In the early 1970s, few women golfers could match the accomplishments of Mary Budke of Oregon State University. From a 1972 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion to a 1974 year that included the national collegiate individual championship and a winning record on the U.S. Curtis Cup team, Budke was a key figure in women’s golf.
And she never wanted to turn pro.
“I am so delighted that I didn’t try to make a living playing golf,” said Budke, retired for more than a decade from a career as an emergency medical doctor and now a resident at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage. “I thought I was good enough to be a mediocre tour player. And I was never a very good putter.”
Budke may have never made a mark in the pro game, but her achievements as an amateur at Oregon State have earned her another in a long list of golf honors over the last five decades. Budke was inducted into the Pac-12 Hall of Honor, which since 2002 has honored excellence by athletes from conference schools as well as coaches and athletic administrators.
“Very surprised,” Budke said of the news of her induction. “Frankly, I didn’t really know it existed. So I was surprised but also surprised that Oregon State selected me to be going in.”
Each of the 12 conference schools selects one person for induction, but this year all 12 are women in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Title IX.
“Budke laid the foundation for the Oregon State women’s golf program,” the university said in announcing Budke’s induction. “As she said, there were no more than four players on the team during her college career, practice wasn’t organized; it was on the individual. Budke also played volleyball and basketball during her time at Oregon State, but golf is where she thrived.”
A career full of honors
Budke’s career goes beyond her USGA championship or her win for the 1974 title in the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women, which ran women’s college sports before the NCAA took over later in the 1970s. A state high school individual champion, Budke also won three consecutive Oregon Junior Girls Championships and advanced to the semifinals in the 1970 and 1971 U.S. Girls Junior Championship.
She was an eight-time Oregon Amateur champion and won the Bill Hayward Award as Oregon’s top amateur athlete in 1972. She is in the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame and Oregon Golf Hall of Fame, the National Golf Coaches Association Player Hall of Fame and the Pacific Northwest Golf Hall of Fame. But Budke’s pull was toward pre-med studies, not pro golf. Budke enjoying playing with top amateurs like Laura Baugh, Jane Bastentury Booth and JoAnne Gunderson, a five-time U.S. Amateur winner known better as a pro named JoAnne Carner.
“When I was really tied into golf, all of my goals were in amateur golf, really, and some of the best players were amateurs then,” Budke said. “It’s certainly not true now, the women’s tour is so good now. But back then I felt like the 10 best amateurs could really take on the 10 best pros.”
Budke eventually did become a doctor, working at Los Angeles County USC Medical Center into the 1980s, then in Granada Hills into the 1990s before moving back to Oregon to work in Eugene for 15 years.
During her days as a doctor, with a focus on medicine and not golf, Budke somehow lost what had been a championship game.
“I thought, well, it’s not a problem, I can pick it up,” she said. “Well, it was a problem.”
She even shot a 39-59 score in the Oregon Amateur tournament she had dominated in the past.
“It was bad for a while. It was really bad,” she admits.
But being named the captain of the 2002 Curtis Cup, the international competition she had played 28 years earlier, sparked Budke’s love of the game.
“To be the captain and see all of these college players, other than Carol Semple, who was a contemporary of mine and who was on my team, then I wanted to start learning again. Anytime you are learning, that’s what keeps you going. I have really loved learning about golf again.”
Budke’s game returned so strong that she has continued to play competitively, even playing in the U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur in Anchorage, Alaska last July. She reached the match-play bracket of 64 players.
“Then I ran into the three-time defending champion Laura Tennant,” laughed Budke, who lost that first-round match 4 and 2.
After years of coming to the desert for spring break to see her snowbird parents and visiting the desert more often as she prepared to retire from medicine, Budke moved to the desert after that 2011 retirement, met her current partner and lived in Palm Springs until moving inside the gates of Mission Hills two years ago. At 69, Budke says she has shot her age three times and hopes to continue playing competitively.
“I hit the ball pretty good,” she said. “It was fun to learn. That is true with medicine, too.”