INDIANA COUNTY SPORTS HALL OF FAME: McMurdy forgoes pro potential to stay at home
• EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the fourth of an eight-part series profiling the individuals who will be inducted into the Indiana County Sports Hall of Fame. Tomorrow: Bill Wilt.
There was a time Sue McMurdy thought about turning pro.
She was certainly good enough.
In 1978, she had perhaps her biggest accomplishment in a lifetime full of them, qualifying for and playing in the U.S. Women’s Open.
“I had just little inklings: Should I play golf for a living or not?” she said.
“I went out there, and the women that I thought were the great stars were kind of living in their cars. They had the racks in the back with the clothes. And I’m like, I don’t think this is exactly the kind of life I want to lead, running around the country. And at that point in time, the earnings just weren’t that good.”
McMurdy wanted to be sure, though.
She came home to Indiana, and her next tournament was the West Penn Open. If McMurdy won that, she said, she’d give professional golf a shot.
At the Pittsburgh Field Club, McMurdy looked the part of a pro, making her way to the final match against Nancy Rubin. McMurdy had lost to Rubin in 21 holes in a semifinal match the previous year, and this was another close one.
“I was 2 up with two to play, and I lost on the 19th hole,” McMurdy said. “The putt on 18 went in and spun out, and then I lost on the 19th hole. It was like there was a message: Yeah, you probably could do it, but you really shouldn’t. So I finished the season and then got busy at work.”
Don’t think she regrets the decision for a second.
She continued a lifetime full of golf and had all kinds of success in the game — on the course and off. She’ll be inducted, with seven others, into the Indiana County Sports Hall of Fame at its annual banquet and induction ceremony Sunday at the Rustic Lodge.
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It started on the shores of Lake Ontario, at the Elms Golf Club in Sandy Creek, N.Y. Living in nearby Pulaski, N.Y., Sue’s parents were friends with the owners of the course.
“I started going to the golf course, playing with my Barbie dolls in the dining room while my family was out playing golf,” she said.
That didn’t last long. Around age 7, she was playing matches with her father, James Goodwin, and brothers, James and John. Before she could drive, she once took herself to the course by boat. When she got to high school, she became the first girl to play on a boys’ golf team in the state of New York.
“When it came time, I played basketball and volleyball, but I was a golfer,” she said. “When I was a freshman, we went to Albany, and (the coach) went through all the rigmarole to get that done, so I was the first to play on the boys’ team in the state of New York. I played four years and I have four golf varsity letters, and it was great competition. I started playing from the white tees as a kid. I started playing against boys and with boys, from my brothers and dad to the golf team, and that’s been very helpful in a lot of ways. I’m happy now that there are a lot of women’s golf teams. It’s great to do for competition, but there’s just as much good competition for women nowadays, so you don’t have to be in that environment.”
At age 17, in 1973, McMurdy played in what would be the first of many United States Golf Association championships for her, qualifying for the U.S. Girls’ Junior championship at the Somerset Hills Country Club, in New Jersey.
“The officials from the New York State Golf Association were amazing women, and they arranged for it and took me there,” she said. “I was very influenced by those women, what they did for the game when they didn’t play. Those were early seeds for me that I wanted to influence the game.”
There, Sue dueled and fell to future six-time LPGA Tour major champion and World Golf Hall of Famer Betsy King in a playoff.
“You don’t know, they’re just kids,” McMurdy said. “We played and we had a wonderful time.”
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Sue’s first golf coach, at the LaFayette Hills Golf and Country Club near Syracuse, N.Y., was John McMurdy Jr., of Canonsburg, Pa. She followed John to Pennsylvania, attending Indiana University of Pennsylvania to study mathematics, and the two have been married for 39 years.
“I think the only (USGA) event I wasn’t actually there for was when she played in the U.S. Girls’ Junior,” John McMurdy said. “I was not at that tournament; however, at that time I was her golf coach.”
At IUP, Sue took her classes in the morning and played at the Indiana Country Club in the afternoon.
In 1978, she went to the U.S. Women’s Open in Indianapolis. By then, she had her math degree and eventually carved out a successful career in technology.
“You compare the earning potential (of a women’s professional golfer at that time) with a great career in technology, there was no decision,” she said. “Plus, having this community to live and work and raise my family in, and Indiana Country Club, it’s been a wonderful, wonderful life. … And there is enough competition to satisfy my competitive juices for golf, so I made a wonderful decision.”
The next year, 1979, Sue played in the U.S. Women’s Amateur championship. In 1980, she gave birth to her and John’s only son, John III.
“My game and my handicap go up and down based on life,” she said. “I had a baby, I had a great career. There are certain times when you are better and more apt to play.”
The 1980s, for the most part, weren’t those times.
