Richard Still Knocking at the Door for First USGA Title September 26, 2015 | NASHVILLE, TENN. By Lisa D. Mickey

One of the most decorated players to ever come out of Arkansas, Tanna Richard has been competing in USGA championships since 1979. (USGA/Matt Sullivan)

U.S. Senior Women's Amateur Home

Tanna Richard has competed for trophies, as well as for chocolate pie over the years in her lifelong amateur career. But regardless of the prize or the event – ranging from friendly competitions with men for pastry-chef creations at her home course, Hardscrabble Country Club, to trophies at USGA events – the goal has remained the same for this Arkansas native.

“I’m not the longest hitter and I’m certainly not the best player, but I love the competition and just trying to get better,” said Richard, 58, of Fort Smith, Ark. “I appreciate it now even more because I realize how lucky I am to still be able to do it.”

With experience at 46 USGA championships, Richard approaches this week’s U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur Championship at Hillwood Country Club with the same dream she has always had, of winning a USGA title.

She has come close a few times, most notably a semifinal loss in the 2007 Senior Women’s Amateur. But since her earliest days of learning golf from a mentor and competing in the inaugural 1987 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Okla., Richard’s excitement for competition has not waned.

She was 12 when she played her first tournament, the 1969 Arkansas State Junior Championship. Competing as Tanna Lee, she won back-to-back titles in the event in 1973-74 before emerging as the 1980 Arkansas State Match-Play champion and the 1996 Arkansas State Stroke-Play champion.

But as she took her first swings, a club member who was the only woman with full voting privileges at Hardscrabble in the 1960s took the youngster under her wing. That woman, Ed Dell Wortz, chaired the U.S. Girls’ Junior Committee in the 1960s and served for more than 35 years with the Arkansas Women’s Golf Association, as well as on the USGA’s Women’s Committee.

Wortz played golf with Dorothy Lee, Richard’s mother, and the women would let young Tanna play along. They played from the club’s white tees, measuring around 6,000 yards, and told the junior that if she planned to play championship golf some day, she had to move back from the forward tees.

Young Tanna would listen to Wortz’s stories about volunteering as a Rules official at the Curtis Cup Match and various other international competitions. And it was Wortz who taught Tanna the Rules of Golf as the junior played alongside adults at their club.

“I was very fortunate to have known Ed Dell at the beginning of my golf career and I got to know so many people through her, like [past USGA president] Judy Bell, who were important in the game,” said Richard.

But it took a while for Richard to make it to the national championship level. As a junior, she only had the Arkansas Girls’ Junior Championship in which to compete. There was no such thing as the American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) at the time, and competitive opportunities for juniors were limited.

Wortz beamed when Richard qualified for the 1979 U.S. Women’s Amateur, which was being held that year in nearby Memphis, Tenn. She was serving as an official at that event and knew her young protégé would have a firm grasp of the Rules in her first USGA championship.

Richard played college golf at the University of Missouri before women’s golf was a part of the NCAA. After graduating, she taught school in Missouri before returning home to work as an office manager for her father, Dr. Robin Lee, who owned a dental practice in Fort Smith.

“I didn’t hit the ball long enough to turn professional, but I wanted to continue playing competitive amateur golf,” she said.

Ironically, while taking an accounting class back home at the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith, she began playing golf with her accounting professor, Louisiana native Ron Richard (pronounced Ree-SHARD), who was also the school’s golf coach.

Competitive matches for chocolate pie ensued with Ron and other top local male amateurs. Those matches sharpened Tanna’s game and eventually led Ron and Tanna to marry in 1991. She was 34.

Ron Richard had already won the Trans-Mississippi Amateur Championship twice before they married, so the two scratch golfers had an instant connection through the game.

“Golf is a very important thing that we both enjoy,” said Tanna. “I’ve caddied for him and he’s caddied for me. We both still compete and when we have tournaments, we understand that we need to spend time playing and practicing.”

Both are also members of the Arkansas State Golf Association Hall of Fame and are still regular contenders in state and amateur championships.

Over the next two weeks, husband Ron will be cheering for his wife and she pursues her goal. Following the Senior Women’s Amateur, Tanna will drive south to prepare for the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur, being held Oct. 3-8 at Squire Creek Country Club in Choudrant, La.. A championship in the Bayou State gives Ron and Tanna a welcome opportunity to combine competitive golf with a trip home to visit Ron’s Louisiana family members.

“I’m a baby boomer,” said Richard. “At this stage of my career, I love seeing players I’ve known for 30 years and I’m here to have fun, but I’d still really love to win.”

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