She was a 7-time national champion. Funches died over 3 weeks ago but her death was only reported yesterday in the Washington Post. RIP.
Ethel Funches was six days short of her 48th birthday when she teed off against Althea Gibson in the quarterfinals of the 1961 black women’s golf national championship.
Gibson, the tennis champion who had recently traded in her racket for a set of clubs, was famous. Mrs. Funches, who was a cafeteria manager at Dunbar High School in Northwest Washington, was not. But what Mrs. Funches lacked in renown she made up for with a long drive, an elegant chip shot and a fierce distaste for losing.
“My name is Ethel P. Funches,” she was fond of saying. “The ‘P’ is for powerful.”
Mrs. Funches not only won the match against Gibson, she also captured seven national titles and, during an amateur career that spanned more than 30 years, went on to win so many tournament trophies that she had to set aside the basement of her Northeast Washington home to hold them all.
“Between 1950 and 1980, Ethel Funches was the best of the best,” said M. Mikell Johnson, author of “The African American Woman Golfer: Her Legacy.” “She would have been identified as a phenom according to the standards of today.”
Mrs. Funches died Jan. 6 of cardiovascular disease at a D.C. nursing home. She was 96.
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