Brooklawn Country Club: A look back at the 1979 U.S. Women’s Open

Brooklawn Country Club will host its fifth United States Golf Association Championship this week when the third U.S. Senior Women’s Open comes to the Fairfield-based private course.

It will be the first time since 2003 that Brooklawn CC has hosted a USGA event. Fans will be able to walk alongside the players as no gallery ropes will be in place.

For several golfers competing this week, this won’t be the first USGA championship they have played in at Brooklawn CC. Forty-two years ago this month, the 34th U.S. Women’s Open was held there.

Jerilyn Britz won the 1979 U,S. Women’s Open title at Brooklawn CC, her first victory on the LPGA Tour, shooting an even-par total of 284 for four rounds.

“Britz, playing with a frosty calm in the face of an inspiring late charge by Debbie Massey, made all of the shots she had to make in shooting a final round 69,” wrote Ray Van Stone in the July 16, 1979 issue of The Telegram, then the morning paper (the Bridgeport Post, as it was called at the time, was the afternoon paper).

Van Stone wrote there were 13,000 in the gallery that Sunday as both Britz and Massey were tied heading to the final hole. Britz made par, Massey a double bogey.

“She had never won, never had been close,” Van Stone said in a recent interview. “I don’t know if she had much of a gallery. She was very stoic, no emotion at all, even after she won. Still, I got the feeling she was pretty wound up. She was last on the list for anyone predicting winners.”

Bruce Berlet, then with the Hartford Courant, still recalls the bad break Massey got when her drive on the final hole finished in a divot, leading to the double bogey.

“It was one of the worst breaks that I’ve seen in 51 years as a sports writer. It’s bad enough to hit a bad shot to lose a major championship on the last hole, but to find the fairway and end up in a long narrow divot deep enough to cause nearly all the ball to be underground was beyond outlandish,” Berlet said.

Britz was a relative unknown — Berlet called her “among the longest of longshots to win” The list of favorites included Hollis Stacey, who had won the last two U.S. Women’s Open titles coming into the week, and a 22-year-old phenom who had already won 15 times on tour.

“The story that week coming into the tournament was Nancy Lopez. She burst onto the scene the previous week so she was the center of attention for both the fans and the media,” said Gary Rogo, the former sports editor at Hearst Connecticut Media Group, who was in his first year with the paper in 1979.

Van Stone remembers in particular a couple of times when Lopez was on the grounds at Brooklawn CC.

“Nancy Lopez got out of the car and the place went nuts. She was the big attraction,” Van Stone said. “A couple of hours later, she went to the (driving) range. She had a massive group, three or four deep, out there watching her hit balls.”

Lopez never was in contention that week, finishing in a tie for 11th place. Lopez never won the U.S. Women’s Open.

Stacy ended up tied for 15th. None of the pre-tournament favorites were able to contend in what was a hot week weather-wise recalled by all three men covering the event.

“It was very hot and humid that week, much as it was eight years later for the U.S. Senior men’s open, but crowds still came out in large numbers. Fairfield County really embraced the tournament,” Rogo said.

By the way, in case you were wondering, the PGA Tour event held that same week in July of 1979 was the Greater Milwaukee Open.

Either Britz or Massey led after each round. Britz held a five-shot lead during the final round, only to have Massey come back to tie her.

Patty Berg was the oldest competitor in that 1979 U.S. Women’s Open. Kathy Whitworth, who still holds the LPGA record with 88 victories, also competed.

Britz will be one of several players who competed in that Open also competing this week in the U.S. Senior Women’s Open. They include: Stacy, Laura Baugh, Jan Stephenson, Amy Alcott and Laurie Rinker, the youngest player in the field in 1979 at 16.

Brooklawn CC will be playing in the neighborhood of 6011 yards — nearly the exact yardage the course played to back in July of 1979.; @nhrJoeMorelli