“In 1985, I tried to work on my game again,” she said. “I had a spell where I didn’t like the game very much, and I was probably in that spell. I really didn’t have a lot of time to play and practice, but I knew I should. I had this gift, and I love the game, but I hated the game, and my scores were higher because I couldn’t practice and I was so busy. So, when it was announced that the U.S. Amateur was going to be at Fox Chapel in 1985, I decided I had better allocate some time and do that for me. … To do that in my backyard, and my family was there, that was pretty cool.”
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Sue wasn’t far from golf at any point, though.
She remained a strong player locally and statewide, winning championships at the Indiana and Oakmont country clubs, and serving on the board for the Pennsylvania State Women’s Golf Association from 1980 to 1997 and as president in ’96 and ’97.
Giving back, particularly introducing young girls to the game, has always been one of her passions. Working on the board, she thrived.
“Sue and John basically started the junior golf program at Indiana Country Club,” club pro Dan Braun said. “She has influenced many of the golfers that play at the club now. … That was very important for members’ children to be exposed to junior golf and the great game of golf at such a young age. It was because of their efforts that they got that exposure.”
“We worked together on a lot of things like that,” said Carol Semple Thompson, a World Golf Hall of Famer, a prominent amateur golfer in western Pennsylvania and a friend and competitor of Sue’s going back to the ’70s. “Her abilities in running something like the Pennsylvania State were perfect. … She is passionate about it, there’s no doubt about it. She’s interested in women, she’s interested in young women, and she’s interested in golf, and that’s the perfect combination for these junior clinics and running championships. She spent a lot of time volunteering and giving back to the game that I love and obviously she loves, too.”
For Sue, golf has always been such a wholesome, family-oriented activity. She’s expended just as much energy spreading that game as she has on her own play.
“It’s just like girls in math and science, and I was a mathematician,” she said. “This country needs more engineers and scientists and mathematicians, there’s no surprise about that. But particularly young women in the sciences and mathematics are low, and one of the reasons is they need to have role models. The young women golfers also need role models, like Paula Creamer at (the professional) level, but, in a little way, Sue McMurdy, a wife and a mother, with a successful career and a love for the game.”
After being diagnosed with breast cancer in the summer of 2003, Sue kept right on playing. Once she kicked cancer, she went and won another Indiana Country Club championship in 2004 — a win that stands up with any of her accomplishments.
“It was something that was part of my life that I wasn’t going to let go of,” she said of playing through her illness and even chemotherapy treatments. “I was going to keep playing no matter what. It was important for me not to give up something that was so much part of my life. This poisonous, horrible disease wasn’t going to take anything away from me. You can live through it and not have it eat you up.”
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After all that, she broke through and qualified for the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur championship in 2005 — 20 years after she had last played in a USGA championship.
“It was intended to get me ready for senior golf, which was in 2006,” she said. “It was for practice, and I made it.”
The pieces started coming together: Sue was in reach of her own USGA slam — competing in every championship for which she has been eligible.
“That’s when I started thinking about the slam,” she said. “I had almost given up on the Mid-Am, because the kids had gotten younger and stronger.”
The U.S. Women’s Senior Amateur tested Sue’s patience, too. She was the first alternate qualifier a couple times, but didn’t get the call. She missed a couple entirely. In 2013, she was determined.
“Last year, I focused on it,” she said. “I made my schedule, I practiced and did everything else thinking that’s the jewel this year. If I don’t do it this year, I probably won’t be able to do it.”
She didn’t just qualify, she cruised to the medalist honor.
“I remember going out (to Hudson, Ohio), saying, ‘You’ve prepared, you’ve practiced,” she said. “‘There’s nothing else to be worried about. Just go out.’ I think that’s what the pros do that the amateurs don’t do. Their life is geared around that and making all of the surroundings calm so that you can perform. We just don’t always have that luxury because of our lives — our children and our family and our work, all that stuff — and when you get that moment, when the pros say, ‘I just want to enjoy it,’ I get it.”
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Back at Indiana Country Club, the springtime sun is shining brightly. Winter has finally broken, and Sue is at the range.
“I have so much joy in coming up here and chipping,” she said.
The line takes as much meaning as — if not more than — a USGA contest she played with the big names.
It’s about being around the game, sharing it. It’s about passing it on to young girls, and playing it with family.
Sue’s daughter-in-law, Sarah, is part of the crew now. At her age, she could have been one of the girls Sue mentored, had Sarah grown up in the area.
Soon enough, Sue’s grandson Samuel will be joining.
“One of the charms of the game is it’s something you can do with your family for your entire life,” John McMurdy Jr. said. “There are few other things that you can play competitively with your wife, your son, your daughter-in-law.”
“We’re so happy about the fact that our family plays together,” Sue says.
That statement, too, shines genuinely. That’s what golf is for Sue McMurdy.