No one recognized the self-described “grey-haired little lady” who spent last week taking in the displays at the World Golf Hall of Fame in Florida.
Apparently, at the start at least, no one understood that a true legend, and one of the hall’s most recent inductees, was wandering around, taking in the Byron Nelson exhibit.
But that didn’t bother Marlene Streit, perhaps the greatest golfer Canada has ever produced.
Sure George Knudson won eight times on the PGA Tour, Mike Weir won the Masters and Moe Norman is known for his uncanny ability to strike a golf ball. But Streit, who has remained an amateur all of her career, has arguably had the best career of the bunch, winning all of the world’s most prestigious amateur titles.
Like Canadian legend Al Balding, Streit, now 70, has continued to win, taking her third U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur, becoming the oldest person to ever win the tournament.
Her election to the World Golf Hall of Fame late last month was one of the worst-kept secrets in the game. Her nomination was put forth by RCGA executive director Stephen Ross.
The only question that remains is, why did it take so long?
For Streit’s part, she is still taken aback by being added to a place that honours golf legends like Bobby Jones, Nancy Lopez and Ben Hogan.
“I was totally surprised,” said Streit, whose bubbly, good-natured personality has remained a constant throughout her career. “I’m totally thrilled and honoured. But I didn’t expect it. I’ve never won a professional tournament.”
But she did win everything else. Breaking into the international amateur circuit as a teenager, Streit took the British Women’s
Amateur in 1953. Over the next 50 years, she won four USGA events, including the 1956 U.S. Women’s Amateur. She remains the only golfer to have captured the Canadian, Australian, British, and U.S. women’s amateur championships.
She grew up playing Lookout Point near Font Hill, Ont., though these days she hangs her hat north of Toronto, playing golf at York Downs and living in Unionville, Ont.
Streit never turned pro, having grown up with the game at a time when many of the top female players stayed within the amateur ranks.
She attributes her success in the United States to simply not being overwhelmed by the experience of playing away from Canada.
“I wasn’t intimidated by them,” she says of playing against the likes of such champions as Babe Didrikson Zaharias. “It didn’t
matter if they were well-known Americans. I didn’t like to lose to anyone.”
Hating to lose is one key factor Streit credits with her remarkable longevity, but she also points out that she never really tinkered
with her swing, which has held up remarkably for five decades.
“My game held up because it wasn’t cluttered,” she explains.
That said, her win last year at the U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur caught many off guard, including herself.
“I just went down to play and hoped to win a couple of matches. But I just kept winning.”
With her induction into the Hall of Fame scheduled for November, alongside Isao Aoki, Tom Kite and Charlie Sifford, Streit says she plans to remain active and play a few events this summer.
Though many people expect she plays everyday, the truth is Streit only plays golf about three days a week.
“I may not even play that much, but I tell people that because it is what they expect,” she says.
What’s next? Streit says her win at the U.S. Seniors last year will allow her to play the U.S. Amateur, something she plans on tackling. But even if she doesn’t win again, Streit admits her career has
surpassed even her expectations.
“It has been a great trip and led to a wonderful destination.”
Let’s hope the journey isn’t over yet.