From the Golf Journal Archives - “Tillie, I Won the Whole Thing!”

Oct 21, 2011

Hollis Stacy is the only girl to win three consecutive U.S. Girls’ Junior titles and she did it with Savannah style.

By Frank Hannigan

(Note: This article originally appeared in the August 1976 issue of Golf Journal.)

The first time I ever saw Hollis Stacy she was standing in a puddle of golf balls in the 14th fairway of the Flint Golf Club in Flint, Mich. It was during the first of two rounds of qualifying for the 1968 Girls’ Junior Championship. She was 14. Her mouth was wide open but nothing came out. It was raining.

As the USGA staff representative at the event, I had been called to issue a ruling. Hollis, acute enough to notice it was pouring, had decided it was time to put on protective clothing. She and her caddie, about the same age and also mute, had managed to dump golf balls, along with the clothing, all over the 14th fairway. One of the dumped balls had moved a ball in play.

A member of the USGA Girls’ Junior Committee, who had not actually seen the incident, called for my alleged expertise, via walkie-talkie. As this lady understood the situation, Hollis, or her caddie, had caused Hollis’ ball to move.

Grumpily, I advised everyone that Hollis had violated Rule 27, that the penalty was one stroke, suggested that she and the caddie start picking up the irrelevant golf balls, and remounted my trusty cart to speed off into the gloom.

My thoughts while riding away remain vivid: I had just penalized a 14 year-old with a pair of eyes like a wounded fawn; having, as usual, left my own raingear in the motel, I was wet, cold and subject to disease; and why hadn’t I listened to my mother and gone to law school?

That evening and early the next morning rumors began to spread – there are more rumors at golf tournaments than there are at the end of an Army basic training cycle – about the penalty. It was based, according to a reliable source, on erroneous information. It was suggested that the engorgement of golf balls from Hollis’ bag had resulted in the movement not of Hollis’ ball, but of that of a fellow competitor.

We sought her out on the practice tee. Apparently still not able or willing to make sounds, Hollis managed to confirm by a series of head movements, that the now-famous moved ball was not hers. She did so to both my satisfaction and that of Margaret Lovell, then Chairman of the Committee.

Now, this makes all the difference in the world under Rule 27 in stroke play. The Rules of Golf taketh and they sometimes giveth. Since we were still involved in a stroke-play event, the Committee was allowed to negate the penalty (see, for example, 62-21 in your friendly tome, Decisions On The Rules of Golf, providing you can lift it). We told Hollis she would begin the second round with one stroke less than was posted on her scorecard the first day. She only nodded and opened those eyes wider. At the end of the second round she lost a playoff for the 32nd and final qualifying place.

The next year, 1969 marked the start of the great Hollis Stacy Triple Slam – she won the Girls’ Junior Championship three years running. Since this is August, the month of the two USGA Junior Championships, and since we may wait forever for someone to duplicate her feat, it seems appropriate to remember Hollis, the teenage champion.

Her reign began at the Brookhaven Country Club, in Dallas, where she exhibited extraordinary poise under pressure. It was, in retrospect, the quality one associates most with her success; that which may have distinguished her then from a very talented group of peers, including Nancy Hager, Laura Baugh, Amy Alcott, Mary Budke and Barbara Barrow – all of whom have either since won national titles or played on USGA international teams.

Her opponent in the final at Brookhaven was Mary Jane Fassinger who, as a student of the late Deacon Palmer, Arnold’s father, hit every drive as if it was her last and consequently carried the ball great distances. Hollis was 3 up through the eighth only to suffer the unnerving experience of watching her opponent birdie four of the next five holes – to get even. Hollis, unfazed, just cruised along, parred everything in, and won 1 up.

Since she was the youngest champion in the USGA’s history and was likely to be around for a long time, it seemed worthwhile to find out about her. First of all, she was one of 10 Stacy children born to Jack and Tillie Stacy, of Savannah, Ga. She never drove the ball out of play, seemed quite serious about the prospect of holing every putt and had learned to speak – at least to golf mandarins – since her Flint coming-out. In fact, she began to exhibit an impish quality of humor. You couldn’t help notice that she seemed to enjoy herself quietly but continuously and that the other kids liked her. The last factor is not to be understated. It is not easy to be a teenage winner and retain a sense of balance.

