By Mark Schmetzer
Sandra Jones had one superstition on the golf course – or, at least, one to which she would admit.
“I never use a golf ball numbered over 4,” she told the Cincinnati Enquirer’s Paul Ritter in 1974. “Today, I used a No. 1 ball. I just felt it had to be.”
The ball number fit quite nicely, because “today” was July 12, 1974, the day Jones squeezed past Jane DeGroff, 2-and-1, in a semifinal before rolling to a 4-and-3 win over former Olympic javelin thrower Karen Oldham in the final to win the Ohio Women’s Amateur Golf Championship at Hyde Park Golf & Country Club.
It’s unknown whether that championship represented for Jones the pinnacle of her long and distinguished career, but it certainly played a role in her being named in 1995 a Cincinnati Legend of Golf.
No doubt it ranked right up there with her four Cincinnati Met finals appearances, culminating with the 1966 championship.
Jones, a Martins Ferry, Ohio, native who graduated from Hughes High School and earned a master’s degree from the University of Cincinnati, passed away this past December 6 at the age of 86. She spent 30 years teaching math in the Cincinnati Public Schools system, but the daughter of local pro Morgan Jones gravitated to golf at an early age.
Sandra Jones originally played out of Ridgewood Golf Club, where she won her first championship in 1960. She later moved to Terrace Park Country Club, where she won 12 club championships.
“I was in my 20s when I first met Sandy,” recalls in an email Cathy Jefferson, director of tournament operations for the Women’s Ohio State Golf Association. “I knew from my conversations with Elva Jung, the WOSGA Tournament Director for many years, that she was gritty and could become kinda “grouchy” with herself if she wasn’t playing well. She was always very kind to me, and the few times we played, I recall that her game was controlled but she would attack when she thought she had the advantage.”
Jones was a player who would capitalize on an exceptional short game, Jefferson said.
“Because of her stature, her drives were not all that long, but she was deadly accurate,” Jefferson wrote. “Her short game and putting were excellent. She would not beat herself on the golf course. You had to go out and take it if you wanted to win.”
On the other hand, Jefferson suspected that, if push came to shove, Jones could come up with a winning drive.
“During a practice round at the state am, I saw her hit a shot from a fairway bunker, over a pond and stop the ball close to the hole,” Jefferson recalled. “I said, ‘Nice shot,’ and she said something like, ‘You won’t see me do that in a match,’ but I kinda think she might if she needed to.”
Jones’s state championship was the first for a Greater Cincinnati competitor since Olga Weil won three straight in 1934, 1935 and 1936. Her title followed runnerup finishes in 1971 and 1973.
“I didn’t play as well early in this tournament as I did in the others, but I think really got things going late in this one,” Jones said after clinching the championship, which was played on the same day as the semifinals. “Last year, when I lost to Sharon Keil, the only bad round I played was the final match.
“The short game was too much,” she added, confirming Jefferson’s analysis. “I didn’t leave myself a hard putt. I don’t think I had a difficult second putt to make all day. My short game was getting me up where I could two-putt without too much worry.”
That championship match featured contrasting styles between Jones’s precision-based game and Oldham’s long drives.
“I sat down last night and thought about the course,” said Jones, no doubt more familiar than Oldham with the Hyde Park layout. “I felt a big hitter like Karen would have a distinct advantage on three holes running – the 10th, 11th and 12th. I was really happy to get by there. She won two, but I got one back on her, so it was better than I expected.”
Her Met win over defending-champion Sally Christensen eight years earlier at Coldstream Country Club was more nerve-wracking. The two were tied going into the 17th hole, where Jones slammed a wedge out of the left rough to within six feet of the hole and rolled it in for a birdie after Christensen fell short on a 15-foot putt. Jones clinched the championship with a par to Christensen’s bogey on No. 18.
“I’m absolutely, absolutely – I’m just numb,” Jones said about finally prevailing. “I just feel great about it. I’ve aimed for it for a long time. In the past, sometimes, I’ve been kind of afraid to show my anticipation.”
Jones’s other on-course accomplishments included playing in the Ladies Professional Golf Association Buckeye Invitational, the LPGA Lady Carling Open and the United States Golf Association Women’s Championship. Off the course, she served on the executive boards for both the WOSGA and the GCWGA and terms as the GCWGA Tournament Chair and, in 1993, as President.