a deuce. She had 14 one-putt greens.
With McIntire 1 up at lunch, the match was closely fought but Barbara pulled away in the afternoon. She went out in 37 and took a 4-up lead after 27 holes. Both players made par on the remaining six holes of the match. With a 4-and-3 victory, McIntire had won her first U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship after 10 years of trying. She won the British Ladies Open Amateur the following spring, holding both titles concurrently.
She would win the U.S. Women’s Amateur again in 1964, becoming part of a remarkable run by Anne Quast and JoAnne Gunderson. In a period of 12 years, McIntire, Quast or Gunderson owned the national championship in all but two years.
Barbara McIntire has remained remarkably self-effacing about her competitive career. Add to her playing record the fact that she captained two USA Curtis Cup Teams, was chairman of the USGA Women’s Committee and in the year 2000 won the Bob Jones Award, the USGA’s highest honor for a lifetime of distinguished sportsmanship. And she still is one of the great people of the game.
In recent years she has retired from the successful businesses she owned with Judy Bell and splits her time between North Carolina and Colorado Springs. She has dealt with recent health issues, but at 76 she is cheerfully optimistic and enjoys nothing better than reuniting with old friends from the glory days. At one dinner party at her home last winter, of the six guests, five were members of past USA Curtis Cup Teams and those friendships go back nearly 60 years.
McIntire’s achievements in golf began with years of grueling practice, but Congressional Country Club hosted her first big victory and truly initiated her great career. Today, she remains one of the quiet, gracious women of sport. She seldom mentions the many fine rounds she played or the championships she won. She doesn’t have to. Her record speaks for itself.
Rhonda Glenn is a manager of communications for the USGA. E-mail questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.