Golfer Maureen Orcutt: Won Tournaments in 7 Decades

golfer Maureen Orcutt pictured in 1936
Maureen Orcutt was an American amateur golfer who won golf tournaments in seven decades, starting in the 1920s. She won dozens of tournaments, by most counts more than 60, but the biggest one got away: Orcutt is arguably the greatest American golfer of the pre-World War II era who never won the U.S. Women's Amateur Championship. Throughout most of her career, she also was a journalist, a pioneer as a woman in sports reporting.

Date of birth: April 1, 1907

Place of birth: New York, New York

Date and place of death: January 9, 2007 in Durham, North Carolina

Her Biggest Wins

Maureen Orcutt won approximately 65 tournament titles in her long competitive career. These are her biggest wins:
  • Canadian Women's Amateur: Won twice, in 1930, 1931
  • Metropolitan Women's Amateur: Won 10 times, in 1926, 1927, 1928, 1929, 1934, 1938, 1940, 1946, 1959, 1968
  • New Jersey Women's State Amateur: Won six times, 1924, 1925, 1933, 1942, 1954, 1967
  • North and South Women's Amateur: Won three times, in 1931, 1932, 1933
  • Women's Eastern Amateur: Won seven times, in 1925, 1928, 1929, 1934, 1938, 1947, 1949
  • U.S. Senior Women's Amateur: Won twice, in 1962, 1966
  • North and South Women's Senior Amateur: Won three times, in 1960, 1961, 1962
  • Metropolitan Women's Senior Amateur: Won six times

More About Maureen Orcutt

Maureen Orcutt was born in New York City to a mother who golfed and a father who was a journalist. And Maureen grew up to be a golfer who worked as a journalist.

She got her first golf club at age 7, and at age 12 shot 128 for 18 holes. But by high school, Orcutt was winning tournaments. Her family (and later Orcutt herself, for her entire adult life) had membership at White Beeches Golf & Country Club in Haworth, New Jersey, and at age 17 Maureen finished second in the men's club championship there.

Orcutt's first big tournament title was in the 1922 Metropolitan Junior, which she won again in 1924. She went on to win "the Met" — the Women's Metropolitan Golf Association Championship — 10 times as an adult, first in 1926 when she was 19, last in 1968 when she was 61. Her first four victories in the Metropolitan Women's Amateur were consecutively, in 1926-29. That was easily the biggest tournament at the time for women in the New York/New Jersey area, and one of the big events that many top women golfers from elsewhere traveled to play.

During the mid- to late 1920s, she also won the Women's Eastern Amateur three times (eventually winning it seven times total over a 25-year span), a period that really established her on the national golf scene and raised expectactions for her to challenge in the U.S. Women's Amateur.

That — the U.S. Women's Amateur Championship — was the biggest tournament any woman golfer could win in the pre-professional history of women's tournament golf. And Orcutt did challenge. But for Orcutt, the USWA was the one that got away.

She was medalist in the tournament's stroke-play qualifying round three times (fourth-best in USWA history), in 1928 (with an 80), 1931 (82) and 1932 (77).

Orcutt reached the championship match twice. In the 1927 U.S. Women's Amateur, after beating Ada Mackenzie in the semifinals, Orcutt faced Miriam Burns Horn for the trophy. Horn won, 5 and 4.

In the 1936 U.S. Women's Amateur, Orcutt beat Helen Dettweiler in the second round, Dorothy Traung in the third, Opal Hill in the quarterfinals and Kathryn Hemphill in the semifinals. In the championship match, though, she fell to Pamela Barton, 4 and 3.

She reached the semifinals in 1933, but lost to Helen Hicks. And Orcutt made the quarterfinals of the U.S. Women's Amateur six other times: 1928 (lost to Dorothy Campbell Hurd), 1930 (lost to Opal Hill), 1931 (lost to Virginia Van Wie), 1932 (lost to Ada Mackenzie), 1939 (lost to Betty Hicks), 1946 (lost to Babe Didrikson Zaharias).

