In Conversation with Marlene Stewart Streit
On 25 June 2014, author Jeremy Freeborn interviewed Marlene Stewart Streit at Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in Calgary.
On 25 June 2014, author Jeremy Freeborn interviewed Marlene Stewart Streit at Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in Calgary. One of Canada’s most accomplished golfers of all-time, Stewart Streit has won the Canadian Women’s Amateur Golf Championship 11 times (she won her first in 1951 and last in 1973); she also won the U.S. Women’s Amateur, the British Ladies Amateur, and the Australian Women’s Amateur Championships and was champion of the U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur three times (the last at age 69 in 2003).
JF: When someone says you are the greatest Canadian women’s golfer ever, what is your reaction?
MSS: Well, I don’t know about that so much. But I have had a really wonderful time doing it. I’ve had a fabulous journey. I hear everybody talk about being an Olympian and representing their country. I represented my country in golf many, many times and that really has been my greatest joy. Golf was not included in the Olympics when I played. But it didn’t matter. We had World Team Championships, we had Commonwealth Championships. I played for Canada. I played for the Canadian Ladies Golf Association. That was my greatest thrill. I stayed amateur my whole life. I never turned professional. I had a family and I had an ordinary life and still played a lot of golf. I think golfers are Olympians as well because we play world golf, and we represent Canada. Not just the Olympians do. I just think I’m giving a plug for golf.
JF: What would you consider as your first significant golf victory?
MSS: I was 17 when I won the Canadian Amateur (in 1951) for the first time and won the British Amateur (in 1953) at age 19. But I think the most important amateur championship was the U.S. Amateur Championship (in 1956). If you can win that, that is the stepping stone to a lot of wonderful, great things.
JF: How meaningful was it for you to win the Bobbie Rosenfeld Award four times?
MSS: It was really nice. [However,] I think it was more important for me to win the Lou Marsh Award twice (in 1951 and 1956). Winning the Lou Marsh Award for me was extraordinary because it was amateur, professional, female or male and I won it twice. That was pretty special for me.
JF: In your opinion, what were your greatest strengths as a golfer?
MSS: Probably my short game—my putting and chipping. I didn’t hit it very far because I am small in stature. I hit it plenty far enough. I always had a good short game. I loved to practice and I really loved to practice more than I played. I practiced my short game a lot and it paid off.
JF: You golfed initially at a time when amateur golf had more prestige than it does today. You had opportunities to turn professional, but you elected to keep your amateur status. What were the major reasons for your decision?
MSS: I took my amateur status because the professional tour was just starting (1950) when I graduated from university (1956). I played in a lot of professional events. I was low amateur in the U.S. Women’s Open in 1961, and played in the U.S. Women’s Open lots of times. I didn’t win it but I had a real life. I had two wonderful daughters and I was able to play in as many tournaments as I wanted to. In those days, we did not play a lot. I maybe played in six national championships (per year). I think in those days too, back in the 1950s, good amateur players stayed amateur and we played good amateur golf. I had a great time and won national championships in six decades, so that’s not bad.
Note: In golf, the low amateur is the amateur golfer with the best score. At the 1961 U.S. Women’s Open, Stewart Streit was tied for seventh place overall amongst all golfers (including professionals), but had the best score among all amateur golfers.
JF: In 1968, Sandra Post won the LPGA Championship, becoming the first Canadian to win a major on the LPGA Tour. Looking back at your career, was the opportunity to participate in majors something you would have liked to have done more of?
MSS: No, I don’t think back in those days you thought about that so much. I think the majors were the Canadian Amateur and the U.S. Amateur as far as I was concerned. In my day the majors were the amateur championships. I seemed to do OK in those. The U.S. Open was a great tournament, and filled the field with great amateurs.
JF: You are also known for your outstanding career longevity. What do you remember most from winning the 2003 United States Senior Women’s Open at age 69?
MSS: That was pretty special. I was playing in Austin, Texas, where the temperature was like 110 °F. It was very hot. I was able to ride a cart which helped. I just stayed and bided my time. In the semifinals I played six extra holes. Then in the finals, which were the same day as the semifinals, I played five extra holes. So I played a lot of golf that day in temperatures from 100° to 110°F.
JF: Golf is making a return to the Olympics at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Are you excited to see golf back on the Olympic stage?
MSS: Yeah, I think it is interesting. I think we always felt the Olympics were our World Team Championships. I had been the low individual in the World Amateur Team Championship (1966 and 1970) and Gary Cowan had been the low individual in the World Amateur Team Championship (1962) as well. That was sort of like our Olympics. I think it is great that golf is back in the Olympics. We are defending the gold medal because George S. Lyon won the Olympics in 1904 in St. Louis. It was a long time ago. We have that wonderful trophy that belonged to him at the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame at Glen Abbey. It is pretty exciting for Canada that golf is in the Olympics again.
JF: In June, 16 year-old Brooke Henderson of Smiths Falls, Ontario, finished tied for tenth place and was the low amateur at the U.S. Women’s Open. What impresses you the most from Henderson’s game?
MSS: She is a great little player. I have been watching her for three or four years. I try to get out and watch her play as much as I can. She is a great player and to be the low amateur in the U.S. Open, and to end up tied for tenth, was pretty fantastic. I was the low amateur in 1961 in Baltusrol. A Canadian has not been the low amateur since. That is quite amazing. She is a fabulous, fabulous person and a great player. I think she has a fantastic future.
JF: What advice would you give young Canadian women who dream of becoming golfers?
MSS: Pursue your dreams just like any other sport. If that is really what you want to do, go and do it. It requires a lot of practice. I can’t tell you how many golf balls I hit. Trillions. I loved to practice more than I play. It is practice, practice, practice. Follow your dreams. Get good advice. Get good instruction and you should never give up.