The Michigan Golf Hall of Fame mourns member Mary Fossum who passed away on Sunday at the age of 93.
She was inducted in 2002 and is remembered fondly as a positive influence and pioneer in women’s sports at Michigan State University where she was the first women’s golf coach, and as a golfer who at age 19 beat legend Babe Didrickson-Zaharias in a national match play tournament.
Stacy Slobodnik-Stoll, the current and second women’s golf coach at Michigan State, said one of her former teammates put it best in regard to their coach: “Mar mentored me to what I was supposed to do in my life.”
“That fits Mar perfectly,” Slobodnik-Stoll said. “Mar was not only our coach, but a friend, a mom, and she was someone who always believed in us. I have so many fond memories and as I texted and talked with my former teammates and people who played for her we shared those things.”
Slobodnik-Stoll, like her mentor a member of the MGHOF, said among those she talked with on the phone was head basketball coach Tom Izzo.
“He said to me us old Spartans have to stick together,” she said. “He’s so right. The old Spartans – there are not as many of them left as we would like. And Mar was all Spartan. She was never without something green on, green clothes, green classes, she even chewed green gum and her and Bruce had a block S on the garage door.”
Slobodnik-Stoll called her a huge part of her life.
“What she did, what she built, I’m so thankful for the opportunity she gave me,” she said. “Everything I have in my life is in a way because of Mary – from what she saw in me as a high school kid that led me to play for her and then led me to work beside her and then the opportunity to work to be a coach that followed her. I told her time and again, how thankful I am. My first call after every conference championship was to her.”
Joan Garety, another Michigan Golf Hall of Fame member, played on some of the first teams Mary led at MSU.
“When I think of Mary I think of the amount of support she gave everyone around her,” she said. “Her smile, her positive attitude, it was infectious when we were on her team. The program had started one or two years before I got there (in 1974). It was a big deal for us to get the opportunity to compete. She didn’t have big support from the university. We didn’t have big support in the form of scholarships from the university. Women, girls, didn’t have that many opportunities to compete. But what we did have was support from Mary. She couldn’t have done more to make us feel more important or more special.”
Garety said she remembers a wonderful moment from playing for Fossum.
“We were playing at the University of Georgia golf course, and being a coach, she was out there on the course at a par 3,” Garety said. “There was a bit of a back-up on the tee and the group in front of us included Karen Escott, my teammate.
“Just before Karen hit her tee shot Mary said, ‘you know Karen if you reach the green the ball has a chance to go in the hole.’
“Karen hits the shot, it bounces off a bank and roles on to the green and in the hole. The Purdue coach who was standing with Mary turned and said, ‘that is the finest job of coaching I have ever seen.’
“We, of course, laughed and enjoyed that so much. It’s just a moment I will always remember. Mary was always so optimistic, so supportive, so sure you could do whatever you wanted to do.”
Mary, usually called Mar, coached the Spartans for 25 years which included five straight Big Ten titles and six overall.
A native of Wisconsin, then Mary McMillen broke on the national golf scene at age 19 by defeating famed athlete and amateur Babe Didrickson-Zaharias in the semi-finals of the prestigious Women’s Western Amateur in 1946. Although she would lose in the finals to Hall of Famer Louise Suggs, Mary proved she could play with the game’s best players.
She became the first coach of the MSU’s women’s golf team in 1973, joining her husband Bruce who was already the men’s coach. Early on, Fossum demonstrated her coaching mettle. Her teams made six consecutive AIAW National Championship appearances.
Fossum was equally proud of her individual players. During her tenure, she coached six All-Americans and seven Academic All-Americans. Included among those are past and present LPGA Tour players Barb Mucha, Becky Iverson, Sue Ertl, Bonnie Lauer and Jenn (Kangas) Brody.
Several of her players also have gone on to be successful head coaches, including her successor Stacy Slobodnik-Stoll, Kathy Teichart and Gina Yoder.
Her honors and recognition include induction into the Wisconsin Golf Hall of Fame (1988), the National Golf Coaches Hall of Fame (1990) and the Rolex/Gladys Palmer Meritorious Service Award for outstanding service and contributions in women’s golf (1997). She was inducted into the MSU Athletics Hall of Fame in 2003.
Her husband Bruce, also a member of the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame, passed away in 2014.
The MGHOF will pass along more information as it is received.