Marlene Stewart-Streit is quite simply the most successful amateur golfer in Canadian history. Her career spans more than five decades with at least one major amateur victory in each. She won at home – 11 Canadian Ladies Open Amateurs, nine Canadian Ladies Close Amateurs and four Canadian Ladies Senior Women’s Amateur tournaments – and abroad, where she is the only woman ever to win the Canadian, British, American, and Australian amateur titles. In 2004, she rightfully became the first Canadian member of the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Stewart-Streit was born March 9, 1934, in Cereal, Alberta. At 15, she began riding her bicycle to The Lookout Point Golf Club, in Fonthill, Ontario, located in the southwestern region of the province, and caddy, using the money she earned to pay the $25 club membership fee. The club pro, Gordon McInnis Sr., began giving her lessons and a year after taking up the game, she finished runner-up in the Ontario Junior Girls’ Championship. Soon she would become a national figure. For winning the 1953 British Women’s Amateur, she received a heroine’s welcome. In Toronto, 15,000 people cheered as she drove by in an open convertible.
"I was hitting 4-woods into greens and she was hitting 7-irons."
Short in stature, but a giant on the course, Stewart-Streit had a long, sweeping backswing and a big shoulder turn, getting every ounce of power out of her body that she could. Often, she didn't hit it as far as her competitors, but she made up for it with a deadly short game. "She's scary around the green," said LPGA Tour player A.J. Eathorne, an Alberta native. "If you're playing against her in match play and she's just off the green you have to count on that going in almost all the time."
In golf, the short stick is the great equalizer. "The putter is probably the biggest club in her bag," said fellow Canadian Dawn Coe-Jones. "Marlene's the one you would like to make a putt for you if your life depended on it."
Her short game was the difference when she defeated future Hall of Famer JoAnne Gunderson-Carner 2 and 1, in the 36-hole final of the 1956 U.S. Women's Amateur. "I was hitting 4-woods into greens and she was hitting 7-irons," Stewart-Streit recalled. She was four down by the 20th hole but fought back. "Marlene never gives up," Coe-Jones said. "She is the most intense person I have ever seen on the golf course."
Stewart-Streit won the 29th, 30th and 32nd holes to take the lead. On the decisive 35th hole, she sank a 12-foot putt to win.
Marlene Stewart Streit was the first Canadian inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Outside of competitive golf, Stewart-Streit has served endlessly in Canada to improve youth opportunities to the game and improve the competitive edge of Canadian women. In 1965, she defeated Marilynn Smith in a Shell's Wonderful World of Golf match in Oslo, Norway. The winning prize was $7,000. To retain her amateur status, she asked Shell to donate the prize money to what became the Marlene Streit Awards Fund. She won another $3,000 the following year despite losing to Mickey Wright. That $10,000 grew with interest and the fund is still being used to pay travel costs for promising junior golfers.
"There's a great deal of us that, who knows where we would've gotten if it weren't for Marlene," said Canadian touring pro Nancy Harvey. "Marlene believed in us and if Marlene believed in you, you were definitely going somewhere."
Stewart-Streit still believes in her own game too. In 2003, at age 69, she became the oldest woman to win a USGA championship when she defeated Nancy Fitzgerald with a par on the fifth extra hole in the U.S. Senior Women's Amateur. "It's one thing to win in your backyard but I think to do it worldwide like she did, that's impressive," Coe-Jones said, "and it's something that might not be done again in the amateur ranks."