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Originally published September 23, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified September 23, 2007 at 2:07 AM

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Ruth Jessen, 1936-2007 | LPGA Tour star started in Seattle

Ruth Jessen, the Seattle native who finished second in two U.S. Women's Opens and won 11 times on the LPGA Tour, died Friday night in Scottsdale...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Ruth Jessen, the Seattle native who finished second in two U.S. Women's Opens and won 11 times on the LPGA Tour, died Friday night in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Ms. Jessen was 70 and died of cancer.

She was a Roosevelt High School graduate who played briefly on the Seattle University men's golf team before turning pro in 1956 at age 19.

Ms. Jessen's career was plagued by surgeries and injuries. Her first cancer surgery was in 1965, one year after she had won five times on the LPGA Tour.

JoAnne Gunderson Carner, the Kirkland product who is in the LPGA Hall of Fame, said Ms. Jessen had the game for a Hall of Fame career if she had been able to stay healthy.

"She had the type of swing that could last forever," Carner said Saturday from her Florida home.

Ms. Jessen was a gallery favorite on the LPGA Tour because she was friendly, funny, tall, blonde and dressed in bright colors at a time when most golfers wore dark clothing.

"Her public-relations skills made her an important contributor in efforts to keep the LPGA going during its difficult early years," said a United States Golf Association announcement of her death.

Carner called Jessen a "good competitor" who had "a good sense of humor."

Ms. Jessen was known for her side putting stance, with her feet about 4 feet apart.

She was a long hitter and Carner recalled that being outhit by Jessen in a junior tournament prompted her to go home and analyze why that was happening. Her conclusion: Ms. Jessen hit the ball higher. Carner made changes that lasted throughout her career.

In her most famous tournament, Ms. Jessen trailed Mickey Wright by a stroke on the 18th hole of the U.S. Women's Open in 1964 at the San Diego Country Club in Chula Vista. Ms. Jessen hit a fairway wood to 3 feet from the pin. Wright's shot went in a bunker, but she then hit what she later called the best bunker shot of her life to get up and down for par and force an 18-hole playoff, which she won by shooting 70 to Ms. Jessen's 72.

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It was the second time in three years Ms. Jessen finished second in the biggest event in women's golf. In 1962, when Murle Lindstrom won, she tied with JoAnn Prentice for second. She also finished fifth in 1963 and seventh in 1965.

In 1971, Ms. Jessen played only five events but surprised everyone, including herself, by winning the Sears Classic. She was awarded the comeback Ben Hogan Award.

Ms. Jessen appeared in her final LPGA event in 1985. Her lifetime LPGA earnings were $158,816. She then concentrated on being a teaching pro.

She took her first swings at the defunct Meadowbrook Golf Course, which was a half-block from her home in northeast Seattle. Jackson Park and Inglewood Golf Club were her primary courses.

She won Northwest amateur titles against the likes of Anne Quast Sander, Pat Lesser Harbottle and Carner.

Funeral arrangements in Arizona are being finalized as is a memorial event in Seattle. She is survived by sisters Marilyn Douglas of Snohomish, Sharon Ivester of Lake Forest Park and brother Wayne Jessen of Kirkland.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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