"Teenagers are taking over the U.S. Women's Amateur." That was a cry from golf's cognoscenti in the early 1970's. In 1972 the same story as the previous year was told at St. Louis Country Club when Mary Budke, an 18-year-old sophomore at Oregon State University, defeated Cynthia Hill of St. Petersburg, Florida, 5 & 4, to win the nation's title. The Dayton, Oregon, lass succeeded Laura Baugh, who won the 1971 U.S. Women's Amateur at the ripe old age of 17. Baugh played well in defense of her title, losing to Mrs. Ted Boddle in the quarterfinals.
Budke's win was probably a bigger surprise than Bill Sander's unexpected U.S. Amateur victory in 1976. Playing in only her second U.S. Women's Amateur, she was not among the favorites coming into the event. In the Northwest, however, she had been a dominating figure, winning the Oregon Women's Amateur title in 1971 and 1972 as well as three consecutive Oregon Junior Girls' championships. Her résumé also included two PNGA Junior Girls' titles and two Western Junior Girls' crowns in 1970 and 1971. Her U.S. Girls' Junior record in 1970 and 1971 should have merited some recognition. In those years, she lost in the semifinals to Janet Aulsis and future LPGA star, Amy Alcott, respectively.
Though Budke may have been unheralded entering the national amateur, she had confidence. "I knew I had the capabilities to win, and I felt I was as good as the favorites. I thought it would take a few key breaks. But I wasn't surprised I won." The turning point in the 36-hole championship final came on the first hole after lunch. Hill hit a good drive, but the ball just caught the left rough and nestled into a terrible lie. "I had no shot," Hill said later. "That hurt because I had to start fast. Instead, I lost the hole and that proved very damaging." The tough break on the first hole put Hill 2-down, and Budke played well after that.
In her post-match comments, Budke said she expected to play better in the afternoon than in the morning. "In the morning round," she said, "I didn't play my usual game. I was missing greens but getting up and down, and I thought that would change in the afternoon. I'm not that good a putter. I don't spend as much time practicing putting as I should."
Budke developed into a championship-caliber player at an early age. After first playing golf when she was eight, she improved rapidly. Mary, who was under the watchful tutelage of Guy Hupe, the professional at the nine-hole, daily-fee Riverwood Golf Course in Dundee, Oregon, shot a 52 for nine holes when she was nine, in the low 40s when she was 11, and her first 39 came when she was 12. Budke was a medalist in Oregon Amateur qualifying when she was 14, 15, 16 and 17, before claiming her first title and not having to qualify when she was 18. Her dedication showed in those early years when she became concerned about her sand play, and dug out a bunker in the backyard of the family home in Dayton. "I didn't get to use it long," she said. "The cats took it over from me."
With that strong work ethic, Budke went on to amass one of the most amazing streaks ever for a Northwest amateur golfer. Between 1971 and 1979, she won eight of nine Oregon Women's Amateur Championships, more than any player in the event's history. The only year Budke didn't win the Oregon Women's Amateur, 1975, she wasn't entered in the event. When the first Portland Ladies Classic was played in 1972, the sponsors had 50 pro-amateur teams but only 48 LPGA pros. So Budke and another amateur were recruited to play as "pros" in the pro-amateur. She did so well that her team finished in the top five.
Though Budke won only one PNGA Women's Amateur title, in 1976, her record in the championship is impressive. In all, she participated in five events, winning in 1976 and ending up as a semifinalist in 1972, 1973 and 1977, with a second-round loss in 1979. Whenever she entered a Northwest women's event during the 1970's, Mary Budke was the player to beat.
For the 1976 PNGA, Portland Golf Club was in perfect condition despite 80- and 90-degree temperatures that necessitated the ladies taking salt tablets and carrying damp towels for cooling their burning necks. Budke was in good form as she won medalist honors with a fine 72-69, 141. Her 69 was one stroke off the course record set by touring professional, Kathy Whitworth. Budke then met the reigning "queen" of the Northwest fairways in the final. Edean Ihlanfeldt was trying to win her sixth PNGA Women's Amateur title, the first coming in 1949 against Alice Bauer. Both ladies played good golf, but in the end, Budke was too strong for Ihlanfeldt, winning 7 & 6 and adding the last unsecured Northwest title to her trophy case.
With such a rapid progression that culminated in her 1976 win in the PNGA Women's Amateur Championship, it wasn't long before friends and observers began pressuring her to turn professional. Mary ignored the suggestions. "My friends mean well," she said then. "But their constant pushing me towards the pro tour has become a negative thing with me. I've never cared much about the idea and their pushing me makes me like it even less."
Even though she was blessed with a classic, rhythmic swing and a cache of amateur titles, Mary found it easy to resist turning pro. "It's not difficult. The women's tour never has held a fascination for me. All I know is that playing golf week after week does not appeal to me."
There were other factors that influenced her decision not to become a golf professional. They revolved around the high standards she'd set for herself in golf. "If I went on tour, I would want to be number one, the best player in the world. That's the way I am. [But] I don't think I'm capable of being number one because I am not strong enough. So I would be doomed to frustration."
Secondly, she channeled her collegiate years towards one goal – becoming a doctor. "I decided in my freshman year in college to try to go into medicine." After graduation, Mary's first application to medical school was rejected. But true to fashion, she didn't give up. In 1976, after receiving an acceptance letter from Oregon State University, she promptly won the PNGA and Oregon Women's Amateur titles.
"Once the worry was gone about whether I would be accepted to medical school, I relaxed. [The year] 1976 was one of my most enjoyable summers in golf, and I probably played as well as I've ever played." Included in that year was a seven-under-par 65 at Gresham Golf Course in the Flav-R-Pac Women's Four-Ball Stroke-Play (Best-Ball) Tournament. She and her partner, Dorothy Campbell, won with 65-69, a 10-under-par 134.
Mary played in the 1979 PNGA Women's Amateur, held at Shadow Hills Country Club in Eugene, where she was medalist and reached the semifinals. Golf was not always the most important thing in her life, as reflected in her philosophy: "I would like to have kept playing. But I would not play competitively if my game was not sharp. That was no fun for me."
Those high standards helped Mary Budke in her search for perfection in golf and, later, medicine. She practiced medicine in California for a number of years before moving back to Eugene, where her medical work continues. Today, Budke regularly plays in the Oregon Women's Amateur, and is a member of the OGA Board of Directors.