The winner of the first major held at the history-steeped golf course hosting this week’s U.S. Open served up plenty of solid lessons that still hold true today.
Her name: Genevieve Hecker.
Hecker’s victory in the U.S. Women’s Amateur in 1902 made her a perfect fit to write “Golf For Women,” the first instruction book written specifically for women. It’s a manual that, in some ways, remains every bit as relevant in 2022 as it was when it came out.
Hecker’s second straight title in the country’s most prestigious women’s event came 11 years before Francis Ouimet put golf on the map in America by winning the U.S. Open at The Country Club. Her victory came seven decades before Title IX changed the landscape for women in sports forever in the U.S.
It is Hecker, not Ouimet, who goes down as the first national champion of any kind to be crowned at The Country Club. At the time, golf was a diversion from the main pursuits at the club — among them, horse racing, polo and ice skating.
“When you have someone like Genevieve, who comes along as an 18-year-old and becomes a pretty accomplished player, she automatically became one of the best in the country, and could rival some of the best in the world,” said Michael Trostel, a USGA historian.
Hecker’s book came out in 1904. Cost: $2. Magazine ads from the day touted the book as a must-read for the few thousand female golf enthusiasts across the country.
“No woman player, however skillful, can fail to profit by a careful study of it,” said one review, published in the New York Post.
Other reviews also assured readers that the tips “will be useful to men as well.”
Though other instructional books have gone on to greater renown — think “Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons” and Harvey Penick’s “Little Red Book” — none have quite the history or standing as Hecker’s 217-page trailblazer.
Very few in the early 20th century had reason to think there was much of an audience for women’s golf — a reality Hecker acknowledged in her introduction.
She called it “so comparatively unimportant that no woman has felt it incumbent upon her to blaze the path, as it were, for her faltering yet enthusiastic sisters.”
“Happily, that time has now gone, and it has gone never to return,” she concluded.
And yet, women’s golf still had a long way to go.
The first U.S. Women’s Open wasn’t contested until 1946. Pro golf for women didn’t start in earnest until the mid-1940s, and the LPGA Tour wasn’t founded until 1950.
In the early 1900s, the women’s game was an amateur pursuit played by several dozen highly skilled players at clubs mostly scattered across the East Coast and in Chicago.
It was far from the shorts-and-golf-shirt comfort-fest that it is today. Pictures and illustrations in “Golf For Women” show women demonstrating different parts of the golf swing while wearing ankle-length skirts with long-sleeved blouses buttoned up to their neck. Some sport a necktie. (Men didn’t have it much better. They were still duffing around in knickers and neckties.)
Some of Hecker’s lessons, though, could have been ripped out of a 2022 golf magazine. The book is filled with timeless tips that remind us that, as difficult as the game can be, some concepts remain alarmingly simple:
—On the amateur’s well-worn penchant for not hitting enough club to reach the green or clear a hazard: “It is much easier to play correctly a shot which would cover the distance with ease than to play it with a club with which one must press.”
—On putting: “One of the truest and best-known axioms … ‘Never up, never in.’”
—On playing fast: “Anyone who has been subjected to the annoyance of waiting and waiting after each shot, while someone a couple of hundred yards ahead goes through a half-dozen meaningless swings, will, I think, most heartily indorse all that I have said.”
Hecker’s success on the links, to say nothing of the fame she gained from writing the book, made her a familiar name in golf circles.
When she married a renowned player, Charles Stout, in 1903, the New York Times wedding announcement included a headline that called the union “a romance on the links.” Hecker would take a break from competitive golf for almost two decades while she had children. When, in 1925, she won a New York Women’s Metropolitan Golf event at Siwanoy Country Club at age 41, the Times labeled it “one of the most remarkable comebacks in the history of golf.”
The potential audience for the book, meanwhile, grew larger after Ouimet’s breakthrough victory at The Country Club in 1913. That history-making win triggered a golf surge in the U.S., from 350,000 to around 2 million players over the ensuing decade.
Nearly 120 years after the book first came out, approximately 25 million people play golf in America. About a quarter of that total are women, and the future is promising.
According to the National Golf Foundation, girls’ golf in the United States is growing at a faster rate than the boys. Girls made up only 17% of junior golfers in 1995. Last year, they accounted for one-third of juniors.
Pretty much anyone, woman or man, would be hard-pressed not to find at least a few useful snippets in “Golf For Women.” The book also included a few words that could prove helpful to the 156 players trying to follow in her footsteps and become a USGA champion at The Country Club this week.
“To be a successful tournament player, no matter how skillful one may be,” she wrote, “it is essential to be able to use the occasion, and ‘play better than one knows how,’ as the sporting papers say, when the occasion demands it.”
Female champion at The Country Club wrote the book on golf