As a golfer, Mary Bea Porter-King is widely known for scaling a backyard fence — during a 1988 qualifying round for the LPGA Standard Register Turquoise Classic — and administering CPR that saved the life of a three-year-old-boy, Jonathan Smucker, who had fallen into a swimming pool at Moon Valley Country Club in Phoenix.
But the exploits and contributions of Porter-King did not stop there. Surveying her dynamic career as a player and administrator, there is no doubt she is one of the most influential figures in modern golf history. Golf shaped not only her life, but the lives of countless others.
At Los Coyotes Country Club in Buena Park, Calif., she enrolled in a junior golf program run by Betty Hicks, twice a runnerup in the U.S. Women’s Open. Porter-King was seven years old.
Eventually she would play 25 years on the LPGA Tour. Hicks, meanwhile, would become a member of the LPGA Teaching and Club Professional Hall of Fame.
“I fell in love with golf with Betty,” recalled Porter-King, who stands today as one of golf’s finest leaders. “Seven of us in the program turned pro, and others became golf instructors.”
A 1973 graduate of Arizona State University, where she was a four-sport athlete (golf, volleyball, basketball and softball), Porter-King had no doubt that golf was where she was headed. Hicks had introduced her to LPGA Tour players Mickey Wright, Patty Berg and Carol Mann.
“They had big personalized golf bags and cars with their names on the side doors,” Porter-King said. “I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”
Porter-King turned professional in 1973, earning LPGA Tour Qualifying School medalist honors. Two years later, in 1975, she won her only LPGA tournament title at the Golf Inns of America LPGA Championship, shooting rounds of 68-72-71-76 to beat Donna Caponi by three strokes.
Gradually she became more interested in helping and encouraging other golfers, particularly juniors, and she never undervalued the significance of that earlier life-saving swimming pool incident in Phoenix.
“It was a life-changing moment for me,” Porter-King said. “I gave birth to my son, I have my job and family … but that experience put golf and life into perspective.”
Moving to Hawaii in 1989 after her marriage to Charlie King, Porter-King helped found the Hawaii State Junior Golf Association in 1998. As long-time president of the association, she has forged a program that provides opportunities for young people to learn the game and its life lessons. Her leadership in this voluntary position has resulted in many of her players achieving college golf scholarships.
“The best reward is seeing all they are able to accomplish through golf,” Porter-King said. “I do it for the children.”
With the help of her husband, Porter-King funded the program for the first ten years, assisted by grants from the U.S. Golf Association, the PGA of America and the PGA Tour. Michelle Wie is a big supporter, too, sponsoring the Michelle Wie Tournament of Champions. And there are fundraisers, all with the goal of helping juniors realize their dreams.
Many of the youngsters overcome obstacles on their way to success, as did Porter-King herself. She had achieved her self-esteem through sports. School had never been easy for her. It wasn’t until she was 32 years old that the challenge she had been dealing with over the years was identified: dyslexia.
“It has nothing to do with your IQ, just with how you learn,” said Porter-King. “I realized I had figured out ways to compensate for things.
“You have a choice in how to deal with what is given to you.”
In golf, the disability affects Porter-King’s depth perception. There were no measuring devices in her early playing days. She had a difficult time judging distances marked by flagsticks; they appeared farther away than they actually were. Yet she thrived on tour, winning once and enjoying the journey.
“I don’t know if I reached my potential,” she said, “but the best part was that I became friends with those players I had met as a child. We are friends to this day.”
Other friends have made lasting impressions on Porter-King, too, including Merilee Giddings, longtime executive director of the Atlanta Junior Golf Association, who died last year.
“Merilee was instrumental in helping me with junior golf in Hawaii,” Porter-King said in tribute to her friend. “She was a leader in junior golf in Georgia and on the USGA Junior Girls Committee.”
The Hawaii State Junior Golf Association – which now has 400 children participating – is just one example of Porter-King’s volunteer leadership in golf. She is one of the country’s most respected rules officials. She spent five years on the USGA Executive Committee, served on the USGA Junior Girls Committee from 1994-2000 and is a member of the U.S. Junior Championship Committee.
The accolades kept coming. In 2001 Porter-King was inducted into the Arizona State University Sports Hall of Fame in four sports, and in 2004 was inducted into the Hawaii Golf Hall of Fame. In 2006 she was named an Independent Director of the PGA of America. In 2011 she was the recipient of the PGA First Lady of Golf Award. And in 2015 she was inducted into the Southern California Golf Association Hall of Fame.
For Porter-King, awards are not the reward. Her volunteerism is her payback.
“Watching children play golf, seeing them go to the 18th hole, take off their hats and shake hands – and ultimately head off to college with a golf scholarship – that’s what it’s about,” she said.
There are hundreds of stories like that now. Many Hawaiian youngsters are getting an education because of golf, learning a game they will play for a lifetime.
“Golf has been the one constant thing in my life,” said Porter-King, “the one thing that I trust and believe in. I’ll never be able to pay it back, so I’ve spent my life these past 30 years trying to give back, give children what I was given.”
—Sally J. Sportsman, Senior Golf Insider