GOLF – FORMER PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Fay Crocker

I was recently browsing the Sports Illustrated Online Vault as I often do (a fun way to pass the time by the way) and I came upon a “Tip” in a 1957 issue that could explain a lot about my golf game.

This particular “Tip From the Top”, as SI used to call brief nuggets of advice from golfers back in the day, was by former LPGA player (Fay Crocker).  She revealed that many women struggle to get any real distance despite hitting straight because we don’t keep our grips “welded together” at the top of our back swings.

She theorized that since women lack the forearm strength of most men, we don’t tend to allow our left thumbs and right palms to be in “perfect contact with each other throughout the swing.”  She claimed a solution involved “keeping the two hands firmly together [as] the direct route not only to consistency but also to power.”

Hmm.  This makes perfect sense and I can’t wait to try it out when the weather gets warmer.

Crocker had another Tip published in a 1956 SI issue to help golfers get their timing back.  She described the process of slowing down the entire swing “from the waggle at address through the finish” to help take the power out of it and let balance return.

Yet another great idea. 

So, who is Fay Crocker and where did she get her sound advice?

The quick answer is that she was a Uruguayan golfer who played on the LPGA Tour in its early days and won 12 tournaments including 2 majors (1955 US Women’s Open; 1960 Titleholders Championship).

She was also the oldest player to win her first LPGA event, the first non-American to win a U.S. Women’s Open, and the oldest women’s major champion.

But, Crocker was also known to have tenacity and stamina, along with skill.  It’s why she never gave up.

Early Life and Career

Not much is written about Fay Crocker and her upbringing.  What I could find out is that she was born in 1914 in Montevideo, Uruguay.  It is the most populous city in that small country sandwiched in between its larger neighbors, Brazil and Argentina.

She began golfing at age 6 and was taught by her parents (Frederick & Helen), both talented golfers and athletes in their own right.

Frederick was an American expatriate whose grandfather was Lt. Commander Frederick Crocker, a well-to-do distinguished naval officer who moved to Uruguay after the American Civil War when he was in his late 40s.

While running an import business, Fay’s father won the Uruguayan men’s golf championship 27 times.  Helen was crowned the Uruguayan women’s champion 6 times and won several tennis championships.

As for Fay, she took over as the face of South American women’s golf and won her country’s championship 20 times and was Argentinean champion 14 times.

In her mid-20s, she traveled to the US and played in the US Women’s Amateur Open in 1939, but after losing in the 3rd round during match play, she did not attend another USGA tournament again for 11 years.

Crocker returned to the US in 1950 and played again in the US Women’s Amateur.  This time, she made it to the 4th round before losing to Mae Murray in 27 holes, 9 more than the regulation 18.  It became the longest playoff in USGA women’s match-play at the time.

Fay’s style of play was thought to be impressive particularly with the long irons and distance off the tee.   A 1939 Time magazine article said of Crocker, “… (her) long drives fascinated the galleries, convinced them that she is the Sam Snead of women golfers.” Her swing also drew praise from Bobby Jones.  This obvious depth of talent had many wonder why she struggled to win tournaments.

For a while, Crocker returned home to South America and worked as a visa clerk in the American embassy in Buenos Aires, but she eventually decided to pursue a professional golf career.

In 1954 at age 39, she turned pro and played on the LPGA Tour full-time.

And, through 1960, Crocker played in every single LPGA event held.

It took her 19 tries, but Crocker finally won her first event at the 1955 Serbin Open.  She set a record as the LPGA’s oldest first-time winner at 40 years, 6 months, 18 days which still stands today.

She would go on to win three times in 1955, including her first major, the U.S. Women’s Open, where she outdueled Louise Suggs and Mary Lena Faulk.  Crocker also won twice each in 1956, 1957, and 1958.  At the 1958 U.S. Women’s Open, Crocker’s second round 68 made her the first golfer to break 70 in that event.

She won twice more in 1960, including her second major at the Titleholders Championship when she was 45 years, 7 months and 11 days old, which is also a record that still stands as oldest winner of an LPGA major.

