|Geddes Reflects her Open win at NCR|
|by Sean Melia, Contributing Writer to Miami Vallet Golf|
|Jane Geddes overcame fire and earthquakes to win 1986 U.S. Women’s Open. |
Jane Geddes arrived at NCR CC in Ketting, Ohio in 1986 with low expectations. She was a 26-year-old golfer playing in her second U.S. Women’s Open without a professional victory.
It’s well known that the U.S. Open is the ultimate test of golf. Long rough, narrow fairways, and fast greens help identify our national champion.
In this particular U.S. Women’s Open, however, there were some additional challenges that the USGA had no control over.
During the week of the U.S. Women’s Open Kettering experienced an earthquake, a train derailment, and a small airplane crash.
Jane Geddes remembers the train derailment most clearly because it had a direct effect on her and everyone living and staying in the area. The train was carrying hazardous materials.
The National Hazardous Materials Fusion Center summed up the accident:
“A subsequent fire resulted, releasing thick clouds of phosphorus combustion effluents.
Liquid phosphorus was released on the ground through the 20 cm (8in) tear in the bottom of the tank shell near the airbrake support bracket attachment. The exposed phosphorus smoldered then ignited within 15 minutes.”
7,000 people were evacuated from the area, and as winds shifted each day, different parts of southern Ohio were on alert. The emergency lasted five days and was dangerous enough that workers trying to manage the situation were rotating to limit their exposure.
The danger was real, and considering the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine was just two months earlier, caution was highly necessary.
“I remember sitting in a restaurant and they told us a wave of gas was coming towards us and we had to leave,” Geddes recalls. “We had to switch hotels, too.”
A second fire ignited on the Wednesday before the tournament, making it impossible for some players to gain access to the golf course.
If noxious gases in the air weren’t enough, an earthquake hit on Saturday; it clocked in at a 4.5 on the richter scale.
Gary Nuhn wrote in the Dayton Daily News, “It was wise to bring an umbrella to NCR South Saturday. It was wiser still to bring a change of clothes. It was wisest to bring a hard hat, an inflatable raft and a life jacket.”
Those distractions could have been problematic for players who arrived with something to lose, For Geddes, she was just pleased to be in the event. She had absolutely nothing to lose during her week in Ohio.
Due to the challenging nature of the U.S. Open, par is a good score. Birdies don’t come easily, but big numbers are always lurking in the dense rough.
Geddes remembers her experience coming down the stretch on Sunday.
“The first leaderboard I saw was on 16. And I had no idea how I was doing. There weren’t very many leaderboards, and the one I saw on 16 said I was leading. I’m a leaderboard looker. It’s not like I ever avoided them. I just didn’t see any. I figured I was playing well, but it’s hard to tell when you’re just making pars. You don’t know if someone is shooting a great round.”
The realization of where she stood in the tournament had quite an effect on Geddes. The weight of the moment hit her hard.
“I got to 16 and I was in the fairway and I looked over and saw my name on top of the leaderboard and I immediately became stunned. I looked at my caddie and he was getting a yardage,” Geddes said. “I look at him, and I don’t even know what to do next; he looks at me and says, ‘alright, I got ya.’ And literally from that point on, he pulled a club, gave me the club, I swung. On 17, the same thing. I was stunned.”
“I stood on the 18th tee, and I’d hit that drive in my head 100 times. ‘This is the one, you’re leading the U.S. Open.”
Geddes made it home to 18, but Sally Little, a major winner and professional legend, had pulled even with Geddes. That meant an 18-hole playoff would be played on Monday.
Given all the outside distractions and a head-to-head to duel with Little, it would make sense for Geddes to feel a bit overwhelmed.
“I had never won. And Sally was completely the other end of the spectrum. She was at the end of her career, had an amazing career. Had won majors. She had never won a U.S. Open. So the pressure was on her.”
When Monday arrived, Geddes wasn’t nervous.
“I did my thing. I’m not a big range person. I don’t take very much time warming up. I hit a couple balls. I hit some putts. I was done, and I had thirty minutes before my tee time.”
