The crowd at Salem Country Club looks on as Glenna Collett Vare tees off during the 1932 Women’s Amateur Championship.
By ANNE MARIE TOBIN
If history has anything to do with it, this year’s U.S. Senior Open at Salem Country Club is going be a real doozy.
At the 2001 Senior Open, eight players were within two shots of the lead on the back nine. Five of them – Jack Nicklaus, Isao Aoki, Jim Colbert, Larry Nelson and eventual champion Bruce Fleisher – were even par and held shares of the lead.
Fleisher emerged from the pack, parring the final 12 holes, then waited and watched as the rest of the field imploded.
In 1984, the year that Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ album was at the top of the charts, Hollis Stacy was embroiled in a thriller of her own, playing the last 14 holes in 5-under-par to come from behind to win her third U.S. Women’s Open.
Donald Ross and champion Dale Morey shared the spotlight at the rain-soaked U.S. Senior Amateur in 1977. Thanks to Ross’ genius design, the course stayed above water and remained playable for all but one day of competition.
And who can forget the magical 1954 U.S. Women’s Open, won by the great Babe Didrikson Zaharias, who cruised to a 12-shot victory, despite having had colon cancer surgery just 15 months prior to the event? Even more impressive was that she played 36 holes on the final day. Sadly, Babe died from the disease a little more than two years after her sensational win.
The USGA first came to Salem in 1932 for the 36th U.S Women’s Amateur. Virginia Van Wie, twice a bridesmaid to the great Glenna Collett Vare, played flawlessly, romping to a 10 and 8 victory over the five-time champion.
Who will win this year’s U.S. Senior Open? The likely answer is the golf course, as no one has ever beaten par in a USGA stroke play championship staged at Salem.
One sure thing is that club historian Tom Standring is going to need more square footage in the club’s archives room as another exciting chapter to the storied history of Salem Country Club is about to be written.
Let’s look back at Salem CC’s impressive five previous championships:
2001 U.S. SENIOR OPEN
The 22nd Senior Open was a golf junkie’s dream, highlighted by the participation of the original “big three” of Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player. Toss in the likes of Tom Watson, Hale Irwin, Chi Chi Rodriguez, Ray Floyd, local favorite Allen Doyle and surprise qualifier Steve Swedberg of Beverly, and it added up to a star-studded who’s who’s of golf royalty.
Playing in the third-to-last group in Sunday’s final round, Fleisher trailed Aoki by four shots, but rallied with a 2-under 68 to finish at even par, 280. One by one, Fleisher’s opponents played themselves out of contention. Nicklaus bogied the 15th and 16th holes to finish two shots behind in a three-way tie for fourth place at 2-over with Doyle and Colbert, who bogeyed 16 and double bogeyed 18. After Aoki 3-putted the 17th and Gil Morgan airmailed the 18th green and made bogey, Fleisher had secured his second USGA title, setting a record for the most years between wins (33; Fleisher won the 1968 U.S. Amateur). Palmer and Nicklaus are the only other players to win national amateur and open championships.
1984 U.S. WOMEN’S OPEN
The 32nd U.S. Women’s Open came down to the 72nd hole. Stacy parred it, to post the lowest round of the tournament, a 3-under par 69, and finish 2-over par 292.
Stacy was locked in a three-way tie with Amy Alcott and Rosie Jones, who were still on the course. All the 30-year old could do was wait and watch.
Hogan’s Alley was Alcott’s undoing. She made double-bogey six after a poor tee shot on the 9th hole to finish two shots behind Stacy, while Jones finished one shot out of a playoff with a bogey.
Stacy’s round ranks as one of the most exciting comebacks in tournament history.
She was five shots behind the leaders, Donna White and Alcott, after a double bogey on the 4th hole, but birdied the 5th and 8th holes to pull within two.
On the par-4 13th hole, Stacy drove into the rough. She punched a 7-iron under some low- hanging tree limbs from 133 yards out; the ball disappeared into the cup for an eagle. She then birdied the 16th and parred in to claim her sixth USGA title and the winner’s prize of
Stacy said, “Babe (Zaharias) won here the year I was born. Maybe that was a lucky charm.”
Stacy and Zaharias share a common bond; they each won the final majors of their careers at Salem, Stacy her fourth and Zaharias her 10th.
1977 U.S. SENIOR AMATEUR
The big story of the 23rd U.S. Senior Amateur was the weather.
A September nor’easter dumped buckets of rain in the area, forcing grounds crew workers to scramble to keep the course playable. While the abilities of Ross have always been obvious to those fortunate to have played the classic layout, Ross’ hidden genius was on display when only one day of play was washed out. The final round was played in driving rain, but Morey rose to the occasion, beating Lewis Oehmig, 4 and 3, to capture his second senior title in four years.
1954 U.S. WOMEN’S OPEN
Zaharias’ win in the 9th U.S. Women’s Open (second conducted by the USGA) is considered one of the most remarkable feats in the history of sports.
She blitzed the 53-player field, finishing 12 shots clear of runner-up Betty Hicks and 16 shots ahead of Louise Suggs.
She shot 71 in the first round, then followed up with 72 in the second round to go into the final day with a seven shot lead. Battling oppressive heat, Zaharias finished a 73 and 75 to capture her third open title with a 3-over 291.
Upon finishing the round, Zaharias threw her hat in the air and said, “Thank goodness it’s over. I couldn’t have gone another hole.”
Lionel MacDuff, Salem ‘s president in 1954, said in 1995, “It was an amazing performance that compares with anything I’ve ever seen in a championship at any level. The Babe always puts on a great show, but this one topped ‘em all.”
Zaharias’ paycheck for the week? A whopping $2,000.
1932 US WOMEN’S AMATEUR
Van Wie’s victory in the 1932 U.S. Women’s Amateur was particularly sweet as she had been clobbered by Vare in the 1928 final, 13 and 12, and also lost to her in 1930. She went on to win the 1933 and 1934 titles, becoming the fourth woman to win three amateur titles.
The New York Times reported, “Miss Van Wie’s chipping and putting were phenomenal, and time and time again she sent her ball so close to the hole …that getting down in a single putt was easy. She was also deadly with her putter… not once in all the 28 holes did she miss a putt that could be called holeable.”
(Lionel MacDuff quote is from the Green and Gold Coast written by Gary Larrabee)
Photos: USGA archives