Next spring she became a mini-celebrity in the world of women’s golf by winning the historic Women’s North & South tournament at Pinehurst against a talented field of adults. Golf World waxed rhapsodic; golf writer Charles Price in Golf was enthralled. The new wunderkind of American golf was proclaimed – Glenna Collett Vare and Joyce Wethered incarnate, joined in one presence.

Gee, we thought at Golf House, it’s just old Hollis.

Her second Girls’ Junior victory, in 1971, was fascinating. Hollis was hurting – tendonitis in the right wrist. She winced every time she didn’t catch the ball just right. Tillie Stacy had by then been put on the Girls’ Junior Committee by Margaret Lovell and favored us at meetings with homilies on motherhood and young golfers, such as, “If she’s dumb enough to play, I’m dumb enough to let her.”

Hollis took advantage of the conditions of the course, venerable old Apawamis outside New York City, where England’s Harold Hilton had successfully invaded America to win the 1911 Amateur. Gary Caruthers, a very skillful superintendent, had contrived to give the girls a set of greens that would have warmed the icy heart of whatever USGA ogre is in charge of a U.S. Open Championship. These greens were as fast and firm as the law allows. It was an interesting educational experience. What one learned was that teenage girls, even the best, can’t handle greens like those (the medalist, Louise Bruce, shot 163) but that a golfer with a genius for competing at match play can transform strange conditions into an asset.

Hollis simply remained cool, minimized her mistakes (and chipping the ball three feet above the hole that week was a bad mistake) and winced her way to the final where she hung on to nip Janet Aulisi, 1 up, just as she had won by the same margin a year earlier.

GOLF JOURNAL was short on writing talent in those days and so the managing editor had to reach down to The New Yorker to sublet coverage of the Girls’ Junior to Herbert Warren Wind. Professor Wind caught the ethos of the Girls’ Junior, thus; “I was especially struck by their good golf manners. When they conceded to an opponent, for instance, they did not toss the ball to her or rap it away with their putter; no, they picked up the ball and walked over and handed it to her. There was a minimum of emoting and posturing. No one tossed a club petulantly toward her caddie or punched a what-a-colorful-and dynamic-competitor-I-am fist toward the cup after holing a good putt. The players concentrated on playing golf. Perhaps this is what gives the Girls’ Junior such an old-fashioned, pre-television flavor, though, of course, it might be the fact that the championship is conducted at match play. This is an obscure form of golf in which two opponents face each other head to head, and the one who wins more holes wins the match.”

Of Hollis, Herb wrote: “Since she is only 16, next summer, at the Augusta Country Club, Hollis will have a chance to become the first three-time winner of the Girls’ Junior. She might well achieve this, for she is an exceptional young lady with a splendid understanding of golf and how to play golf shots. (Her short game was the best of any of the girls at Apawamis.) She sets herself up beautifully at the ball, and before each shot she repeats the same ‘drill,’ as the English say. She has a sound rhythmic swing with an especially impressive move in the hitting zone; here her head is tucked close to her right shoulder as she slings her club into the ball and comes riding through rather in the style of Gene Littler. She appears to be at her best under pressure. She is a swell-looking girl with a nice touch of graveness and that extra something we call glamour; she establishes herself without trying to, and she is interesting to watch.”

Hollis would, during those years, show up at Augusta in April at the Masters Tournament. It was her duty as a Georgia golfer. She would have in tow some dazzling little sister, we would review the state of her world, and introduce her to the game’s princes and acolytes, behind the putting green under the great, old trees. One winter she even ventured north to be honored at the annual awards dinner of the golf writers in New York City. I remember Dave Stockton, then PGA champion, recognizing her at the pre-banquet reception and making much of her in a tone of genuine admiration and respect. Hollis and I both marked Dave Stockton down as someone special.

When the summer of 1971 came, Hollis was in great form as she prepared to consummate her unprecedented Triple. The site was the Augusta Country Club, adjacent to the Augusta National Golf Club. Most of her family had come over from Savannah.

