Yesterday, the Lacoste Ladies French Open at Chantaco was won by an American golf professional, Cristie Kerr. She has been a strong player for a long time and obviously you will know of her. You will be familiar with the name ‘Lacoste’, too. You may well own one of the company’s polo shirts, with its famous crocodile logo. ‘Le Crocodile’ was the nickname of René Lacoste, the Frenchman who won seven tennis Grand Slam titles, including Wimbledon twice, in the 1920s. The sobriquet was apparently coined on account of the ruthless way in which he would dispatch his opponents.
In 1930, Lacoste married a French woman, Simone Thion de la Chaume, who in 1927 had become the first overseas winner of the Ladies British Amateur Golf Championship. She also later founded the golf club at Chantaco, close to St Jean de Luz in the French Basque country. She and her husband had a daughter, who proved to be a very mean golfer in her own right. What she did 50 years ago may make her the best French golfer ever. Period.
Aged 22, Catherine Lacoste became the first European winner of the US Women’s Open Championship. Not only that, she was an amateur when she did it. Totally unheralded, she beat the best golfers in the world over four rounds at the Cascades Course at The Homestead, Hot Springs, Virginia in 1967. The ‘Crocodile Kid’, as one local newspaper perhaps inevitably dubbed her, ultimately withstood the pressure brought on by five consecutive bogeys, which reduced a one-time lead of seven shots, to win by two. A 10-foot birdie putt on the 17th was crucial and she was able to par the last in relative comfort.
Two years later she achieved the double of winning the British and US Amateur titles in the same year, only the third time that particular feat had been accomplished. Her genetics were pretty impressive, of course, but to achieve what she did was fairly extraordinary. She even got her retirement spot-on as well. Just like Bobby Jones, she bowed out at the top. She quit individual competition in 1970, aged 25. Jones quit after winning golf’s Grand Slam in 1930 at the age of 28.
“For me, to play as an amateur meant I could travel, have fun, play for my country and have a life,” Lacoste said recently, reflecting on the fact that even today she might have been inclined to try to take on the professionals while remaining an amateur herself. “She had a huge impact for women of my generation,” said Anne Marie Palli, who in 1983 became the first European professional to win on the LPGA Tour. “For sure, we have women’s golf history in France to be proud of, but it was Catherine who showed us a French player could win the United States.”
Arnaud Massy won the Open Championship in 1907, the first continental player to do so, but overall his CV was no match for Catherine Lacoste’s. She may be the greatest golfer France has ever produced. It therefore really is perhaps time for the likes of Victor Dubuisson and Alexander Levy to step up on the male side – not least with the Ryder Cup being played in their country in less than 12 months time. (BTW, Cristie Kerr won the US Women’s Open 10 years ago. How neat a coincidence is that?)
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