Virginia Van Wie: Profile of 3-Time U.S. Women's Am Champ

golfer Virginia Van Wie
Virginia Van Wie was one of the best women golfers of her era (the late 1920s/early 1930s). She won the biggest tournament then open to women three years in a row and then, like her contemporary Bobby Jones, walked away — at the top of her game, but just in her mid-20s.

Date of birth: February 9, 1909

Place of birth: Chicago, Illinois

Date and place of death: February 18, 1997 in Big Rapids, Michigan

Nickname: Gino

Van Wie's U.S. Women's Amateur Wins

Van Wie's claim to fame is that she won the U.S. Women's Amateur Championship, by far the biggest tournament in women's golf in America at the time, three consecutive years, 1932, 1933 and 1934.

She played in five finals total at the U.S. Women's Am, and in three of those finals faced her biggest rival, Glenna Collett Vare. In the 1928 championship match, Collett Vare rolled over Van Wie by a 13-and-12 score (36-hole match), at the time the worst championship match defeat in the tournament's history and still the second-worst today.

In 1930, Collett Vare got the better of Van Wie again, winning the title 6-and-5.

But Van Wie started her three-wins-in-a-row streak by getting a little revenge, rolling over Collett Vare this time, 10-and-8. In 1933, Van Wie beat Helen Hicks in the title match, 4-and-3; and in 1934 she closed out Dorothy Traung to win the title, 2-and-1.

Keeping in mind that scores under 80 were uncommon in women's golf at that time, consider that in her championship win over Hicks in 1933 Van Wie had used only 57 strokes when the match ended with three holes left on the course.

At the time of her third victory, Van Wie was the fifth three-time winner of the U.S. Women's Amateur, the fourth to win it three consecutive years. Since then, only Juli Inkster has won three in a row. And only two golfers (Collett Vare and JoAnne Carner) won more overall titles than Van Wie's three.

Van Wie was also co-medalist in the stroke-play qualifying rounds of the USWA in 1929 and 1932. She and Collett Vare also met twice in the semifinals: Collett Vare won 2-up in 1931; Van Wie won 3-and-2 in 1934.

More About Virginia Van Wie

Van Wie, although a short driver by today's standards, was one of the longest drivers in women's golf of her time. A 1933 issue of Time magazine called Van Wie "brilliant as a stylist, impeccable with her irons, steady with her woods."

Van Wie got into golf at doctor's orders: They wanted her outside engaging in physical activities as a means to strengthen her back. She'd hurt her back as a little girl playing football with neighborhood boys in Chicago. "Take up golf, it will help your back," is not advice any doctor would give today.

But it worked for Virginia Van Wie. At age 12, she began playing golf at Beverly Country Club in Chicago, and soon advanced to prodigy status.

By 14, Van Wie was one of the best amateurs in Chicago-area women's golf; by 16, she won the Western Junior Amateur Championship.

And when Van Wie was 17, she and Collett Vare (five years her senior) met for the first time. Van Wie won the match and won the title at the 1926 Florida East Coast Championship.

Van Wie went on to win three Chicago District golf titles in the late 1920s, a pair of Florida Amateurs and the Mid-South Amateur, among other tournament titles. Surprisingly, she was never able to win her hometown tournament, the Chicago-based Women's Western Amateur.

In 1932, the year of her first U.S. Women's Amateur championship, Van Wie was part of the victorious Team USA in the very first Curtis Cup. In her singles match against Great Britain & Ireland's Wanda Morgan, Van Wie was one down on the 14th, squared the match on the 15th, then closed it out by winning the next two holes, earning a key point for her team.

"My theory is this: If you perfect your golf shots, your opponent will need more than an unfriendly attitude to defeat you." — Virginia Van Wie

Curtis also played in the 1934 Curtis Cup and, overall, posted a 3-0-1 record (2-0 in singles) in the competition.

At the end of 1934, the year of her second Curtis Cup and third consecutive U.S. Women's Amateur crown, Van Wie was named the Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year.

Then she retired from competitive golf. She was only 25 years old.

"I still played the game, but not in competition," Van Wie once told the Chicago Tribune. "I don't think I missed anything."

Keep in mind there were very few opportunities in professional golf for women at that time, and there were no pro golf tours (and virtually no pro golf tournaments) for women.

What did Van Wie do next? She moved to Florida and opened an ice cream shop. Van Wie eventually did turn pro, but not until the mid-1950s when she moved back to Chicago and began giving lessons. She continued doing that until retiring in 1975.

Van Wie herself had been a student of Ernest Jones, author of the classic golf instruction book Swing the Clubhead (Amazon affiliate link). "I played in seven national championships without winning one. I took lessons from Ernest Jones and won three in a row," Van Wie once said.

Van Wie is a member of the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame.

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