In 1954, at age 47, Orcutt made it to the Round of 16 before bowing out to Philomena Garvey, her last run deep into the match-play bracket.

Orcutt did win back-to-back championships in the Canadian Women's Amateur in 1930 and 1931, including a 7-and-6 championship-match victory over Helen Hicks in 1930.

She also played in the first four Curtis Cups on Team USA, compiling a 5-3 record. In the inaugural Curtis Cup in 1932, she won her foursomes match but lost in singles to Diane Fishwick. In the 1934 Curtis Cup and 1936 Curtis Cup, Orcutt went 2-0 both times. Her singles wins those years were over Molly Gourlay and Pat Walker, respectively. The win over Walker secured a tie for Team USA, allowing the Americans to keep the Cup. She ended, however, with an 0-2 mark in the 1938 Curtis Cup, losing in singles to Clarrie Tiernan.

The 1982 Curtis Cup was the 50th anniversary of the very first one, and four of the women who played in that first one were in attendance to help celebrate. Orcutt was one of those four (joined by Glenna Collett Vare, Dorothy Higbie and Enid Wilson).

In addition to her tournament victories listed above, Orcutt was dominant in some other, lesser events. She won the New Jersey Women's 54-Hole Medal Championship 10 times from 1926 to 1959. Also, in the Metropolitan Golf Association, she won the Metropolitan Brother-Sister Championship eight times, four times with brother Bill Orcutt, four times with brother Sinclair Orcutt.

In her prime years, Orcutt played in many exhibition matches. The New York Times once wrote about that:

"In her prime, there was no women's professional tour and only a handful of female pros, notably Babe Didrikson Zaharias. Once, when Orcutt beat Zaharias in an exhibition, Zaharias was so upset that she stalked off without paying a $10 bet.

"Orcutt also played in exhibitions with the best male professionals. She was barely in her 20s when Walter Hagen, the celebrated pro, arrived in Augusta, Ga., and learned she would be his partner in an exhibition.

" 'I would get a lady golfer,' Hagan said sarcastically. Orcutt overheard him.

" 'I didn’t say anything,' she once recalled. 'But the next day, I carried Hagen for nine holes and we won.' "

The Times also described one of the key attributes of her game in her prime, her length off the tee: "In friendly matches, she hit off the back tees used by men, and with her solid build she usually outdrove them, averaging 240 yards ..."

The U.S. Senior Women's Amateur championship debuted in 1962, when Orcutt was 55 years old, and she was its first champion, beating runner-up Glenna Collett Vare by seven strokes. In her title defense in 1963, Orcutt lost on the fourth hole of a sudden-death playoff against Marion Choate. But she won for a second time in 1966, with a six-stroke margin of victory.

In 1969, Orcutt received what was called the Tanqueray Award, a major award for many years in amateur sports, in reward "for 50 years of contributions to golf."

All during her competitive golf career, Orcutt was also a working journalist. Her father had been a prominent journalist in New York City, working as an editor at papers including the New York Times, New York Herald-Tribune and Wall Street Journal.

Maureen began writing about golf in the 1920s, her articles being published in New York newspapers and in golf magazines. She officially joined the New York Times Sports department in 1937, and worked there through 1972. She was only the second woman ever to work in the Times' Sports department, and for most of her time there was the only woman in the department. She covered women's golf and also wrote a weekly column titled "Women In Sports."

When Orcutt left the Times, she retired to Durham, North Carolina. She won a club championship there when she was 82 years old, her last tournament win. That gave her wins in seven decades — the 1920s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s and 1980s. Orcutt continued playing golf regularly until knee issues forced her to finally give it up at age 87.

In 1998, the Women's Metropolitan Golf Association named Orcutt its "Player of the Century."

Maureen Orcutt was 99 years old when she died in 2007.

Orcutt had been elected to the Ladies' PGA Hall of Fame (no longer in existence) in 1966. Today, she is a member of the New York Sports Hall of Fame and New Jersey State Golf Associate Hall of Fame. The Women's Metropolitan Golf Assocation stages an annual event for junior girls named the Maureen Orcutt Trophy Tournament.

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