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ON THE GREEN | GOLF / JOHN ORTEGA

Knight Light Still Burns on Course at El Caballero

July 02, 1999|JOHN ORTEGA

Helen Knight of Encino added another chapter to her illustrious career at El Caballero Country Club in Tarzana by winning her fourth consecutive women's title--and 37th in 42 years--in the club championships last month.

But there was a time when she considered golf an incredibly silly game.

Knight, a Chicago native, was raised by parents who were members of the local country club, and two of her uncles were avid golfers. But she did not swing a club until the summer of 1943, following her freshman year at Michigan.

"[My parents and uncles] always wanted me to play golf and I just thought it was a very stupid game," Knight said with a chuckle. "You run around, hit this little ball into a little hole and then you start all over again. I mean, what could be more ridiculous?"

Knight, 74, has vivid memories of family gatherings when furniture would be removed from the living room to allow her uncles, Jimmy and Harry, and other family members to expound on various facets of golf with the proper club in hand.

And then there were the family dinners in which Jimmy and Harry would drone on about a shot they had hit.

"During the summer, [Jimmy and Harry] practically lived at our house and the whole dinner conversation would be about the 14th hole on some course," Knight said. "The conversation would go something like, 'You know that tree to the right? The second one? The one that is sort of shaped like a "V"? Well, I had a shot where I hit it through there.'

"These, in a lot of ways, were very sensible people, but if you listened to them talk about golf, you'd think they were crazy."

Despite those observations, Knight took up the game in the summer of 1943.

She received her first lessons from Tommy Armour--winner of the 1927 U.S. Open, the 1930 PGA Championship and the 1931 British Open--in the summer of 1944 and defeated her mother, Fadie, for the club championship at Idlewild Country Club in Flossmore, Ill., that year.

Logistical problems prevented Knight from working with Armour the following summer, so she sent him a note asking if he could recommend another teaching pro.

"He wrote me back," Knight said. "And said, 'If you can't take lessons from the best, don't take them.' "

Knight eventually hooked up with pro Johnny Revolta, who beat Armour to win the 1935 PGA Championship, but golf was strictly a summer endeavor for her until 1954, when she moved with her family--husband Irving and daughter Gail--from Des Moines to West Los Angeles.

Knight gave birth to a second daughter, Jill, shortly after arriving in California and she won the inaugural club championship at El Caballero in 1957.

She extended her club-championship winning streak to 32 titles before finishing second to Daryl Gerber in 1990.

She won again in 1991, but was winless from 1992-95.

That was followed by four consecutive victories, including her four-stroke decision over Lynn Edelson on June 15.

"Each [club championship] is an entity in itself," Knight said. "This year was probably the tightest because going into the last day, I was tied. That was a little spooky, but it was also a challenge."

Knight's four-round total has increased from 348 to 349 to 351 in the last three years and her margin of victory has decreased from 13 to five to four strokes, but she doesn't worry about her competitors.

"Basically, you're trying to do the best you can out there," she said. "If someone does better than you, then that's the way the cookie crumbles.

"But you can't be unhappy about losing if you play as well as you can on that given day and under those given circumstances."

TEE TIMES

JULY

* 1: SCGA Amateur Qualifying, Oak Valley GC, Beaumont and Tahquitz Creek GC, Palm Springs

* 5: U.S. Junior Amateur Qualifying, Auburn Valley CC, Sacramento and Stanford University GC, Palo Alto; Ralph Guldahl Junior Classic at Braemar CC, Tarzana

* 5-6: Ojai City Junior Championship, Round 1 at Soule Park GC, Ojai; Round 2 at Ojai Valley Inn

* 6-10: AJGA Rolex Tournament of Champions, Ohio State Scarlet GC, Columbus, Ohio

* 7: U.S. Junior Amateur Qualifying, Carlton Oaks CC, Santee

* 7-8: Los Angeles City Senior Women's Championship, Balboa and Encino CG

* 8-11: U.S. Senior Open, Des Moines G&CC, Des Moines, Iowa

* 10-11: Oxnard City Championship at River Ridge GC

* 12: U.S. Junior Amateur Qualifying, Woodland Hills CC and Ft. Washington G&CC, Fresno

* 12-15: AJGA Sacramento Junior Championship, Twelve Bridges GC, Lincoln, Calif.

* 12-16: California State Open, Coyote Hills GC, Fullerton

* 12-17: U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship, Spencer T. Olin Community GC, Alton, Ill.

* 13-16: California State Open, Coyote Hills Golf Course, Fullerton

* 16-18: SCGA Amateur Championship, Industry Hills GC, City of Industry

* 19-21: SCPGA Match Play Championship, Empire Lakes GC, Rancho Cucamonga

* 19-22: AJGA Ashworth/Golf Design Junior Championship, Coto de Caza Golf and Racquet Club

* 21-22: SCGA Affiliate Championship, Coronado GC, Coronado

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