Britz recalls 'special moment in time' winning 1979 U.S. Women's Open at Brooklawn

FAIRFIELD — Some of the memories have faded over time. It’s been 42 years since Jerilyn Britz held up the championship trophy for winning the 1979 U.S. Women’s Open.

Britz remembers some holes at Brooklawn Country Club, host of that major championship. She remembered the greens as she played practice rounds in preparation for this week’s U.S. Senior Open, also being held at Brooklawn. In particular, she remembered the difficulty if you hit it above the pin.

“I remember most of them being sloped back to front. That’s still pretty true,” Britz said. “I don’t remember the creek (water hazard) going across the course. It might just be my age, but I don’t remember the hills, either.”

When asked for any other particular memories from that tournament, Britz, now 78, recalled one on the 72nd and final hole.

“One thing that has stuck with me was on the 18th hole as I was getting ready to putt, I remember how quiet it was. The silence was deafening. It took me aback how quiet it was,” said Britz who is playing in the third U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Brooklawn CC beginning Thursday.

Britz putted out for par to win that U.S. Women’s Open by two shots over Debbie Massey, her playing partner that day. It was the first LPGA victory for Britz.

“It was a special moment in time to win a tournament at a place like Brooklawn,” Britz said. “It doesn’t really matter what I shoot (this week). I’ll go out there and hit some shots. It will be an awful lot of fun.”

Britz will hit the opening tee shot off the first hole at 7 a.m. Thursday. She is playing the first two rounds with Jan Stephenson and amateur Martha Leach.

Britz came into that 1979 final round trailing Massey, but ended up surging ahead by three strokes. Then it was Massey’s turn to rally back and the two combatants were tied coming to the final hole.

Massey’s tee shot found the fairway, but also found a divot. That led to her double-bogey. Britz found the hardpan with her final drive, but according to the Bridgeport Telegram’s account of the action, it kicked back into the fairway.

With a par, Britz had the title, beating the likes of Hollis Stacy, who had won the previous two U.S. Women’s Open, and a 22-year-old superstar and future Hall of Famer named Nancy Lopez.

“I had good tournaments leading up to that (championship). I had been in contention for a number of weeks,” Britz said. “That helped a lot.”

Britz was a high school teacher in her home state of Minnesota, where she lives today, and three years of college after moving to New Mexico. She was hitting balls on a range nearby a golf clinic being held when she was “discovered” by Joanne Winter, a teaching pro at the time.

Winter had been a superstar athlete in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League in the 1940s, then played the LPGA briefly in the 1960s.

“I didn’t know she was watching me (hit balls). She asked me to try the (LPGA) Tour. She said she would help me with my game and land a sponsor for me,” Britz said. “I loved (playing tournament golf) so much, I didn’t want to go back (to teaching).”

Britz turned pro and joined the LPGA Tour in 1974. Her only other victory came at the Mary Kay Classic in Texas in 1980. She was the runner-up in the LPGA Championship — another major championship — in both 1979 and 1981.

“Those are three good years in a row,” Britz said.

Britz retired in 1999. She has played sparingly since. There are not a lot of opportunities for the senior women to play events.

Britz said she will likely be retiring for good after this championship.

“I always wanted to come back to Brooklawn but I never got the opportunity to do so,” Britz said. “This will probably be the last tournament I play in. I’m 78 years old. It’s not like it used to be at 40 or 50.”; @nhrJoeMorelli