Hawaii’s First Star Women’s Golfer

imageMichelle Wie’s recent Q-School triumph, and her past difficulties with the score card puts me in mind of another great female golfer from Hawaii, Jackie Pung.

Pung was born in Honolulu in 1921, and began playing at age six. Her native Hawaiian father was Captain of the Hawaii Golf Club. Like Michelle Wie, she grew up playing against men, eventually winning a spot on her high school boy’s team. She won the Hawaii Women’s Amateur in 1938.

In 1952, Pung won the US Women’s Amateur, and shortly thereafter turned pro, winning $7,500 in her first year on Tour. She played on the LPGA Tour between 1953 and 1964, winning five tournaments, and placing second in fourteen others.  Pung twice placed second in the US Women’s Open.

That’s a very good record. But it was her tragedy at the 1957 US Women’s Open that brought her lasting notoriety. That greatest of golf writers, Herbert Warren Wind, described the imbroglio thusly:

You will probably never see an unhappier group of people at a golf championship than was gathered at the Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y. last Saturday evening at the close of the National Women’s Open. This gloom came hard on the heels of a very deeply felt elation. Mrs. Jackie Pung, the 235-pound Hawaiian lady, who is quite a golfer and quite a person, came ripping down the final 18 (after a par 75 in the morning) to catch the leader, Betsy Rawls, and edge her out by a stroke, 298 to 299. The gallery’s great delight in Mrs. Pung’s triumph was occasioned partially by the magnificent 72 she had shot when nothing short of the most brilliant golf could have won for her. And it was occasioned partially by the knowledge, common to just about everyone present, that the rotund Hawaiian, a self-taught golfer whose talent for the game is as instinctive as the young Sarazen’s, really needed the money which victory would bring.

After Mrs. Pung, then a complete unknown, won the Women’s Amateur in 1952, she turned professional as the logical means of getting the wherewithal to pay for the education of her two daughters. In 1953 she lost the playoff for the Women’s Open to Betsy Rawls. Some two years ago, physically and emotionally far from well, she went back to Hawaii to try to reorganize her life. She returned to the States and to the pro circuit only two months ago. This is just brushing the surface of Jackie Pung’s story. There have been many hard knocks in it, but she has managed to survive them all quite valiantly. In this day and age of public-relations personalities, her manner, always natural and altogether honest, is extremely refreshing.

About 40 minutes after Mrs. Pung had walked off the 18th green, the apparent winner, the United States Golf Association announced—with the most genuine unhappiness—that she had been disqualified for reporting an incorrect score on one hole (the fourth) on her final round. It is hard to describe the feeling this created at Winged Foot. First, it seemed incredible, like a bad dream. Second, it seemed grossly unjust, however defensible legally. Mrs. Pung had handed in the correct total for her final round—72. Her card showed a 5 and not the 6 she had taken on the fourth, but her addition took into account that it had been a 6—her total was correct. The shocking news of Mrs. Pung’s disqualification filled everyone with a personal sense of impotent anger and with compassion for the victim of so important a ruling based on so insignificant a technicality. The members of Winged Foot spontaneously undertook a collection for Jackie, and within a very short time over $2,000 had been contributed. Some of the most generous contributions came from the USGA officials, who, in pursuit of their duty as they saw it, felt compelled to uphold the rules, whatever their personal feelings. It had all the elements of classical theatrical tragedy. Mrs. Pung spoke at the conclusion of the ceremonies at which the cup was presented to the official winner, Betsy Rawls. Earlier, on hearing the bad news, she had broken down and left the club with her 15-year-old daughter, then she had calmed herself down and returned, honestly stoical about the whole hard experience. “Winning the Open is the greatest thing in golf,” she began her remarks at the presentation ceremonies. “I have come close before. This time I thought I’d won. But I didn’t. Golf is played by rules, and I broke a rule. I’ve learned a lesson. And I have two broad shoulders….”

Ultimately, more than $3,000 was collected for Pung. The winner’s share in the championship was $1,800.

And ironically, the woman who was the beneficiary of Pung’s mistake—Betsy Rawls—was the same player who had beaten Pung in an 18 hole playoff at the 1953 Women’s Open.

Pung ended her LPGA career in 1965, returning home to Hawaii to take a job teaching at the Mauna Kea Beach Resort. She was named LPGA Teaching Professional of the Year in 1967.

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5 thoughts on “Hawaii’s First Star Women’s Golfer”

  1. I read about Mrs. Pung in the Golf Hall of Shame book.  Her tragedy is one good reason why I will never play golf in my life…besides the fact I tried it when I was 19 and found I had no patience for it.

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  2. What most people don’t know and the press overlooks is that Jackie never had the chance to sit down after she finished privately with her official scorer (my mother)to verufy her scorecard. I have always believed that after this the rules were changed that now allows all players to go into a secure area (the Scorer’s Tent or Room) to carefully go over their cards with both caddy and official scorer.  Yes, there is often an interview by a TV person right after the round, but no other media can mob the winner as Javckie was at Winged Foot that day.

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