Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Golf Anyone?

In honor of the library’s upcoming mini golf extravaganza and fund-raiser (http://www.greenwichlibrary.org), we at the Oral History Project thought it timely to pay our respects to one of our own town golfers, the prize-winning champion, Louise DeVivo Munro, who died September 26, 2015, after having been a Greenwich resident for more than 50 years.

In February, 2002, Janet Klion (Oral History Project volunteer) interviewed Ms. Munro, a lifetime member of the Innis Arden Golf Club and winner of numerous golf awards, including 27 championships at Innis Arden in Old Greenwich.

In this highlight from the interview Janet Klion asks Ms. Munro about being named “the preeminent athlete of their first hundred years” at Innis Arden. Ms. Munro goes on to describe the event and to discuss her many awards: (Ms. Munro is identified as LM and Ms. Klion is JK.)
Louise DiVivo Munro with trophy

LM:      November 6, 1999, at the Hyatt Regency was a momentous event. I think everyone, except me, was aware that I would receive an award. It was such a well-kept secret. The ballroom was beautifully decorated. The tables had floral arrangements and candles and lanterns in the middle of the dance floor, and a wonderful band played.
Our president, Jeff Harris, walked to the podium to make his remarks and welcomed members and guests alike. Then he recognized past presidents who contributed so much to the development of Innis Arden as we know it today. There must have been six hundred people. He also highlighted the celebratory activities which had taken place throughout the year.
Then the announcement came: “Tonight we will do something that has never been done before in the history of Innis Arden and might not be done again for another hundred years. Tonight we will recognize an honorary person who is the preeminent athlete of Innis Arden’s first one hundred years. We’ve enjoyed watching and competing against many outstanding golfers, tennis players, swimmers; but one golfer’s accomplishments stand head and shoulders above all the others. This person’s record is truly exceptional.”
                        I’m sitting there listening, trying to figure out who in the world he was referring to, since gender was never mentioned. I couldn’t think of anyone outstanding. Because I didn’t know the answer to the riddle, I let my mind wander and decided to concentrate on my date instead….
            I never suspected. Then he went on with the accolades: “This person has won fifty individual championships, and this person was runner-up in the 1998 championship at Innis Arden and has just won the Legends’ Tournament of Connecticut.” And all of a sudden it hit me: “Oh, my God, he’s talking about me.” And I wanted to crawl under the table.
            The amazing thing was, when he finished enumerating all my wins, he announced, “Ladies and Gentlemen, Innis Arden’s Preeminent Athlete of the Century, Mrs. America, Louise De Vivo Munro!!” And the applause was thunderous applause, so spontaneous and everybody jumped to their feet. I couldn’t believe it. It was just… It was just so amazing….
                        It seems unreal that I should be cited for playing a game I love, and the wins just happened to come along. I consider myself an ordinary gal. For the Board of Governors to award me this most highest honor of my life was, on their part, most generous and kind and thoughtful.
JK:      Now how many times had you won the championship there?
LM:      Well, let me tell you. My first championship, 1950. Then I won ’56, ’57, ’59, ’60; and through ’62 through ’76 I won fifteen straight.
JK:      Wow.
LM:      And then I won in ’78, ’82, ’83, ’84, ’85, ’94, ’95. For a total of twenty-seven championships.

But before Ms. Munro became a champion, she was a student of the game, taught by a teacher she adored. Here she describes meeting and then working with her coach and mentor, Terry Conners:

Louise Munro with coach, Terry Conners, 1953

LM:      I would ride my bike and often detour to the golf house to watch the pro give a golf lesson. His name was Terry Conners. The ice skating rink in Stamford is named after him. When I watched him I always kept a respectable distance. One day he motioned to me to come over and said, “You seem to be interested in what I am doing. Do you like to play golf?” I answered I didn’t know. Don’t forget I was just a kid. Then he gave me a golf club and told me to swing it. Don’t know what he learned from that but then he remarked, “If you want to learn this game I will teach you but you have to be serious, on time. And no girlfriends or boyfriends hanging around.” I showed up the next day and for the next month I did nothing but swing a club without hitting a golf ball until I had it right. And my poor hand blistered all the time. It was amazing.
JK:      But it didn’t discourage you that he was…that you didn’t get to hit anything.
LM:      No, it didn’t. And I guess because of the, you know, the father figure, senior citizen, what have you, I just obeyed. Whatever he told me to do, I did and I showed up on time. There must have been some interest there for me to continue. Either that or I was afraid to say no.
                        Often times at the end of the day Terry would ask me to gather the flagsticks from the farthest holes while he walked for the others. I would get on my bicycle and ride out lickety-split onto the green and pull the stick out of the cup and continue to the next stop. Not to worry, the greens were not as they are today.
                        The man was so talented. He was a self-taught golfer; a speed ice skating champion; a boxer. And he molded my swing to look like the great Sammy Snead. I must say he did a good job with me.
JK:      Is he alive now?
LM:      No. He died some thirty years ago.
JK:      He must have been very proud of your success then.
LM:      Yes, yes.
JK:      How long did you take lessons from Mr. Conners?
LM:      I took lessons with him until his health failed.
                        Terry Conners was unique in his teaching. He was very much a “hands-on” pro. Something I benefited from and still miss. For instance, in my formative years—and I was about twelve years old when I started – he would do things like pretend my hand was a golf shaft, wrap his hand over mine and tighten his fingers to communicate amount of pressure I should exert on the grip. Or have me take my stance as though I were addressing the ball, then get behind me and put his arms over mine, his hands over mine and then initiate the backswing. When his left knee kicked in, it would trigger mine; the shifting of the weight would nudge my hip and then he would take our arms to the top of the swing. Then reverse the action through the ball. Sometimes I would stand behind him with my hands on his hips to feel the amount of transfer. This physical contact definitely helped me understand the “feel.”

In addition to her life as a renowned golfer, Louise DeVivo Munro was a dedicated member of the Greenwich community, a volunteer of many years at Greenwich Hospital and an active member in her church where she served as Eucharistic minister. One of her most cherished memories, shared is her interview, is of her trip to the Vatican in 1997 where she encountered Pope John Paul II:

LM:      …the carabinieri escorted us from one room to the other, then into a tiny elevator; and they brought us to this wonderful hall where the Pope meets dignitaries. We went through the hall into the Pope’s chapel. Only about twenty-eight of us there, I would guess. And there was the Pope kneeling in front of me, you know, with his back toward me and I... It didn’t register with me who this figure was until he turned his head sideways, and I saw the little white sideburns and his skullcap; and I said, “Oh, my God, this is the Pope.” And it was the most thrilling experience. I had tears in my eyes. It was just… It was just overwhelming. You realize the number of people who don’t have an opportunity to see the Pope. Even the nuns, you know. Even the religious. And they’re more worthy of it than I. It was just fantastic. I have four pictures on the wall.

Louise DiVivo Munro, born in Venice, Italy in 1925, never lost her humility or her gratitude, in spite of her many talents and accomplishments. We in Greenwich are the richer for having had us among us.

The interview, Golf in Greenwich, February 14, 2002, conducted by Oral History Project volunteer, Janet Klion, and narrated by Louise DiVivo Munro, can be read in the reference area of the Greenwich Library, first floor, or through the Oral History Project Office, on the library’s lower level.