Happy 80th Birthday Marlene Stewart Streit

I’ve met my share of famous golfers. But my fondest memories are of the day Marlene Stewart Streit came to Lambton to tee it up and tell stories of her youthful showdown with Ada Mackenzie, another giant of the Canadian game.

 

Marlene Stewart Streit (Image: Star Weekly)

Canadian golf legend Marlene Stewart Streit on the cover of the old Star Weekly magazine in the 1950s.

Not the least of the things I love about the life of a golf writer is the opportunity to meet famous personalities I’ve admired from afar.

In a previous column, I talked about my encounter with Rory McIlroy at Ireland’s Lough Erne Resort. Great kid.

I’ve also reminisced about my round with Tom Kite in a Mississippi pro-am. Terrific gentleman.

And during the PGA Grand Slam of Golf in Bermuda last October, I had the pleasure of hanging out in the hotel lounge on several occasions with Ian Baker-Finch. I’ve rarely met anyone, public personality or otherwise, so instantly likeable. He seemed to have all the time in the world for everyone he met.

But my fondest memories are of the day I spent 15 years ago with the great Marlene Stewart Streit at Toronto’s Lambton Golf and Country Club. I was writing my book Northern Links: Canada From Tee to Tee at the time and hoped to include a profile of Marlene. Though she had never met me, Marlene graciously agreed to make the hour-long drive from her home to Lambton, where we would tee it up and relive the victory in 1951 that announced her sudden arrival on the Canadian golf scene.

“That’s Marlene Streit,” the whispers began from the moment she walked into the clubhouse. The presence of a celebrity in the room was palpable. People stared, mesmerized.

We spent—at least for me—an unforgettable day together. As we played, Marlene reminisced about how on Lambton’s fairways her precocious 17-year-old self had soundly defeated another giant of the game, Ada Mackenzie, in a dramatic semi-final showdown en route to her first championship of significance, the Ontario Ladies Open.

I remember that she raised an eyebrow in surprise when I asked if she was nervous before her match-play confrontation with a living legend that had ruled women’s golf in Canada for more than 30 years.

“No, not really,” she answered unhesitatingly. “If anything I felt inspired by Ada Mackenzie. If you wanted to be anybody, you had to beat her.”

After Lambton, Marlene never looked back. Before the summer of 1951 was through, she’d taken both the Canadian Close (Canadians only) and Open crowns. Named that year’s winner of the Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada’s outstanding athlete, male or female, Marlene became the country’s newest sporting sweetheart, the equal of Olympic figure skater Barbara Ann Scott in her popularity. Still ahead lay an unparalleled career that would include victories in every major world championship in women’s amateur golf and culminate, in 2004, with Marlene’s induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame, the only Canadian so honoured.

Still indomitable, hale and hearty and instantly recognizable as the wholesome high-school girl who first stole our hearts, Marlene turned 80 on March 9. On her birthday she joked with me by email, “it’s getting easier all the time to shoot my age.”

Happy 80th Marlene.

 

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