2002: Amateur - Doctor’s orders

Eugene, Ore.

The six-story Sacred Heart Medical Center rises conspicuously against the dark Oregon sky, a monument to mankind’s ability to make concrete and save lives. This is where Dr. Mary Budke, 48, practices medicine. This is where she practices life.

When it was announced in February that Budke would become captain of the 2002 U.S. Curtis Cup team, fellow doctors were impressed. Many didn’t know she played golf, and hardly any knew that 30 years ago, she won the U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship. The patients at Sacred Heart not only didn’t know, but undoubtedly didn’t care, as golf is not even a blip on the radar screen of real life.

One of Budke’s strengths is that she recognizes the delicate balance between fact and fancy. An emergency room physician, Budke has seen it all. Blood, trauma, death – that’s fact. Golf is a fancy that can enrich our lives, but it’s a long way from the fairways of San Francisco Golf Club, where Budke was a member of the victorious 1974 U.S. Curtis Cup team, to the halls of Sacred Heart.

“Mary doesn’t talk about golf,” said a colleague, Dr. Gary Young. “She is a good doctor and a good person. I’m sure there are some parallels between the pressure you feel taking care of patients and the pressure you feel in golf. I think that’s why she was such a good golfer. In here, you can find yourself in a life-or-death situation at any moment. You’ve got to be able to handle that; she does it very well.”

To which Budke responded with a laugh, “I think I’ve learned not to be upset by golf. I love golf, even more now that I’ve spent all these years in medicine.”

Still as thin as a schoolgirl, she is suddenly transformed by what might be called the Budke look – her gaze unyielding, her eyes defiant. She is daydreaming of another Curtis Cup victory, this time as a captain. The message can be seen in her face: Here comes another challenge, and the doctor is in.

“She gets along so well with others,” said Dr. Dan Dietel, another associate at Sacred Heart. “I think her laid-back personality hides her toughness. She can be a very tough and determined person. She handles stressful situations as well as anybody I’ve ever seen.”

What does it take to be named the captain of a Ryder Cup, Solheim Cup, Presidents Cup, Walker Cup or Curtis Cup team?

A history of success as a player is mandatory. A major championship or a national championship doesn’t hurt. Furthermore, it helps to have friends in high places.

Whatever the secret, these captains widely are viewed as figureheads, especially on the professional level, where being a captain is an honor first and a responsibility second. Pat Bradley, caught in the middle of a Solheim Cup controversy in 2000, might argue with such logic, but players on the professional level hardly need guidance. A scene never to be witnessed: A stern captain Curtis Strange approaches Phil Mickelson on the eve of the Ryder Cup, advising, “Phil, none of that adventurous stuff this week. I want you to play conservatively.”

However, the Walker Cup and Curtis Cup, with teams composed entirely of amateurs, place more importance on the ability of the captain to communicate with less-experienced players.

There may be no person who can put golf in perspective better than Budke. Neither golf nor life is simple, yet young players often foolishly hitch their happiness and misery to a wagon of birdies and bogeys. For a U.S. Curtis Cup team that likely will be composed of players ranging from their teens to their 50s, the doctor is in.

She has seen a reality that many of us don’t want to know, understand or acknowledge. As an emergency room physician, she has lived in the shadow of a society gone mad – dopers, boozers, wackos, wife beaters, gunshot and stabbing victims, all with psychological ramifications that make golf seem like child’s play.

For a while, that’s what it was for little Mary Budke, who learned to play the game on the nine-hole Riverwood Golf Course in Dundee, Ore. Amy Alcott, asked what she remembered most about Budke from their junior days, replied, “She was thin. Thin and quiet.”

At 18, however, Budke decided to become a doctor. Both her parents, Ernest and Anne, were pharmacists in Dayton, Ore., where they owned a drug store. She thought about professional golf – for a brief moment, anyway – but dismissed the idea.

It was Frank Hannigan, former executive director of the U.S. Golf Association, who provided directional signs.

“I met Mary’s parents and liked them very much,” Hannigan recalled. “Mary was exceptional. Although I was reluctant to give advice to any of the junior golfers, I remember suggesting that she should consider medicine.”

To Budke, “that was a really good nudge. I had been thinking about it, and Frank knew that. At that moment, I made the decision truly in my mind. The following week, I won the U.S. Amateur.”

Budke majored in general science at Oregon State University, then attended medical school at Oregon Health Sciences University (the University of Oregon Medical School). For her residency, she chose Los Angeles County Hospital, a notorious medical crossroads of the expected and unexpected.

“There were four or five years when I played practically no golf,” she said. “I didn’t even think about it. I was not involved.”

This from a golfer who beat Laura Baugh in the final of the 1971 Western Junior and lost a 21-hole match the same year to Alcott in the semifinals of the U.S. Junior.

“Amy and I played four matches as amateurs and split them 2-2,” Budke said. “She was fun, bright, gracious and very competitive.”

This from a golfer who won the 1972 U.S. Women’s Amateur at St. Louis Country Club with a 5-and-4 victory over Cynthia Hill. In 1973, she lost, 2 and 1, in the quarterfinals to Carol Semple (Thompson).

“I always loved the picture of Carol with her father’s arm around her after she won the final,” Budke said, referring to former USGA president Bud Semple.

This from a golfer who was an All-American at Oregon State, where she captured the national college title in 1974, and who won the Oregon Women’s Amateur in 1971, ’72, ’73, ’74, ’76, ’77, ’78 and ’79. What happened in 1975? She didn’t play.

“She is a golf legend in Oregon,” said Jim Gibbons, executive director of the Oregon Golf Association. “The thing that impressed me was that here was a lady who won everything and then decided there were things more important than playing golf as a career.

“I think she could have done anything she wanted in golf, but I’m sure it’s those some competitive juices that make her such a great medical doctor. She’s a marvelous person. She certainly appreciates golf, but she’s not overwhelmed by it. Her perspectives are unique for a person who has achieved that kind of success; most people are fanatical.”

Budke, in her quiet way, still contributes mightily to Oregon golf.

“She sponsors a junior tournament for kids at Riverwood,” Gibbons said. “She is chairman of the OGA tournament committee. She serves on the OGA executive committee. She keeps giving back to the game.”

Part of her continuing love for the game, Budke maintains, relates to the 1974 Curtis Cup.

“It was the most fun I ever had,” she said. “(Teammate) Debbie Massey was really a kick, she was a great instigator. We were constantly exploring. After we won, I remember Debbie driving all over the road at night. Carol (Semple Thompson) reached over and patted me and said, ‘Don’t worry, it will be OK.’ ”

Thompson, reminded of the incident, said, “She believed me, too. Debbie was crazy in a good way. The night we won, she got up in the middle of the night and walked down to Chinatown because she had a dream that Bonnie Lauer (another teammate) had been kidnapped.”

Looking ahead to this year’s Curtis Cup, Budke talked of “certain humps you have to get over,” and “dealing with those feelings of being intimidated” and other realities of international golf.

“I think we can win and have a lot of fun, too,” she summarized.

Asked if she ever considered specializing in a specific branch of medicine, Budke bristled. “Emergency medicine is its own specialty with its own residency and board certification,” she quickly replied, then gave that look again, the Budke look.

Said former USGA president Judy Bell, “Mary was always quiet and very tough. You remember the advice about walking quietly and carrying a big stick? That was Mary Budke. Still is. Will she be a great Curtis Cup captain? You bet.”

The doctor definitely is in.

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