Time doesn’t necessarily heal all wounds. Jackie Pung can attest to that.
The colorful Hawaiian had just put the finishing touches on a masterful performance at the 1957 U.S. Women’s Open and was meeting with the media when an official from the U.S. Golf Association told Pung she had signed an incorrect scorecard.
Though Pung signed for the correct final-round total of 72 at Winged Foot’s East Course, she marked a 5 on the par-5 fourth hole instead of a bogey 6. Pung was disqualified and Betsy Rawls, who was a shot behind, became champion by default.
“I don’t remember much about it,” Rawls, now 78, said. “I just happened to be in second place.”
Rawls walked away with the trophy, but Pung left with more money in her pocket. The Winged Foot membership, spectators and officials sympathized so deeply with Pung that a special purse was raised that exceeded $3,000. Rawls took home $1,800 for the victory.
The extra cash, however, didn’t replace Pung’s disappointment. She was hounded so much by the media over the next few days that she and 15-year-old daughter Barnette found a New York hotel and remained in seclusion for a week.
“Everywhere I went the next year, the reporters always brought it up,” Pung, now 85, told the Honolulu Star-Bulletin several years ago. “It was an ordeal.”
The situation was magnified for several reasons. Pung already was considered a bit of a rebel by the USGA. After winning the 1952 U.S. Women’s Amateur, she did an impromptu hula dance on the 18th green, prompting a reprimand from USGA officials. The following year, Rawls defeated Pung in an 18-hole playoff at the Country Club of Rochester (N.Y.) to win the 1953 Women’s Open, the second of her four Open victories. And, ironically, a year prior to the Pung scorecard debacle, Rawls signed an incorrect scorecard at the 1956 Women’s Open, but received a two-stroke penalty rather than disqualification.
Rule 36-5 stated that “a penalty of disqualification may, in exceptional individual cases, be waived or be modified or be imposed under Rule 1 if the Committee consider such action warranted.” The committee lifted Rawls’ disqualification in favor of a two-stroke penalty, but the regulation was banished shortly thereafter, which meant Pung received a different fate than Rawls for the same infraction.
“I hated it for Jackie,” said Rawls, who is the LPGA Championship’s vice chair of the board of directors. “It was such a shame for her, but it’s the responsibility of the participant. She broke a rule and it happens she was disqualified because of it. It’s just one of those things.”
The 95 players in the 1957 Women’s Open field recorded only seven rounds of par or better on the 6,246-yard, par 73 East Course. Pung played progressively better (78-75-73-72) each day and her closing 72 in windy conditions was considered by many to be the round of the week. Rawls, 29 at the time, entered the final day with a three-shot lead after posting 74-74-75, but closed with a 76 that left her a shot behind Pung. Fifteen minutes later, Rawls learned that she’d be U.S. Women’s Open champion for the third time in seven years. (Rawls won her fourth Open in 1960, joining Mickey Wright as the only four-time champions.)
Nearly 50 years later, the episode is still difficult for Pung to talk about.
“Everytime the TV mentions my name it’s still in connection with that card,” Pung told the Star-Bulletin. “It was hard to get over, but at least now when they talk about me, it lets people know I’m still alive.”
Pung has been battling Type 2 diabetes for the past 15 years and still lives on the Big Island of Hawaii.
She had been active at the Jackie Pung Golf Academy at Waikoloa and helped conduct three workshops per day as recently as four years ago until her health declined. Pung’s health problems also have taken a toll on her finances.
Seven years ago, Golfweek conducted an exclusive interview with Pung in which she discussed her financial difficulties in depth. She talked about how she had deeded her modest house on the Kohala Coast to her daughter to prevent it from being held in lien by the Internal Revenue Service against any future debts. Steady work had been hard to find, and Pung legally became a dependent of her daughter, who lives in Houston. And she noted that she had not fared as well financially as some of the players against whom she competed, including Rawls, Wright, Babe Zaharias, Louise Suggs, Patty Berg, Peggy Kirk Bell and Marlene Hagge.
“The last five years have not been easy,” Pung said in 1999, feeling abandoned by the game to which she had devoted her life. “I’ve lived on food stamps. I don’t have a regular job but I don’t want a handout, just a job.”
One can only wonder whether Pung would have fared better had that scorecard been correct.