Museum Moment: A Putter's Tale

Feb 04, 2010

By Rhonda Glenn, USGA

Orlando, Fla. - Before the USGA moved to New Jersey’s rolling countryside in the early 1970s, the entire Golf House operation was housed in a simple, elegant brownstone in Manhattan.

By 1960, the Association was growing fast and the old brownstone was crowded. Haphazard piles of paper and records threatened to collapse on the staff that, albeit small, occupied several offices. To skilled golfers, however, Golf House was a mystical place and anyone who received a USGA championship entry blank was well aware of the address. A communiqué from “40 East 38th St.” meant something special.

Even then Golf House had the sheen of history. Among its features were gleaming, glass-fronted display cases housing golf clubs used by USGA champions. Each winner had been asked to send in one or two clubs they had used while winning their national championship. Most sent woods and a long line of persimmon-headed, steel-shafted clubs gleamed behind the glass like rifles at the ready.

The clubs remain in the present-day USGA collection, and with a little imagination one can go back to the day they were used so effectively. It is easy to imagine them in the talented hands of Bob Jones, Ben Hogan, Babe Zaharias, Patty Berg, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus as they hit their solid shots to win national titles.

Even with a bit of wear-and-tear on the grips and clubfaces, these clubs were once in pristine condition. Except for one.

A sad little putter stood at the end of the line, leaning a bit to the left. A vibration from a good door-slam might send it toppling to the floor. It was an Otey Crisman mallet-head putter – the 70HB model – and it featured a hickory shaft. The putter was different from any club in the collection. A long crack extended down the wooden shaft to the neck of the putter head. Black twine resembling fishing line had been wrapped around the shaft in an effort to keep it together, but now the unraveled twine hung in long strings.

Who had caused this club, which had won a great championship, to suffer such a sad fate? The name plate in the case said, “Barbara Romack – 1954 U.S. Women’s Amateur Champion.”

“It suffered an accident,” said Romack, who tends toward breezy wit. “Of course, wood gets diseases, like Dutch Elm disease.”

The putter was made in Selma, Ala., by the Otey Crisman Company, which has been making putters of various designs since 1946. Romack began using it in 1953 and in 1954 made some wonderful putts in defeating 2010 USGA Bob Jones Award recipient Mickey Wright in the final. She liked the little mallet head, she said. It was easy to line up, had nice balance and was good on all kinds of greens -- fast, slow or bumpy.

“Wooden-shafted putters all had different shafts,” said Romack. “This particular shaft was nice and firm.
“But it seemed to ‘come apart’ after a year or two of competition, with a little help from my foot. When I didn’t hit the putt I wanted to, I would kind of kick the shaft a little bit, just to wake it up. It kind of fell apart the spring after I won the Women’s Amateur.”

Romack pointed out that her father had taught her never to throw a golf club, a lesson she learned well. Giving her putter a gentle foot-nudge, however, was another matter.

“I had already had it wrapped a couple of times, and it was kind of ready for the big crash, “she said. “I banged it against my foot and it just collapsed. It got sick and fell apart. If it had been in a tournament, I would have been horrified, but it was in a friendly round.”

At the time of her putter’s demise, Romack was playing under self-imposed pressure. After winning the Women’s Amateur, she became determined to continue playing as a champion and entered every event she could in 1955 and ‘56, making the final several times but failing to win. As Women’s Amateur champion, Romack knew that any player who beat her would enjoy an upgrade to her playing resume’. At one tournament, she spoke to her friend and fellow-competitor Judy Bell in the locker room.

“They’re all gunning for me,” Romack told Bell. “I’m so tired of having to be so perfect.”

A couple of years later Romack rallied. She snapped her losing streak in 1957 when she won three events on the Florida winter amateur circuit. Her third victory in the South Atlantic Women’s Amateur retired the trophy.

After her Otey Crisman putter had its “accident,” she had it repaired and shipped it to the USGA. She later also sent a 4-wood she had used to hit a marvelous shot on the 34th hole at Allegheny Country Club in Sewickley, Pa., a shot that clinched her 4-and-2 victory in 1954 over Wright, who went on to win four U.S. Women’s Open titles in a Hall-of-Fame career.

In 2008, Romack was reunited with her putter during a visit to the USGA Museum and new Arnold Palmer Center for Golf History. The putter had been nicely repaired and looked a lot better than it had in 1960. Gazing at it in the display case, she remembered the great days of her amateur career.

“Oh, I loved that putter,” she said. “It was so good to me. No regrets. It’s now in a nice place of honor. It had done its job.”

Rhonda Glenn is a manager of communications for the USGA. E-mail her with questions or comments at rglenn@usga.org.

It was an Otey Crisman mallet-head putter – the 70HB model – and it featured a hickory shaft. The putter was different from any club in the collection. A long crack extended down the wooden shaft to the neck of the putter head. (USGA Museum)


Black twine resembling fishing line had been wrapped around the shaft in an effort to keep it together. (USGA Museum)


Barbara Romack smiles with the U.S. Women's Amateur Trophy after winning the 1954 championship. (USGA Museum)