Barbara Romack, the 1954 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion who became the first female golfer to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated, died on Oct. 15 at the age of 83 in Florida.
Romack rose to national prominence in 1954 when she defeated future World Golf Hall of Fame member and fellow California junior golf rival Mickey Wright in the 36-hole championship match of the U.S. Women’s Amateur at Allegheny Country Club in Sewickley, Pa., 4 and 2.
“She was my pigeon,” Romack playfully said of Wright, whom she owned a 3-0 lifetime record against. Romack had previously defeated Wright in the finals of the California Girls’ Junior and California Women’s Amateur. Wright, the 1952 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion, would go on to win four U.S. Women’s Open titles.
"I sort of looked up to [Barbara] as a big sister," said Wright in an email. "She was great fun, always laughing, and what a marvelous amateur golfer she was. Fine golf swing and a great putter. [I] can't believe she is gone, but she will forever be in my memories."
One of the individuals who congratulated Romack on her U.S. Women's Amateur victory was Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, who sent her a telegram. Romack attended high school in Sacramento, Calif., with one of Warren’s daughters.
Sports Illustrated, then in its second year of existence, put Romack on the cover of its April 16, 1956 issue to promote the upcoming Curtis Cup Match in England, calling the 5-foot-4 dynamo a “little tiger” for her ability to smack 220-plus-yard drives despite her diminutive stature.
During the height of her amateur career, Romack represented the USA on three Curtis Cup Teams (1954, 1956 and 1958), compiling a 3-2-0 record.
The daughter of a plumbing contractor, Romack was born on Nov. 16, 1932, in Sacramento. As a youngster, she participated in a number of outdoor activities, including baseball, horseback riding, swimming and fishing. Golf, however, didn’t come naturally. She often caddied for her father, Aubrey, and later borrowed his clubs to play at a local course, where she proceeded to lose every ball in the bag.
“I got hooked because I couldn’t do it,” Romack told the USGA for a 2002 story in Golf Journal.
A couple of summers later, the family was vacationing near Lake Tahoe and Romack snuck away to a nine-hole course. An elderly gentleman joined the group around the third hole and Romack recorded her first hole-in-one on the ninth hole. “He said, ‘Nice shot, honey,’” Romack recalled. “And he signed my little card. Later on, I looked at the signature and it said, ‘Ty Cobb.’ We had no idea who he was.”
It wouldn’t be the last time Romack brushed with celebrities or dignitaries. During the height of her amateur days and nearly 20-year career as an LPGA professional, Romack played with such luminaries as Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Jackie Gleason. She even dined at the White House with President Dwight D. Eisenhower. She also once teamed with Desi Arnaz for an event at Thunderbird Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif.