The game of Joyce Wethered and her battles with Glenna Collett and Cecil Leitch; Elegant power.
"I have never played with any golfer, male or female, amateur or professional, who made me feel so utterly outclassed."Bobby Jones.
Any discussion on the great lady of golf, Joyce Wethered, can only begin after we open with Bobby Jones's timeless quote.
Putting it into context, it was made by one of the greatest male golfers of all time, at the height of his career. Matchplay legend Walter Hagen also put it so succinctly when he declared, "She has grace, timing, and touch."
Joyce Wethered was years ahead of her time. The power and accuracy of her swing came from the high quality and perfect mechanics she used.
As far as the ladies in the nineteen twenties and thirties were concerned, she was in a league of her own.
"In a league of her own." Joyce Wethered stories. 50x70cm acrylic on 650g Fabriano paper.
Click on the image to enlarge
In her biography and newspaper articles, Joyce tells of her golf education and beginnings at home. Her brother was an excellent golfer himself, and it was he who supplied the background on which she could grow.
As a captain of the Oxford first team, Roger was always placed in head-to-head matches against the best amateurs in England. Joyce tells of how she would often watch the great battles that ensued and learn from the games and tactics each excellent player used.
Although often there to help with swing issues, Joyce remembered her brother's best advice was in persuading her to swing more upright.
The advice turned her game around. As well as being more accurate she added 20 yards to the length of her iron shots.
The following film was taken in the thirties and features the Joyce Wethered swing slowed down to an incredible 3200 frames per second.
As seen in the film her swing has all the elements of her modern-day successors. What is most impressive is her delayed release and forward drive beyond the ball and onto the finish. Very few ladies of this era were capable of achieving such dynamics. Even the raising of both heels from the ground at contact is not uncommon in great ladies' swings of today.
In the playing career of Joyce Wethered, only two ladies were able to make a serious challenge and compete against her, Cecil Leitch and Glenna Collett. The matches the three played were legendary.
Acrylic on canvas. 80x100cm."Dominant figures."
The first match where she found herself up against Cecil Leitch was in the finals of the 1920 English Ladies Championship on the Sheringham golf course. Incredibly, apart from a few Junior and club events it was the first major event Joyce had taken part in. She had little expectation, which is so often a catalyst for success. Unsurprisingly she found herself in the matchplay stages, even after playing poorly (for her) in the qualifying round.
Cecil Leitch was the dominant lady in the first two decades of the 21st century.
Joyce breezed through her matches with little resistance against shocked opponents, who found themselves outclassed by an unknown nineteen-year-old girl. To reach the final in this first event was sensational. Yet still, nobody expected the final twist as she beat the hard-hitting champion of the last twenty years, Cecil Leitch. The following years and the many matches the two played were dominated by Joyce, although Cecil was able to chalk a few points up when she was really in form.
For a more detailed story about Cecil Leitch, with art, and fantastic film action, press the following link:
As Cecil Leitch began to release her challenge on Joyce and slowly retire from the national scene a new challenger took up the sword. A talented young American who had won all that was before her at home. In 1925 at the age of 22, she now had ambitions to take it to the next stage and beat the best in Britain and all those on the continent.
From the earliest days of her Tournament golfing life, Glenna showed herself to be a champion. As a teenager, she could hold her own against the best in America. At nineteen, she played a match against the most famous player in the world at this time, Miss Cecil Leitch. Miss Leitch was in America to compete in the National Open Championship of that year. Glenna played well against her and eventually won their match on the 18th. It was no surprise to read in her memoirs that Glenna was just as interested in outdriving the British long-hitter as winning the game.
Who was the better?
"And golf! Well, she is as good as it is possible to be. She is as near perfection as I ever dreamed of being."
Glenna Collett on Joyce Wethered. The best female golfer in the 25 years between the two world wars is a straight choice of Joyce Wethered or Glenna Collett. Even today, each side of the Atlantic prefers their home candidate, Collett for America and Wethered for the British Isles. When asking Joyce or Glenna their opinion on the game of their rival both avoided taking part in the press/media hype and genuinely complimented the others play. That it was not a priority in the mind of Joyce Wethered was made crystal clear when she announced her retirement from official competitive golf in 1925.
Joyce was tired of the crowds and their ignorant behavior. Even Glenna Collett expressed dismay at how the British crowds would swamp the playing area immediately after the ball had landed, letting the player struggle their way through the masses to be able to play the next shot!
The chasing crowd, a high pace to be the first there.
As a result of Joyce's competitive retirement, they met only three times in the British championships, and Joyce came out on top in every game, albeit on home soil. Perhaps the answer to who the superior player was can be found in the result of the last championship match in which they faced each other.
When it was announced that St.Andrews was the chosen venue for the 1929 Ladies Championship, Joyce decided she would take part for the last time. The risk was high as she had only played in local matches or invitations for the previous four years. As soon as her return from retirement to play at St. Andrews was officially confirmed, the press announced it to the world.
St. Andrews in the late twenties.
The decision made by Joyce to play was kept quiet for as long as possible, but her friends had noticed how she had begun to practice with more purpose. It was most evident in an extra focus on her short game. The double-sized greens of the old course, with slopes and undulations that had evolved over hundreds of years, would be the biggest test for all the competitors.
Glenna Collett would also have been fully aware of the type of shots she would need for St. Andrews.
Joyce Wethered's thoughts on putting are covered nicely in her book "Golfing Memories." She believed that putting was a game in itself. She felt that only great putters could hole putts from six to ten feet under pressure(she was a master at this). According to her, the biggest flaw in putting is the overuse of the wrists. She recommended reducing the wrist activity by opening the hands and holding more with palms rather than the fingers.
During the time Joyce had been competitively inactive, there had been a huge decision made by the R&A to allow steel shafts. Yet, although the superiority of the "modern" shaft was unmistakable, she still chose to play her trusty old hickory set.
This would seem to play into the hands of her most dangerous challenger, Glenna Collett, who, as an American, had already played the new shafts for five years. Read more about the subject and its effects on the history of the swing.
Joyce had an admiration for Glenna Collett that was equal to the affection Glenna had for her. During the years of their on-the-field battles, they became good friends. Both would relish the thought of meeting up and spending time off the playing arena together, whenever the chance arose. Joyce, like all who met her, applauded the sporting grace of Glenna. " As an opponent, she was unequaled in the generous-minded and sporting attitude that was natural to her." wrote Joyce in her memoirs. Bobby Jones bestowed the same characterization when asked to give his accomplished opinion.
"America's Queen of Golf." Acrylic on canvas. 70x110cm.