story by Grady Timmons
color photos by Kirk Aeder
Jackie Pung, 2002
Of the many storied championships contested at the Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, New York, none has incited more controversy than the 1957 U.S. Women’s Open. Late in July of that year, Hawaii’s Jackie Pung exited the final green as the apparent winner and new national champion—only to be disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard. Just like that, the popular Hawaiian went from first to last. As one national publication observed, "For her momentary lapse, Jackie Pung incurred a lifetime penalty."
While the incident at Winged Foot has given Pung notoriety—her name is invoked whenever golf’s great disaster stories are told—it has also obscured a distinguished career that to this day stands as the most successful of any golfer from Hawai‘i, male or female. Now in her eighties, Pung lives and still teaches golf at Waikoloa Village on the Big Island, where I recently went to visit her. As she led me down a hallway filled with mementos of her career, I stopped to examine the many articles, awards and old photographs, then joined her in a back office where we spoke at length about her life in golf.
Jacqueline Liwai Pung was born in Honolulu in 1921. Her father, Jack Liwai, was a full-blooded Hawaiian and captain of the Hawaiian Golf Club. "Golf was spoken in our household," said Jackie, recalling that her father introduced her to the game at the age of six. She grew up playing golf with men, first with her father and later as a member of the Roosevelt High School boy’s golf team. In 1938, she won the Hawaiian Women’s Amateur Championship. During the next decade, she would marry local swimming champion Barney Pung and win three more, once when she was eight months pregnant.
In 1952, Jackie traveled to Portland, Oregon, to compete in her third U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship. (In her two previous tries, in 1946 and ’48, she hadn’t gotten past the second round.) In Portland, she won her first match clad in a brown corduroy skirt. Believing it to be good luck, she continued wearing it the entire week, airing it out each night in her hotel room window until victory in the national championship was hers.
Later that year, after Jackie had won an L.A. Times Woman Athlete of the Year Award, Fred Corcoran, a promoter with the fledgling LPGA Tour, talked to her about turning professional. "Let’s just say I jumped at the chance," she told me. On her first year on tour, she won $7,500—good money back then. The big, colorful, long-hitting Hawaiian was the top rookie, and a hit with the fans.
"Little Jackie" at sixteen, on her way
to winning her first Hawaiian Women's
photo: courtesy Jackie Pung
"I always wore my aloha shirts on tour," she said, as we sat looking at old photographs. "And my plaid skirts."
"Is it true that you used to do a hula?" I asked.
"Of course. People would always ask, ‘Jackie, can you do a few movements for us?’ I did it on the putting green, after finishing my round."
As a child, she had learned hula from her grandmother. I asked her if the ancient dance had helped her golf. "Oh, sure," Jackie said, popping up out of her chair. She turned up the radio, which was tuned to a Hawaiian station, and began to perform. Watching her, I could see the compatible skills. The footwork, the rhythmic shifting of the hips, the soft, flowing hands—all are elements of a good golf swing.
Jackie became known as "Hawaii’s First Lady of Golf." On tour, she competed against Patty Berg, Mickey Wright and other pioneers of the women’s professional game. Life was good—except for one thing: She didn’t like being away from her husband Barney, and he didn’t like life on tour. "A lot of the gals had their husbands with them all the time," she said. "But Barney stayed home. He didn’t like traveling. So I took mother along to keep me company."
During an eleven-year tour career that ended in 1964, she won five tournaments and had fourteen runner-up finishes. In 1965, she returned home and took a job as a teaching pro at Laurance Rockefeller’s newly opened Mauna Kea Beach Resort, and in 1967 the LPGA named her Teaching Professional of the Year. But even with all of her successes, Jackie—who lost her husband to cancer in 1978 and was herself diagnosed with diabetes in 1992—is no stranger to life in the rough. Few people remember that she lost the U.S. Open not just once but twice, the first time in 1953, in an eighteen-hole playoff. The winner that year, Betsy Rawls, was the same woman who would benefit from Jackie’s scoring lapse at Winged Foot.
In that fateful rematch, Jackie came from three shots back to overtake Rawls and signed for the score she shot, a 72. But in the celebration surrounding her victory, she failed to notice that her playing partner and marker, Betty Jameson, had given her a par on a hole where she actually made bogey. The rules of golf were unequivocal: Jackie was disqualified.
She accepted the outcome with grace and dignity, but the memory of her scoring lapse is not something she likes to discuss. When I asked if there had been some lesson in it all, she changed the subject. Later, however, she said, "My daughter Barnette was with me. We were staying at the home of a Winged Foot member. And after all the controversy at the course, we had to talk about it again over dinner. For the next week, we hid out in a hotel in New York. Everywhere I went the next year, the reporters always brought it up. It was an ordeal."
The story did have one ironic outcome, however. Perhaps because golf is one of the few sports where you can win through honest ability on the course, only to lose on a technicality off it, the public had great sympathy for Jackie—as did the members of Winged Foot. They passed the hat and presented her with a check for $3,000, which was $1,200 more than Rawls received as winner.
Jackie still warms at the memory of the Winged Foot members. In 1998, at their invitation, she traveled to New York to attend the club’s seventy-fifth anniversary celebration. One evening while she was there, she told me, she went out and walked the course, recalling each shot she had hit that day in ’57. As she spoke, she seemed reconciled with her memories, and no mention was made of the scoring incident. It was as if she had separated the victory she’d won on the course from the one that was taken away at the scorer’s table.
Later, as we wrapped up our interview and headed out to play nine holes together (she may not hit the ball as far as she used to, but her form is still great), Jackie made a comment that perhaps best reveals how she has dealt with that unlucky moment in golf history. "You know," she said, whenever I get together with the gals I used to play with on the old tour, they always tell me, ‘Jackie, you were the real winner that day.’"