Mary Lou Crocker, 71, Was 1962 U.S. Girls' Junior Champion February 2, 2016 | Far Hills, N.J. By Lisa D. Mickey

After her playing career, Mary Lou Crocker devoted her time to teaching young girls through the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program. (USGA/John Mummert)

USGA champion and longtime LPGA Tour player Mary Lou Daniel Crocker, of Carrollton, Texas, died on Jan. 27, two months after being diagnosed with cancer. She was 71.

Born Sept. 17, 1944, in Louisville, Ky., Crocker, who then played under the name of Mary Lou Daniel, won the 1962 U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship with a 2-up victory over Mary Sawyer at the Country Club of Buffalo in Williamsville, N.Y. On the way to the championship, Daniel defeated future fellow LPGA Tour players Sandra Post and Jan Ferraris. Ferraris would also go on to win the Girls’ Junior the following year.

She also won the 1962 Western Girls’ Junior, after finishing runner-up the previous year, and was honored as the 1962 Kentucky Female Athlete of the Year.

The Bluegrass State native earned a scholarship to play golf on the men’s team at the University of Kentucky and became the first woman to earn a varsity letter on a men’s team at the university. She also won the 1965 Kentucky State Amateur title.

Crocker turned professional in 1966 and competed on the LPGA Tour for 14 years. She earned her only LPGA Tour win in the 1973 Marc Equity Classic in Buffalo, N.Y., and posted her best major-championship finish – a tie for ninth – in the 1973 U.S. Women’s Open at the Country Club of Rochester (N.Y.). After retiring from the Tour, she spent 15 years teaching the game to Dallas-area girls through the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program.

Mary Lou Daniel (later Crocker) claimed the 1962 U.S. Girls' Junior title. (USGA Museum)

Crocker was inducted into the Kentucky Golf Hall of Fame in 2010.

During the racially divisive 1960s, Crocker stood in solidarity with the LPGA Tour’s only two black players, Althea Gibson and Renee Powell. Along with many other LPGA members, Crocker vowed that “all or none” of the LPGA players would compete when several tournament sites threatened to exclude the Tour’s black players.

“I met Mary Lou at the 1962 U.S. Girls’ Junior when I was 16 and she was 17,” said Powell. “I was the first person who looked like me at that national championship. Everyone wasn’t so nice back then, but Mary Lou was.”

Powell was a quarterfinalist in that 1962 Girls’ Junior, and the two kept in touch throughout their respective college golf careers, and reconnected when Powell followed Crocker to the LPGA Tour in 1967.

Crocker and Powell forged a unique bond in 1971 when they traveled to Vietnam to entertain U.S. soldiers on a USO Tour stop in Saigon. Decades later, Crocker would travel many times to the Powell family’s course, Clearview Golf Club in East Canton, Ohio, where she would help Powell teach juniors, women and military veterans.

Two years ago, Crocker drove from her home in Dallas to Ohio with her car packed full of golf clubs, shoes and clothes for the girls in Clearview’s junior program. It was a three-day drive.

Crocker was diagnosed with cancer in November 2015. Even as her health declined, she continued to reach out to the female military veterans she had helped teach in the Clearview Hope golf program, calling from her hospital bed in December 2015 to extend Christmas greetings.

“She had a big heart and always thought about others before herself,” said Powell, who traveled to Texas on Jan. 23 to visit her friend. Four days later, Crocker died.

“She was my friend in golf who I’ve known the longest,” said Powell. “I’m really going to miss her.”

Crocker is survived by her life partner, Pam Halstead, and her sisters, Carolyn Campbell and Marsh Smith, as well as nieces and nephews. Funeral arrangements are being handled by Rolling Oaks Funeral Home in Coppell, Texas.

Lisa D. Mickey is a Florida-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.