Ann Casey Johnstone
Iowa's Top Woman Golfer - Proud to be her Home Course
Ann Casey Johnstone was born in 1921 to William and Regina Casey in Mason City, Iowa. When she was 13, she started caddying for her mother, an accomplished player, and then started hitting a few balls. Several months later, she acquired the only set of women's clubs she ever owned and recalled shooting a 72 for her first nine holes. She won the Women’s City Tournament four years in a row, starting in 1934 at the age of 13.
She attended college in 1940-41 at Mason City Junior College (now NIACC). There was no women's golf team, so she competed on the men’s team, newly named the Trojans. Ann took lessons from Les Bolstad, the University of Minnesota’s men's golf coach. One of her lesson mates was Patty Berg, a future LPGA hall of famer. In 1941, she won her first of six Iowa Women’s Amateurs, starting a 20 year career in amateur golf.
Ann graduated from the University of Iowa in 1944 with a degree in physical education. She took a job as head women’s golf coach at Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri. While playing a tournament in Chicago in 1946, Patty introduced Ann to an assistant golf pro named Les Johnstone. In 1948, she married Les and returned to Mason City where he ran one of William Bernard Casey's drug stores. The couple had two children, a daughter and a son who died before he was two.
In 1950, the LPGA started with 13 female players including Berg, Didrikson Zaharias, and JoAnne Carner. Ann did not join the LPGA, but instead took her game to the national amateur level with the Curtis Cup. She traveled throughout the United States and Europe with her fellow golf coach and LPGA teacher, Carol Clark Johnson, whom she co-authored the book “Golf, A Positive Approach.” In 1956, Ann became the first Iowan to reach the semifinals of the U.S. Amateur. She played in nine U.S. Amateurs and four U.S. Opens.
During a tremendous 1957 campaign, she was a finalist in four of the nation's major amateur tournaments for women, including the U.S. Amateur. That won her the Dorothy J. MANICE trophy as our nation's Number one amateur. On the home front, she was named top Iowa golfer for 1957 -- woman or man, amateur or pro.
Ann won a record number of six Iowa Women’s Amateur titles in her career. Of the Iowa titles, the first ("because it was the first") and the last were the most meaningful. Ann said "The reason it was so important was that it was done at Mason City, my home.
I'm an Iowan, true and blue." Her final win as an amateur was at the Iowa Husband and Wife Championship in 1963 in Mason City.
In 1964, she returned to Stephens College to teach and coach the golf team in Columbia, Missouri and remained there for nearly 30 years. Her teams made the NCAA championship on multiple occasions. At Stephens, she coached her daughter, Jean Grabias, as well as future TV broadcaster Paula Zahn. One student recalled her saying "we didn't want to be stuck playing bridge in the clubhouse while the men were out golfing."
Ann joined the LPGA from 1964-69. "After 16 years of marriage, I had to turn pro again to put my husband through college," Ann said with pride. Les became a pharmacist at the Missouri Medical Center.
Her love of teaching garnered many awards. In 1976, Golf Digest named her one of the six best women’s golf teachers in America. In 1986, she was inducted into the National Golf Coaches Association Hall of Fame. In 1996, Ann was the recipient of the Ellen Griffin Rolex Award for Excellence in Teaching. In 1997, she received the Gladys Palmer Rolex Meritorious Award for Excellence in Coaching. In 2004, she was inducted into the LPGA Teaching and Club Professional Hall of Fame. She was a LPGA Life Member and a LPGA Master Professional.
In 1994, she moved to Pinehurst, North Carolina, and helped establish “Golfari” (safari of golf) schools at Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club – the first golf schools for women – owned by her close friend, the legendary Peggy Kirk Bell. She continued to teach until the age of 90 at Pine Needles.
One of Iowa’s finest amateur golfers died March 21, 2014, at FirstHealth Hospice House in Pinehurst at the age of 93. Her funeral mass was held at Epiphany Parish St. Joseph’s Church and she was buried at Elmwood-St. Joseph Cemetery in Mason City, Iowa.
“She was probably the most famous amateur golfer from Iowa,” Johnstone’s nephew, Dick Casey, told the Mason City Globe Gazette. “She was very confident and worked harder than anybody.”
She is enshrined in the Iowa Golf Hall of Fame and the Iowa Sports Hall of Fame.
Ann Casey Johnstone's Career Highlights
1941 -- Winner, Iowa Amateur
1946 -- Runner up, Iowa Amateur
1951 -- Winner, Iowa Amateur
1953 -- Runner up, Iowa Amateur
1954 -- Medalist and winner, Iowa Amateur
1955 -- Winner, Iowa Amateur
1956 -- Winner, Palm Beach Invitational
1956 -- Semifinalist, U.S. Women's Amateur
1957 -- Iowa Golfer of the Year; runner up
1957 -- U.S. Women's Amateur; runner up
1957 -- Trans-Mississippi Amateur; runner up
1957 -- Women's Western Amateur
1957 -- lowa Amateur in Jacksonville Open
1957 -- Winner, Iowa Amateur
1957 -- Dorothy J. Manice trophy for No. 1 amateur golfer in the United States
1958 -- Member of U.S. Curtis Cup team
1958 -- D.J. Manoce Award for Outstanding Amateur Golfer
1958 -- Low amateur, Women's All-American Open
1959 -- Winner, Trans-Mississippi
1959 -- Winner, North and South Amateur
1959 -- Co-winner, Women's International four-ball championship
1959 -- Low amateur, Women's All-American Open
1959 -- Winner, Iowa Amateur held at the Mason City Country Club
1959 -- Runner up, Palm Beach Invitational
1960 -- Member of U.S. Curtis Cup Team
1960 -- Winner, Women's Western Amateur
1960 -- Semifinalist, U.S. Women's Amateur
1960 -- Semifinalist, French Open
1961 -- Runner up, Women's International Four-Ball championship
1962 -- Member of U.S. Curtis Cup team
1962 -- Semifinalist, Women's Western Amateur
1962 -- Runner up, Trans-Mississippi
1962 -- Co-winner with Deane Berman, National Mixed Two-Ball championship
1962 -- Runner up, Palm Beach Invitational
1963 -- Winner, Iowa Husband and Wife championship
1966 -- LPGA National Teacher of the Year Award
1976 -- Iowa Sports Hall of Fame induction
1977 -- The Sunday Des Moines Register Iowa Sports Hall of Fame
1982 -- LPGA T&CP Coach of the Year Award
1986 -- Inducted to the National Golf Coaches Association Hall of Fame
1990 -- Iowa Golf Hall of Fame
1996 -- Ellen Griffin Rolex Award
1997 -- NCGA’s Gladys Palmer Rolex Meritorious Award
2004 -- LPGA Teaching and Club Professional Hall of Fame