The game of golf is celebrating several milestones this year. The USGA is celebrating its 125th year, the PGA of America marks its 105th birthday, and the U.S. Women’s Open is 75.
These giants of the game may have a few years on the Paducah Sun’s Florence Paxton Memorial, but the local ladies’ golf tournament embodies some of the same honorable traditions as these organizations, and a remarkable history as well.
The tournament will be played for the 68th time on July 26-27 at Paxton Park Golf Course and Rolling Hills Country Club.
In 1954, Florence Paxton had already won several golf tournaments, including a 1941 club championship. She had organized the lady golfers at the “city” course, served as chairman of the ladies’ golf group at the Paducah Country Club in 1939, and loved the game as much as her husband, Edwin J. Paxton Sr., who established Paxton Park.
“Miss Florence” wanted to do everything she could to promote golf for women, and the result was the first Sun-Democrat sponsored City Amateur Championship, later called The Paducah Sun, and now her namesake. Marian Widener captured the very first title.
Not just the best golfers in Paducah, but all lady golfers wanted to be a part of the three-day event that offered an opportunity to play three courses and watch the leaders come down the stretch.
WPSD-TV recorded the action amid a crowd of spectators in later years. The tournament became an integral part of Paducah’s golf history, and Miss Florence’s legacy was established.
The second title-holder was Lillian Lee; then Saundra Slusmeyer, Patsy Park, Peggy Wynn and Pat Sabel dominated the competition until Mary Jane Harris entered the scene, winning for the first time in 1964 and adding seven more titles to make her the winningest player in the tournament’s long history.
Wynn’s nephew and niece, Terry Waltman and Vicki Wallace, recall the days when their mother, Evelyn, and her sister, Peggy, would talk about the fun they had and the laughable things that happened during the Sun.
“One time when Peggy was playing the par 3 that ran down by the railroad tracks at Paxton, she drove the ball up on the tracks,” Waltman said. “It hit one of the rails and bounced onto the green. They loved the camaraderie the tournament offered.”
Wynn won three titles, the first at age 31.
Sabel was likely the first college-age golfer to win the tournament. In 1960, at age 21, she won her first of two “city championships,” reportedly playing from the back tees. The inter-club Wooldridge Cup Matches played each fall are named for Pat.
Tina Mullen was also 21 when she won in 1984, then Tammy Burton in 1988. Eventually, more players in their teens and early 20s began filling the championship flight as they do today.
Tina’s sister, Tammy Mullen Gingles, a Murray resident playing out of Paxton Park, was the winner in 1999 and 2000, making the Mullen girls the only pair of siblings to win the Sun. Their brother, Danny Mullen, is the PGA professional at Paxton Park. He followed in the footsteps of their father, the late Kayo Mullen, and uncle Larry Mullen, retired PGA professional and former member of the PGA of America Board of Directors.
The Florence Paxton Memorial has offered a stage for some record-setting performances.
The largest winning margin of 32 shots was recorded by Mary Bain in 2001 when she won with a 227 total. Jennie Throgmorton had the second-largest margin (221) in 1997 when she won by 20. More often, the final day is a horse race with the fillies running neck and neck on the back 9.
Playoffs have added to the excitement several times. In 1999, Sun Sports Editor Steve Millizer wrote, “Sue Trail will be out to etch her name a little higher in the record book in today’s concluding round ... by sharing the tournament’s highest honor with Mary Jane Park. If Trail can hold off the competition, she’ll rank alongside Park on the all-time wins list.”
Tammy Gingles had other ideas and defeated Trail in a three-hole playoff for her first Sun title. Trail captured seven titles and Eleanor Griffin five.
Park played in her final Paducah Sun in 2011, almost 50 years after her first of eight wins. Noted for her amazing putting skills, Mary Jane had some competition on the greens from Dean Conyer (1982 winner) and Trudy Gregory when they were awarded the “low putts” prizes for many years. Gregory maintains a low handicap and still holds her own in the top flights each year.
The lowest score (208) for 54 holes was carded by 16-year-old Nikki Orazine in 1998 when it was a three-day tournament. She won again in 2003 and 2004.
Several years later, junior player Anna Hack shot 210 with a 65 the second day at Rolling Hills and another year fired a 64 at Paxton Park, another record.
Even though her tournament score was the lowest, the 15-year-old was in the junior division and could not claim the championship trophy. In 2014, Terri Doss also finished at 210, just shy of Orazine’s record.
For decades, the ladies played three rounds on three different courses — Paxton, the Country Club of Paducah and Rolling Hills. Silos was also a venue for a short time.
When the tournament became a 36-hole event in 2015, Doss carded a remarkable 8-under 135, still a record. Jessica Stephens will try to best this score as she defends her 2020 title.
According to Chris Hunkler, PGA member and tournament director for five years, the Memorial was changed to two days and opened up to golfers living in 14 counties in the region, including Massac, in an effort to draw more participants and keep Mrs. Paxton’s dream to grow the game alive.
“We really appreciate the exceptional commitments of Danny Mullen at Paxton Park and Kevin Rhinehart at Rolling Hills. Both are PGA professionals, and along with their staffs, they will work hard to prepare for this year’s event,” Hunkler said.
Those who have served as Tournament Directors — Frank Truitt, Bobby Grimm, Steve Millizer, Jenna Wise and Kendra Scott to name a few — are part of its tradition. Grimm, a longtime friend of Mrs. Paxton’s, realized how important the event was to her and served as its director for the long haul with a rules book in his back pocket. He worked the scoreboards and was always on hand for the presentation of roses the golfers made to Mrs. Paxton each year. She concluded each awards luncheon with a twinkle in her eye and a good joke.
About 15 years ago, Kendra Scott thought it was only fitting to honor the founder by renaming the tournament the Florence Paxton Memorial. Mrs. Paxton played golf well into her 80s. She passed away at age 91 in 1990.
This year’s medalist will once again be recognized at the annual luncheon at Rolling Hills and take her place as the 68th winner of Paducah’s longest-running ladies golf tradition.
To enter this year’s tournament, email firstname.lastname@example.org or fax Tina Scott at The Paducah Sun at 270-575-8780 before the July 16 deadline.