2003: Connie Gorsuch Jun 3, 2003  (16 years ago)

By Randy King, The Roanoke Times
Jun 3, 2003, 09:36

Several of the witnesses of Connie Gorsuch's area heyday in the late 1950s and early '60s have only one question about her becoming the latest inductee into the Roanoke Valley Golf Hall of Fame.

Why did it take so long?

"As far as I'm concerned, Connie was one of the forebearers of good golfers in the Roanoke Valley," said Lanetta Ware, who competed against Gorsuch and remains a close friend.

"I think she was the dominant player around here. She's well-deserving of this honor."

Marjorie Berkley, another Roanoker who took her share of beatings from Gorsuch on the course, quickly seconded the motion.

"Connie could play, no question, and she was tough to beat," Berkley said. "She had all the right technique for hitting the ball. She was just a beautiful ball-striker.

"She was a dominant player, all right. Connie wasn't just a little ahead of everybody else, she was a lot ahead of everybody else."

Those who saw Gorsuch play in her prime contend she had no match in the area. The record book supplies strong evidence, too. In capturing three consecutive Roanoke City-County titles from 1959-61, Gorsuch won by the counts of 32, 32 and 14 shots. After sitting out the event in 1962 at her mother's advice "to give the other people a chance," Gorsuch returned in '63 to take the title by 14 strokes.

"I don't think people looked at me as a bully or anything," said Gorsuch, now 63. "There was a gap. But I had the advantage of being in school [at Guilford College in Greensboro, N.C.] at the time, so I had a chance to play more often than the others. Another thing was when I grew up in Greensboro, I played with the boys a lot. Therefore, I played a lot of men's tees and I think that was a big advantage."

Berkley, 79, said the long-hitting Gorsuch was simply better than the rest.

"I don't think people were jealous of her," Berkley said. "If you play the game of golf, you have to admire what somebody else could do. When competition comes in, you have to face it and play against it."

Gorsuch didn't back down from anyone from the first day she picked up a golf club. A year after her late parents, Tom and Mary, presented her with a starter set of clubs, Gorsuch qualified and played in the U.S. Girls Junior in Brookline, Mass., at 14.

Two years later, Gorsuch began a string of three straight triumphs in the Greensboro Women's Golf Association City championship from 1955-57. She was Carolinas women's champion in '57, beating a field of top players from North and South Carolina.

"When I won the first Greensboro City title in 1955, I was 15 years old," Gorsuch recalled. "I remember that because my mother had told me if I won a tournament we'll get you a car. So I had to wait a year to get the car because I wasn't old enough to drive.

"I took her seriously about that. And when I was old enough to get a license, I got that car. It was a 1956 Ford convertible, black and white, brand new. It was a pretty good prize for winning that first tournament, you bet."

In 1958, Tom Gorsuch moved his family from Greensboro to Roanoke, where he took a job as manager of Roanoke Country Club. The move didn't affect his daughter's impeccable game. In 1959 and '60, Connie Gorsuch was the qualifying medalist at the Virginia Women's Amateur. She was runner-up in the '61 State Am.

"I first met Connie in 1959 in the state tournament in Richmond," said Ware, who lived in Fredericksburg at the time. "I remember playing a practice round with her and Connie was billed as the teenage sensation from Roanoke. She was good. She was such a great iron player.

"I moved to Roanoke in 1962 and Connie and I played a lot at Hidden Valley. We could beat most of the men out there. But I didn't beat her, she beat me."

Gorsuch, who recently celebrated her 40th anniversary as a social worker for the City of Roanoke, won all her golf titles from the ages of 15 to 24. She said she lost her zeal for the game in 1965, when her younger brother, Johnny, was killed at 17 in a car accident near Martinsville.

"Now he was the golfer ... ," Gorsuch said. "The weekend before he died he shot a 65.

"After Johnny died, I really wasn't interested anymore. It just took the whole edge out for me. It was probably six or seven years before I even went back to the golf course."

Gorsuch eventually returned to college to get her master's degree in social work and bought herself a home in southeast Roanoke. Because of work commitments and physical ailments, she has played little golf since.

"It's been 20 years now since I've played," she said. "Hey, golf was a part of my life and I've gone on to other things."

The humble Gorsuch said she was flattered when informed she had been elected as the 28th member of the Hall of Fame.

"It's quite an honor," she said. "I so wish my parents were alive for this. They would have been very touched, I know."

Reprinted with permission from The Roanoke Times.

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