Geddes decided to kill time on the first tee before teeing off. Naturally, she found a seat on her golf bag, completely oblivious to how ridiculous it might look.
Even P.J. Boatwright wasn’t quite sure what to make of this scene at a U.S. Women’s Open. He hadn’t even put the tee markers down for the playoff yet and she is one of the competitors sitting on her bag.
“I was ready. This is what I do before I play. I’m just chilling on my bag,” Geddes said with a laugh.
Geddes started her round in exactly the same manner she had played the previous four, making pars and keeping her head down. Little, on the other hand, made three straight birdies on holes 4, 5, and 6 to grab an early three shot lead. It didn’t last, though, and Geddes made birdie on the eighth hole and led by one shot after an opening nine of une-under par.
A pep talk from her caddie on the tenth tee buoyed Geddes. He reminded her of how well she had played the back nine all week. The two players battled, but Little could never overtake Geddes. They stood even on the 14th tee at two-under par.
The closing five holes are what ended up separating the players. Geddes finished the round with a score of 71, and Little could only muster a 73.
And just like thay, amidst a serious of seemingly apocalyptic events, Geddes was the U.S. Women’s Open champion.
The win was Geddes’ first as a professional and it launched her into a 12-month stretch of golf that she thought might last forever. She played the Boston Five the following week and won. From July 1986 to July 1987 Geddes won seven tournaments, including a second major, The Mazda PGA Championship, where she stared down another legend Betsy King for that victory.
The wins were never stress-free, though. She won three playoffs that year, and her biggest margin of victory was two shots
The win at NCR CC altered Geddes’ trajectory professional trajectory.
“For whatever reason, it put me on this crazy level more mentally than physically.”
“I thought I was going to play like that forever.”
“I believed I was going to play well. I believed I was going to shoot good rounds. I believed I was going to make putts. I got myself in so many good positions to win. Even if I didn’t win, I was finishing pretty high. I was on such an amazing roll,” Geddes said.
“I know it was mental because I went eleven weeks without ever going to the driving range. Before I played or after I played. It was so crazy. I knew exactly where the ball was going and I didn’t want to go to the driving range and mess anything up. I got to the golf course and swing the club with a little weight on the end and I was ready.”
In August, NCR CC will host the U.S. Senior Women’s Open and Geddes is excited to compete on the course that launched her professional career.
“I was so excited to hear that we’re going back there. I’m barely playing, but at least I’m playing. So I’m glad I’ll be able to go back and relive it. I’m looking forward to it,” Geddes said.
The good vibes at NCR CC extend beyond the U.S. Women’s Open, Geddes was also the medalist in a U.S. Women’s Open qualifier.
However, she doesn’t play a lot these days. After retiring from golf in 2003 she’s built a career off the course, first with the WWE and now as a real estate agent, specializing in helping professional athletes find homes.
That means, just like in 1986, she’s coming in with low expectations.
“I'm hoping I'll be ready to go once I get there as far as playing and stuff. And who knows? I'm not one of these players that plays all the time,” Geddes said. “I can't do that. I have a career and family. I'm just too busy to put that time in.”
However, the competitive nature starts to seep out as Geddes talks about returning to NCR CC.
“I'm fortunate because we summer out in Colorado, and there’s a whole bunch of players that live out there. Some of my really good friends from the tour. And so we all get together, we play a bunch in the summer. So, you know, I'll be ready to go.”
Ultimately no matter what happens in the U.S. Senior Women’s Open, NCR CC will always be a special place for Geddes.
“I'm just looking forward to it. I'll have great memories. It’s part of my personal history.”
Hopefully, this new chapter for Geddes in Kettering doesn’t include train derailments and earthquakes and hotel changes and she can enjoy her golf and walk down memory lane.
|Sean Melia is a regular contributor to Miami Valley Golf and podcaster and writer for AmateurGolf.com. He played competitively in college and still tries his hand at competing every now and then, but he is usually snapping pictures of interesting holes he's playing instead of worrying too much about his score. He is currently on a quest to play all 350 golf courses in his home state of Massachusetts and chronicling it on Instagram BayState_Golf and his website.|