Martha Leach (USGA photo)
Of the 120 women in the field at the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open, 29 were amateurs. They shined at Chicago Golf Club, and seven made the cut. Martha Leach, the 2009 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champion, not only was the low amateur, she finished in the top 10.
Leach lives in Hebron, Ky., and works as a real estate agent. At 56, she remains extremely competitive on the amateur circuit. She finished eighth at the Sally Amateur to start the year and made it to match play at both the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur and the North & South Women’s Amateur in 2017.
We caught up with Leach after her run in Chicago to talk about the championship:
How do you describe the overall experience of the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open?
It was a little different experience for me because I had played in two U.S. Opens and a lot of these women were playing in the U.S. Open with me again so it was like, ‘OK, I’ve done this before but we’re all older now.’ For the most part, a lot of the players are not as competitive as they were but the USGA and Chicago Golf Club, they did it like it was the most important tournament that we’ve ever played in. They treated us that way and it reflected that way with all of us.
Had you played Chicago Golf Club before?
No, I never had played it. I’ve always heard about the golf course and how great a golf course it is and how difficult it is to get on so I had decided – my husband John, who was my caddie and my instructor, and I – to go up earlier and have three practice rounds and then have competition. We knew we would have two days but to have four days of competition was our intent and for it to come to fruition was awesome.
When was the last time you played in the same event as your sister, Hollis Stacy (a Hall of Famer with four major championship titles)?
It was at Indianwood (in Lake Orion, Mich.) at the (U.S. Women’s) Open, and I’m thinking … it had to be 24 years ago. Whenever Patty Sheehan won the U.S. Women’s Open. (1994)
That is a long time! But you two played in back-to-back groups in the third round, so I bet that was enjoyable.
They said if we had played off No. 1 tee, we’d have been paired together, which would have been really neat. Everybody wanted us to play together the first two days and we said, ‘Oh no, that would just be awful.’ I said, ‘No, because she worries about my golf and I would worry about her golf.’ Instead of us taking care of our own golf, we would have too many distractions with watching each other. We were OK if we had to play with each other third or fourth round, but that did not happen.
I saw you mention that you didn’t feel like you had your best game last week, so to finish in the top 10 and as the low amateur, does that make you particulary proud to know you played well with what you had?
Yes, and I think a lot of the players who are competing a lot go there and you play with what you have. I was very fortunate that if I had a 6-iron to the green or another iron to the green, I would miss it on the proper level. They weren’t perfect shots – they were offline or they were a little thin but those greens were so demanding that you had to hit it on the correct side, the correct quadrant of the green to have a better putt. Fortunately for me, my misses were in those quadrants. They may have been longer putts but they were in the right quadrants.
Just lucky, I think!
Either one. You also made an eagle on the 14th hole and the USGA wanted the ball, but it sounds like you’re going to keep it. Will you donate anything else to the USGA museum?
Well, they wanted the golf ball but of course as soon as I had the eagle, I took it out of play and put it in my golf bag because I want to have people sign it who were there to witness. I had my playing partners, I even had Carl the scorer and Mary the standard bearer sign it also because they were there for the whole round. And then I had my daughter and son-in-law sign it and I’m going to have my husband. (The USGA) asked me after I had everyone’s signature. They had asked after an interview, ‘Would you give us the golf ball?’ And I have all these signatures now and they didn’t want the signatures. I had a hole-in-one at Pinehurst No. 2 during the North & South Women’s Amateur and I did the same thing. I don’t keep a lot of souvenirs but those are the ones. I would have given it to them if they had asked earlier but I’m happy to have the golf ball with the signatures.
That’s a keepsake. Do you have anything in the USGA museum?
I do have something in the museum. When I won the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur (2009), it was the weirdest thing. At that time I was just getting my real estate license, studying for it, but I’ve always done substitute teaching. That keeps me busy. So I remember I was reading a sports psychology book by Bob Rotella. I was substitute teaching and I had an hour break so I was reading it, and I wrote down this saying on a grocery list. I put it in my golf bag and that’s what I kept reminding myself. That’s what I gave to Golf House because it’s something that really got me through each round and when I felt like I couldn’t get it, it kind of brought me back to the tournament. So that’s what I gave. I didn’t give a hat or a golf ball, I gave this piece of paper that really had a whole lot of meaning for me.
I like that.
That’s who I am.
Well, this week was so celebrated in the world of golf. As someone who has been so involved in the game, and your family has been involved, what would you say it means for women’s golf to get this event off the ground and have it be received so well?
It’s monumental in the sense that it’s finally here. It’s been a long time coming for a lot of these professional women. They have really wanted this championship. Probably I kept hearing 15-17 years ago, they really started working on that. Luckily for me as a mid-amateur, and then now a senior amateur, I have a national championship. But here were these women who had really worked hard in promoting golf their whole careers, playing golf and not having their national championship. It had to be a little hurtful when you’re over the age of 50. But now that it’s here, it’s all good. Everybody kept saying it’s about time, but now that it’s here you forget about it. Golf is growing for women in the younger segment of the population, for junior golfers, but I feel like there’s also a void in keeping women in the game. After college, not everybody does play professionally. They have careers and family and normally they put their golf on the back burner to do these things. . . . It’s a true testament that golf is a lifetime game, it’s a game for all ages. Sometimes we need more competition for the women who are over 50.