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Marlene Streit is Canada’s greatest sportswoman – Golf Canada SCOREGolf


This is Women’s History Month and today is International Women’s Day. No Canadian woman has made more history in sports, in our country or internationally, than Marlene Streit.

Streit will turn 88 tomorrow, and, fittingly on her birthday, will attend the ceremony to induct the newest class to the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, Fla.

Streit is the only Canadian in the World Golf Hall of Fame; she was inducted in 2004. This year’s class includes Tiger Woods. As an inductee, he will be in good company, along with luminaries such as Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Streit’s longtime close friend JoAnne Carner, who won five U.S. Women’s Amateur championships, and 43 tournaments on the LPGA Tour, including the 1971 and 1976 U.S. Women’s Opens.

Streit has won everything in women’s amateur golf. She won 11 Canadian Ladies Amateurs, between 1951 and 1973. She won the 1953 British Ladies Amateur, when she was 19. She took the 1956 U.S. Women’s Amateur, where she defeated Carner in their final match. Streit won the 1963 Australian Women’s Amateur, and the 1985, 1994 and 2003 US. Senior Women’s Amateur, when, at 69, she became the oldest player to take the championship. She’s a member of Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame and is an Officer of the Order of Canada.

Marlene Streit won the 2003 U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur at age 69. (Photo: Copyright USGA)

Born in the small prairie town of Cereal, Alta., Streit, her parents Harold and Mary, and her older sister Dolly eventually moved to Fonthill, Ont., after a plague of locusts wiped out the family farm — twice. She was 12 when Anne Sharp, a talented amateur golfer who lived across the street, invited her to shag, or pick up, golf balls while she practised at the Lookout Point Country Club. Soon she was caddying for Gord McInnis Sr., the head professional, and hitting a few balls under his watchful eye after he finished his round. Streit took to golf. McInnis told her father she “could go the limit. She could be the best.”

“I liked the serenity and beauty of the golf course,” Streit said recently from her winter home in Wellington, Fla. She learned from McInnis, who became her only instructor. “I watched his smooth, balanced swing,” she said. “He kept things simple. Smoothness, rhythm, balance, and the swing’s the thing. That’s what he stressed. And because Gord believed in me, I believed in myself.”

Streit won the Ontario Junior Girls’ championship twice in those early days. She won the Ontario Ladies Amateur when she was 17, in 1951, and two years later came her first big international championship, that 1953 British Ladies Amateur at the Royal Porthcawl Golf Club in Wales. Streit was barely five feet tall, but she knew where the ball was going, as golfers say of players who have command of their swing. She was also a fierce competitor. Carner found that out when they met in the 1956 U.S. Women’s Amateur at the Meridian Hills Country Club in Indianapolis.

Carner (her maiden name is Gunderson, and she was once known as the Great Gundy) drove the ball up to 100 yards longer than Streit on some holes in their final match. She spoke about this advantage when she introduced Streit during the 2004 induction ceremony at the World Golf Hall of Fame. Carner, who came to be known as “Big Mama,” referred to Streit as a “little giant.”

“She whipped me,” Carner remembered.

They met again in competition 10 years later during the 1966 U.S. Women’s Amateur at the Sewickley Heights Golf Club, 20 km northwest of Pittsburgh. They again reached the final match of the championship. Streit’s husband Doug and Carner’s husband Don followed along and met one another. They were so nervous for their wives that they ducked into the clubhouse a few times during the scheduled 36-hole match to grab martinis.

The match was tied after the regulation 36 holes, and, finally, Carner won on the 41st hole. Their match remains the longest in the championship’s history. It was there, 56 years ago, with their husbands walking along, that Streit and Carner cemented their friendship. Carner, now 82, turned professional in 1970, while Streit remained amateur. She played on international teams for Canada and was a non-playing captain for Canada in the World Amateur Team Championships on four occasions.

“Marlene is such a nice person, but she’s a terror to play against,” Carner said last week, on a day like any other day for the friends in south Florida. They planned to play nine holes in the afternoon. “That little squire. I think if you’ve been a good golfer, you admire somebody who has also been good and won major championships. Even today we have a little competition when we play, whether it’s trying to make a putt or a chip.”

Streit and Carner play a scramble these days, where each golfer hits a drive. They choose the best drive and both play from that spot, then again select the best shot and play until they’ve completed the hole. An 82-year-old and, tomorrow, an 88-year-old, enjoying the game and each other.

“Both of us have just loved the game,” Carner said. “Why stop now?”

Asked to paint a word portrait of Streit, Carner said, “Well, she’s short in size and length, and has tiny hands and wears a size five shoe. For her to take on the long hitter and beat them, winning major tournaments in six decades, that says it all. One more thing, too, you know where you stand with Marlene.”

That is, Streit will tell you what she thinks. No wonder aspiring young Canadian golfers make a point of seeing her during the winter in Florida. Streit invites them to stay with her. They practise together, they play together. She advises them by word and example. She might tell them, and she means it and has lived it, and repeats this: “Every time you go into a golf tournament play as if this is your last chance. There is no point in fearing failure. You must always take that risk.”

Carner spoke during that 2004 induction ceremony of her friend’s tenacity, and added, as anybody who has been fortunate enough to know her, of Streit’s generosity.

“She would do anything for you. She is unbelievably generous.”

For her part, Streit has always said that beyond winning championships, “Golf is the friends you make along the way.” Before leaving for St. Augustine, where she will see some of the many friends she has made along the way, Streit said, “I keep in touch with a lot of people. I follow the game closely. When JoAnne and I play, and we play almost every day, it’s fun golf. We play the shortest tees we can.”

At 88, Marlene Streit continues to enjoy the game, and to make friends along the way. What a legacy. What a competitor. What a historical figure to celebrate this month and day, and, truly, every month and every day.



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