The Hollis Stacy sense of humor had blossomed. She took to needling USGA officials just for the fun of it. She stopped play in one round to ask, in a tone of fake indignation, if she had to putt over a miniscule bare spot. Having been forced to inspect this fleck of soil and seriously pronounce it to be other than damage caused by the impact of a ball, I suggested that she stop kidding around and putt. “Boy,” she said, just loud enough so that her small but fervent gallery of Georgians could hear, “you’d make a person putt through the Grand Canyon, wouldn’t you?”

The final at Augusta was sublime – the best match I’ve ever seen in 16 years of USGA match-watching. Her opponent was the California phenom, Amy Alcott, just 15, who decided that week that she was going to be an important golfer.

The quality of the play was breathtaking. After exchanging wins with pars on the first two holes (Amy was so nervous on the first green she picked up her ball when she still had a makeable putt for a half), they went on to play holes three through 17 (30 holes in all, combined) without either player making a bogie, and by that I mean there was never a concession of anything longer than two feet. During that stretch they made nine birdies.

One down playing 18, Amy got even by almost holing a bunker shot from an awful lie where it looked as if she might barely get the ball on the green. On the extra hole, a par 4, Amy literally drove 250 yards – about 40 yards ahead of her opponent. Hollis then ripped a 4-iron shot to within 15 feet of the hole and made the putt for a birdie. Imagine. She holed a 15-footer on an extra hole to win the third straight national title. The results of her three Girls’ Junior Championship final matches were 1 up, 1 up and 19 holes.

After the prize-giving at Augusta, an elderly member in a rocking chair engaged Mrs. Stacy in conversation. The old member asked Tillie her husband’s line of work. Mrs. Stacy said Jack was an architect. Asked how business was, Tillie said Jack seemed to be doing OK. “That’s good,” the old member said, “because that child’s gonna cost you a ton of money playin’ golf.”

A year later Hollis matriculated at Rollins. We kept in touch. Once she came to our house for breakfast. My kids, then about six and four, thought it would be terrific to adopt Hollis as an older sister, although I pointed out that she would eat us to penury.

One winter I got a postcard from Hollis, from Moscow, where she had ventured on a class trip. Lenin’s Tomb was on the face of the card, naturally. Hollis Stacy in Moscow! Lord, what would Trotsky, Bukharin, Zinoviev have made of Hollis Stacy, playing out of Savannah, Ga.?

But Rollins and Hollis were not mutually compatible. I sometimes think she would have been happier at Antioch or Swarthmore where they would have been more interested in a live Georgian than the next Mickey Wright. One spring she showed up, under the big trees at Augusta National, and said, with just a trace of trepidation, “I’m going to turn pro.”

“Swell,” I said. “You’ll probably starve because golf doesn’t mean all that much to you and the maturity edge you had as a junior isn’t going to cut it on the tour, but good luck anyway.”

Last year Hollis won about $30,000 in her first full year as a professional. (I draw solace from the recollection that Gene Sarazen advised the Wilson Sporting Goods Company not to sign the lunging Arnold Palmer to a contract in 1954.)

The last I heard of Hollis she was roaring up some Interstate highway in South Carolina in an incredible sports car, with four-turbo-chargers and three tape decks.

My, it was pleasant to be around Hollis and other girls who thought that the USGA Girls’ Junior Championship was reason enough to exist in those years. Very nice work indeed.

Later, Hollis made us all feel proud when a group in Savannah wanted to fund a partial scholarship at Rollins for her. There was a nit-picking amateur status question as to whether the group was motivated solely by her prowess and reputation as a golfer (in which case the code of amateurism says “no”) or whether golf was just one of many factors in her selection.

The principal of Savannah High School resolved the matter readily by composing a letter we retain in a Golf House file labeled “Stacy, Hollis.” It says: “She ranks 16th in her current senior class of 449. She has always been most cooperative with her fellow students, teachers and the school administrative staff in helping to promote student interest and welfare. She is currently presiding as President of the Senior Class and Chairman of the Student Bi-Racial Committee, with both offices having come to her through popular vote of the student body. She has performed admirably in both situations.”

1969: 15-year-old Hollis Stacy took the first of her three Girls’ Junior titles. (USGA Museum)

1971: Hollis beat Amy Alcott on the 19th hole to complete the triple. (USGA Museum)