All told, Crocker was third on the LPGA money list in 1955, fourth in 1956 and second in 1957.  She recorded 12 wins, 21 runner-up finishes, and 2 majors through 1960.

LPGA Contribution

The LPGA had only been a fledgling Tour when Crocker first arrived on the scene.  It had been founded by 13 courageous women in 1950. That first year, there were only 13 events on the calendar and $50,000 in prize money.

According to one of the charter members, Marilynn Smith in her autobiography Have Clubs, Will Travel, three major sporting goods manufacturers (Wilson, Spaulding & MacGregor) helped to fund the Association in those early days and set up the tour schedule.

These companies also agreed to underwrite the salary of the LPGA’s first “tournament manager” (later known as the commissioner).  His name was Fred Corcoran and he was a promoter who also previously managed the PGA for a time.

Smith said that the LPGA relied upon amateurs to “fill out” tournament fields then.  And, like the PGA Tour, lady players also conducted sponsored golf clinics and exhibitions around the world to make extra money.

Corcoran wound up resigning when the funding for his salary fell through in 1953, so Smith recruited Crocker to share the tournament management duties.  Together, she said they added more Tour events, prize money and managed the various committees that set up each event.   Smith said all of this was difficult to manage while they both still played and took attention away from their golf games which suffered in the process.

In 1955, Smith and Crocker conducted Spalding clinics and exhibitions in South America to help promote the sport.  Smith said Fay took the lead at these events because she was fluent in Spanish and, she had a fine reputation particularly in her native region.  She remembered when the 2 visited a soccer game in Uruguay, Fay was recognized and received a warm standing ovation from the locals.

Also notable, Smith said that Fay was instrumental in helping her gain her confidence back as a player.  She described Crocker as very encouraging and told her that she should “believe in her ability” and “play one shot at a time”.  She said Fay’s support was her “15th club in my bag”.

As the LPGA moved into the early 1960s, the women’s tour had yet to take off and gain a respectable audience. But, they also still hadn’t found another commissioner to replace Corcoran, because they couldn’t afford one.

The Association also failed to capitalize on the emergence of television.  But eventually, Title IX kicked in and bigger stars helped to launch the LPGA in the right direction.

For Crocker, she continued to host various manufacturer sponsored events and clinics through the 1960s and eventually faded away from the Tour.

She died in 1983 and was buried in The British Cemetery in Montevideo.

Crocker’s Influence

By my calculations, Crocker falls 12 points short of the 27 required to be considered for the LPGA Hall of Fame.

She’s probably short of the 10 years required to have been active on the Tour as well.  And, maybe she wouldn’t perfectly fit under the category of someone who had “an extraordinary career that significantly impacted the growth of the LPGA Tour”.

But, I think she is worthy of being honored by the LPGA because she was one of the most successful players on the early Tour, one of the rare Uruguayan female golfers to find marked success outside of South America, and she had a hand in the early growth of the Association.

Unfortunately, the LPGA doesn’t even have a profile for her on their website.

It’s a shame really, that they overlook a player whose name shows up on that site in several other places alongside the greats of the sport whose records have not stood for over 60 years like hers.

Fact is, Fay Crocker’s name should not be forgotten in the hallowed grounds of the LPGA.

Her accomplishments aside, she was a tenacious fighter who toiled for decades to play on the women’s tour while withstanding tough competition.

On a regular basis, she faced the great Hall of Famers Louise Suggs (61 LPGA wins); Babe Zaharias (41 LPGA wins), Mickey Wright (82 wins); and Patty Berg (60 wins), among others.

And, while she wasn’t American, glamorous or flashy like her more famous counterparts, her love for the game was potent and her guts, courage and talent helped push her through to the champion she was.

Also, in an era when women were expected to be married and hunker down with children, Fay Crocker moved across the world to try and make her dream a reality.  It took bravery and courage to do that.  Luckily, she had support from her family and peers who believed in her.

I feel so strongly about Crocker’s contributions to women’s golf, I may take my case to the LPGA.  They should at least let future generations know about her and learn from her struggles and successes.  Crocker sacrificed much for the Association, it’s the least they can do for her legacy.

 

 

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