ELVERSON, PENNSYLVANIA | The reason Martha Leach wants to reach 90 USGA championships is etched deeply in one unfailing thought: she is a competitor.
When you grow up in a family of 10 kids, you compete for a seat to watch TV or a spot in the bathroom you share with six others — that lesson of gnawing at the bit and staying staunch stays with you.
“We had one TV and chairs throughout, no sectionals back then, and if I was getting up and said ‘one, two, three,’ no one could touch it. It was our code. It saved your seat,” Leach said. “However, I would be getting up and I would have a sister wedging her way in to cancel it out.”
Leach, 61, thinks she has three or four years more of competition left to reach that goal of 90 events.
“People don’t know how cool it is to play in a national championship,” she said. “I have to say I am a USGA snob because I expect a lot from the courses and most courses deliver. Most venues deliver. And you expect the competition to elevate too.”
Leach, the youngest sister of three-time U.S. Women’s Open winner Hollis Stacy, just played in her 34th U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur where she made match play for the 31st time and was the oldest player in the field to do so.
“I’m innately a competitive person but I grew up with it,” said Leach, who is enshrined in both the Kentucky and Georgia Golf Halls of Fame. “I do like to compete. I’m in a business, real estate, where we are competing. It’s all the same thing. Your family is your team. You work in a real estate brokerage group and that is your team too. You put yourself with good people around you, so you don’t ever feel like it’s a chore.”
Moving seamlessly from USGA championship No. 81, the Women’s Mid-Amateur at Stonewall outside of Philadelphia, to USGA championship No. 82, the U.S. Women’s Senior Amateur at Troon Country Club in Scottsdale, Arizona, on Sept. 30-Oct. 5, Leach continues to add to her Carol Semple Thompson-like resume.
In her other USGA championship of 2023, she finished T18 at the U.S. Senior Women’s Open. Her first USGA championship was the 1975 U.S. Girls’ Junior, starting six decades and nearly 50 years of appearances.
A self-described homebody, Leach has on-the-road assistance from her husband John, who serves as her caddie, instructor, swing coach and confidant. He was the Kentucky PGA Teacher of the Year in 2018 and has recovered nicely from heart bypass surgery in 2019.
“John is my instructor and my swing coach,” said Leach, who calls Hebron, Kentucky, home. “He knows me better than anyone. I would have probably quit golf, but he knows I like to compete.”
What about a six-time USGA champion sister?
“Hollis has her input,” Leach said. “We were at the (U.S. Senior Women’s) Open a few weeks ago and we were playing a practice round and it’s the only time of year I see her. But we talk a lot. We are playing and I’m not hitting it good, so I’ve got Hollis telling me something and John telling me something and I’m hating both of them. John knows it better. Hollis can give a pointer, but she knows he’s the first to see how it’s working into the routine.”
Big sister Hollis was her biggest influence in golf but not just because of her success with three victories in the U.S. Women’s Open and three wins in the Girls’ Junior.
“In that day and time, you had hand-me-downs,” Leach said. “She would come into town, and we’d get her golf shoes. The leather FootJoys with the cleats. You really thought you were hot stuff. You know, click, click, click, click, click. It was an honor.
“We loved it when she came home, and she would let us go through her golf bag for any money she had left in there. She said, ‘you can have it.’ All the sisters would be going through this golf bag, and we found like $500, so she didn’t do that anymore. Back then it was a lot.”
With all that USGA history, Leach points to her championship at the 2009 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur as the pinnacle.
“Winning was the top,” said Leach, who defeated her former University of Georgia teammate Laura Coble in the finals. “It was perfect.” With the victory, she and sister Hollis became only the second sister act to win USGA titles after Harriot and Margaret Curtis (of the Curtis Cup).
But she realizes that winning is fleeting. One of her most endearing moments was playing in the inaugural U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball with her daughter, Madison Gerstle, something she called “one of my greatest golf experiences.”
Madison, who was playing in her first USGA championship, had a case of the shanks before the first round.
“John went to work with her, but she needed some liquid courage because she was a nervous wreck,” Leach said. “But she played two under in the first four holes and she was beating me but after that we kinda went sideways.”
Leach also fondly recalls her play in the 1991 U.S. Women’s Amateur, where she advanced to the semifinals but lost to eventual champion Amy Fruhwirth.
“I went to the semifinals that year and that was really, really good,” said Leach, who revels in being a lifelong amateur and would love to play in another U.S. Women’s Amateur. “I was a mom; I had a 5-year-old; I was doing part-time work. My only competition for three years was team play. And so I went there and started playing well. That was a really neat experience there.”
“I don’t ever take playing in a USGA event for granted. You can’t. I’m kind of bummed that I didn’t get to the round of 16 so I can come back next year.” — Martha Leach
Leach, who won all-SEC honors for Georgia when the team won the conference title and finished third at the NCAA Tournament, always leans on her family legacy in golf. Her mother, Tillie, has been on the U.S. Girls’ Junior and Women’s Committee of the USGA. Five members of the Stacy/Leach family have played in USGA championships — Leach, husband John, daughter Madison Gerstle, and sisters Ann and Hollis Stacy. The Stacy family was named Golf Family of the Year in 1985 by the USGA.
As she sits at Stonewall, following her loss in the first round of match play, with an adult beverage in her hand, she talked fondly about how the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur has evolved since her first appearance in 1988.
“The quality of play is just so superior with better strikers of the ball, and they hit it far,” said Leach. “The quality of play has improved. But do I believe a 40- or 50-year-old cannot win it? I still believe those people can win it. That is why you come.
“I don’t ever take playing in a USGA event for granted. You can’t. I’m kind of bummed that I didn’t get to the round of 16 so I can come back next year.”
© 2023 Global Golf Post LLC
Top: Martha Leach has – so far – played in 81 USGA championships, including the 2023 U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Waverley Country Club in Portland, Ore. Steven Gibbons, USGA
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