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  • Alistair Tait

The Lewis & Carroll U.S. Women’s Open

Betsy Rawls didn’t really win the 1957 U.S. Women’s Open. She won it by default. Jackie Pung was the actual champion.

Pung lost it on a clerical error. Hopefully no player in this week’s U.S. Women’s Open at The Olympic Club in San Francisco suffers the same fate.

Never heard of Jackie Pung? Bet you’ve heard of Roberto de Vicenzo and Mark Roe? Thought so.

Pung’s name never seems to get mentioned when scorecard errors crop up. Yet, 11 years before de Vicenzo’s ‘What a stupid I am” moment, Pung had her own stupid moment. Maybe it’s more accurate to say, golf had perhaps its first of many stupid moments thanks to the sometimes ridiculousness of the Rules of Golf, in particular old Rule 6-6d.

When Pung walked off the 72nd green of Winged Foot’s East Course, she’d realised a dream hatched growing up in Honolulu and nearly achieved in 1953. Unfortunately, that dream turned into a nightmare.

The 1952 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion, the first player from Hawaii to win that title, took 298 blows, including a closing, level-par 72, in the 1957 U.S. Women’s Open, one better than Betsy Rawls, and seven better than Patty Berg. It seemed sweet revenge for Pung since she’d lost in a playoff to Rawls for the 1953 championship at the Country Club of Rochester.

Sweet revenge proved ephemeral. As she was being congratulated by players, fans, and golf writers, a USGA official approached her to tell her not only had she not won the U.S. Open, but she hadn’t even qualified for any prize money.

Unfortunately, Betty Jameson, Pung’s playing companion, had marked down a five on the fourth hole when she’d actually taken 6.

Perhaps in the excitement of winning her first major, Pung failed to spot the error. Content that the 72 total was correct, she signed her card. USGA executive assistant C.E. Miller spotted the mistake after Pung had countersigned her card next to Jameson’s signature.

Pung was disqualified under old Rule 6-6d, the same rule that would later deny De Vicenzo the chance of slipping on a green jacket as 1967 Masters winner, and Roe a chance at hoisting the old claret jug as the 2003 Open champion.

We can well imagine how Pung felt. Heartbroken probably doesn’t come close to describing her emotions. She had played the best golf over the four rounds, had beaten the best golfers in the world, she hadn’t cheated, yet was denied the biggest win of her life because of a mere technicality.

It was as ludicrous then as it was at Augusta, as it was at Royal St George’s when Roe was tossed out of the Open because he and Jesper Parnevik failed to swap scorecards. In Roe's case, an official scorer had walked every hole, marked down every shot both men took, could attest to Roe’s score, but he had to walk because of the ridiculous inflexibility of Rule 6-6d.

I covered the Roe situation and argued for equity to come into play for the very reason an official scorer had recorded all 67 strokes he took that day. My argument fell on deaf ears, and Roe, a personal friend, was denied his best chance at winning a major championship.

Herbert Warren Wind, the doyen of American golf writing, penned the best words to describe the Pung penalty when he wrote in The Story of American Golf:

“There are good reasons for the endless intricacies of the Rules of Golf, but there are times, such as the 1957 Women’s Open, when legality and not justice is served by questionable application of certain rules and a great day’s golf is turned into a Lewis and Carroll travesty.”

Spot. On.

The governing bodies later introduced a decision to cater for the Roe/Parnevik situation. However, Rule 6-6d, now covered by Rule 3.3b-3, is still in play. If a player signs for a score lower than the actual score then said player is disqualified.

Sometimes it’s hard to justify this great game to non-golfing friends. The Pung, De Vicenzo and Roe situations are good examples of that. It will still be hard to justify should that ruling ever happen again.

#JustSaying: “Golf was invented by some Scotsman who hit a ball, with a stick, into a hole in the ground. Today the game is exactly the same, except that it now takes some 90-odd pages of small type to ensure that the ball is with hit with the stick into the ground without cheating.” A.S. Graham

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