Betty Jean Rucker, known affectionately as "B.J." to friends, began winning golf championships early on. Her victory in the 1939 Spokane Women's City Amateur at the tender age of 15 captured front-page headlines in Spokane's Daily Chronicle. She would also win that title each year between 1942 and 1944.
During World War II, most competitive golf events were suspended. However, the game of golf continued. According to one local pundit, "Sound golf advice continued to come from such notable players as Don Moe, Jack Westland, Harry Givan, Bud Ward and Bill Welch, who all helped to season an erratic golf game."
It was during the 1940's that B.J. enjoyed most of her success in the Northwest, winning the PNGA Women's Amateur Championship in 1945 and 1946. She was also the qualifying medalist four times, in 1941, 1945, 1946 and 1957.
Stepping into the National Limelight
B.J. competed nationally several times early in her career but, until 1944, experienced only modest success. She decided to try one more big tournament, the 1944 Broadmoor Invitational in Colorado Springs, arguably the nation's most prestigious women's amateur event at that time next to the U.S. Women's Amateur. Not only did she win the Broadmoor Invitational, but was the qualifying co-medalist as she burst onto the national golf scene.
Probably the best year of B.J.'s illustrious career was 1946. She captured the qualifying medalist honors, while breaking the women's course record at Tacoma Country & Golf Club with a 74, and won the PNGA Women's Amateur Championship. B.J. also advanced to the semifinals of the inaugural U.S. Women's Open (which later came under the auspices of the USGA), played at Spokane Country Club. It was the first and only time the event used a match-play format, and B.J. defeated several professionals before bowing to the legendary Patty Berg on the 35th hole.
In 1946 she added the Washington State Women's Golf Association Championship to her growing list of victories. Later that summer, she was invited to play in an exhibition at Seattle's Broadmoor Golf Club with the renowned pro, Betty Jameson, and the famous "Gold Dust Twins," Byron Nelson and Jug McSpadden. Needless to say, the foursome drew huge crowds.
On her way to New York in search of a job, the Stanford graduate concluded her momentous summer by stopping in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to compete in the U.S. Women's Amateur at Southern Hills Country Club. She played marvelously, but couldn't overcome the great Babe Dedrikson Zaharias, who defeated B.J. in the second round en route to winning the title.
Marriage and a Move to the East Coast
In June 1947, at Hayden Lake Country Club in Idaho, B.J. married John Hulteng. The new couple left the Northwest and moved to Rhode Island, where John had accepted a position as an editorial writer for a major newspaper. B.J. barely missed a beat in her new environs, taking her wonderful golf game to the East Coast. In 1948 B.J. won the first of her six Rhode Island Women's Amateur Championships.
In 1955 the Hultengs returned to the Northwest. Two years later, B.J. made what she considered her "last serious attempt to win another PNGA Women's Amateur Championship." It was played at her home course, Hayden Lake Country Club. After sharing medalist honors with clubmate Connie Oldershaw, B.J. advanced to the semifinals, where eventual champion Carol Jo Kabler defeated her by a slim 1-up margin.
A champion in every sense of the word, B.J. is one of a long list of outstanding women amateurs who call the Northwest "home." She served as a devoted volunteer for the PNGA in course rating and championship administration roles and, since 1990, volunteered as a PNGA Club Representative from Hayden Lake Country Club.
In recognition for her service as a volunteer and her myriad accomplishments in the sport, Betty Jean (Rucker) Hulteng was inducted into the Pacific Northwest Golf Hall of Fame in 1995.