As it says in the little byline at the bottom of this page, I co-host a television show every week in Toronto. It’s a program that features interviews with prominent Torontonians from all walks of life. I love doing the show – it’s an honour to meet and interview these people, and doing the research on their lives and areas of interest is very rewarding. Our show is broadcast on Thursday nights at 8:00, on Channel 10 Toronto and 63 in Scarborough, with several repeats during the week that follows.
I mention all this not to serve self, but rather by way of informing all Ontario golfers that one of our guests on this week’s program is, by common agreement among most of us who follow the game, the greatest Canadian golfer of all time. And that would be the redoubtable Marlene Stewart Streit.
The use of the term “greatest” is not done lightly. George Lyon, Sandy Somerville, Ada Mackenzie, George Knudson, Gary Cowan, Sandra Post, Mike Weir… as great as they were, none of their records – amateur or professional – can compare to Marlene’s. Although, I suppose Weir comes closest based on his fabled Masters win in 2003.
I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am about having Marlene on my show Firstly, because I’ve followed her career since I was about 10 years old, and that’s a long time ago. And secondly because Marlene is about the last person on earth who wants to talk about Marlene. There have been many stories written about her, but not many with her, and even less television. So I feel like I’ve landed the Canadian equivalent of J.D. Salinger (who was an author and… oh, never mind.)
There may well be a whole bunch of readers of this column to whom Marlene’s name may be somewhat familiar, but who don’t know the slightest thing about her record. And that’s partly because Marlene never played golf professionally. So here, cribbed from Wikipedia, it is:
• Ontario Ladies’ Amateur – 11 times, 1951-77
• Ontario Senior Ladies’ Amateur – 6 times
• Canadian Women’s Amateur – 11 times, 1951-73
• CLGA Senior Women’s Amateur – 4 times, 1985-93
• U.S. Women’s Intercollegiate Championship – 1956
• British Ladies Amateur – 1953
• U.S. Women’s Amateur – 1956
• Australian Women’s Amateur – 1963
• Only woman in history to win Canadian, U.S., British and Australian Ladies Amateur
• Canada’s Athlete of the Year, 1951, 1956
• North and South Women’s Amateur – 1956, 1974
• U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur – 1985, 1994, 2003
Look at that… significant victories, 52 years apart!
What this extensive list doesn’t indicate is what Marlene has done FOR golf in Canada over all these decades. Ask just about any girl, now woman, who ever got beyond club golf competition in Canada, and she’ll tell you that meeting Marlene – and most did – was the most inspiring thing that ever happened to them.
You’d think that such a giant of the game would be a fairly intimidating physical presence. But Marlene doesn’t measure much over 5 feet tall. We may need a booster seat for her in the studio. But what she ever lacked in height, she sure made up in feist!
Marlene has been showered with praise and respect for nearly 65 years. She’s been granted Honourary Membership in, I’m sure, dozens of golf clubs. She’s a member of the Order of Canada. And she is the ONLY Canadian ever elected, by her peers in the game, to the World Golf Hall of Fame… one of only 35 women so honoured.
Why did she never turn pro? I don’t know the answer to that question. But I’m gonna ask it, on Thursday night.
Now that I’ve put my sticks in the basement cupboard for the winter, I spent a few moments in the car the other day, reflecting back on the golf season just passed. From a spectating point of view, what a great year it’s been… Spieth’s run in the majors… the emergence of Spieth, Day, and Fowler to join McIlroy at the very top rung… the exhilarating exploits of “the next Marlene Streit”, Brooke Henderson, turning pro and then winning an LPGA event at age 17.
And from a local and personal point of view, one of the best seasons weather-wise that I can ever remember, from May 1 right up to today. And with this awesome weather has come course conditions in southern Ontario, the likes of which I’ve never seen, anytime, anywhere.
This may sound really cheesy, but I’d like to acknowledge and salute all the greenskeepers and greens crews, on all the courses I got to play this year, for your expertise and hard work. When you’re at your best, as you were this year, you make the game awfully hard not to love.