Hezlet, Mary Elizabeth Linzee (‘May’) (1882–1978), golfer, was born 29 April 1882 in Gibraltar to a landed Co. Londonderry family, one of six surviving children of Richard Jackson Hezlet, an officer in the Royal Artillery and his English-born wife Emily Mary Linzee Hezlet (née Owen). May grew up in Ireland where her family lived at Bovagh House in Aghadowey, Co. Londonderry, while also spending time at their other residence in Portrush, Co. Antrim. The Hezlets were a famous golfing family, linked to the Royal Portrush Golf Club. Her father and her brother, Charles (qv), and her mother and three sisters, Florence (Jackie), Violet and Emmie, all captained the men’s and ladies’ clubs, respectively, and all were accomplished golfers. Her mother was also associated with the founding of the Irish Ladies’ Golf Union (ILGU).
May started playing golf when she was nine, won her first competition in 1893, aged eleven, and by the age of twelve she was playing off a handicap of sixteen. In 1898, aged fifteen, she was runner-up in the Irish amateur championship, which she won in 1899 at Newcastle, Co. Down, when she defeated her clubmate Rhona Adair (qv). A week later, she recorded a surprising victory in the British amateur championship, again at Newcastle, and became the youngest ever winner of the tournament, having celebrated her seventeenth birthday during the intervening week. These sensational victories had involved playing two rounds of golf a day for ten days out of eleven. Her routine of cycling the eighteen miles from Bovagh House to Portrush to play thirty-six holes helped her to outlast competitors on the golf course.
She lost form for the next couple of years, mainly because she was sent to a school in London and could not practice enough. In 1902, by which date she was living back home, she regained the British championship at Deal in Kent by overcoming E. C. Neville in an exciting final, which she won on the second extra hole. After losing the 1904 final on the final green to the tennis star and archer, Lottie Dod, she claimed her third British championship, then a joint record, in 1907 amid appalling weather at Newcastle, Co. Down, where she defeated her sister Florence in the final. Meanwhile, a three-in-a-row of Irish championship victories was recorded from 1904 to 1906, and then a fifth and final Irish championship was added in 1908. She defeated her sister Florence in three Irish finals. A five-time beaten finalist in the Irish championship, Florence also lost a second British championship final in 1909. Of her other sisters, Violet reached the final of one British championship and two Irish championships; Emmie the final of one Irish championship. Their younger brother Charles won the Irish amateur close championship in 1920 and the Irish amateur open championship in 1926 and 1929, also becoming Ireland’s first Walker Cup golfer.
Outside her family, May’s main rival was her fellow Portrush clubmate Rhona Adair. Between them they won four British amateur championships during 1899–1903. Although she could not drive the ball as far as Adair, Hezlet was more accurate. Her stylish swing led many to account her the most complete golfer, man or woman, they had seen. Also admired for her consistency, outstanding iron play and capacity for rallying from a losing position, she was widely acknowledged as the finest women golfer of her day. In 1907 T. H. Miller, the vice-president of the Ladies’ Golfing Union, brought over a team of four men from England to challenge May Hezlet, Violet Hezlet and Rhona Adair at Royal Portrush; May played two matches. The men were beaten soundly with May thrashing Miller 10 and 8. Miller insisted they continue until he won a hole only to find himself sixteen down on the seventeenth tee; she let him halve the final two holes.
That same year she captained the Irish ladies’ team, which included her sisters Violet and Florence, to victory in the Women’s Home Internationals held at Newcastle. This ‘triple crown’ over the Welsh, Scottish and English teams was not repeated for seventy-three years. She also played on the Irish teams that won the Home International competition in 1901 and 1903. In 1904 May, Violet, Florence and their mother were all chosen for the Irish team. In 1905 she participated along with Florence in the British team that defeated a visiting US team 6–1 at the Royal Cromer Golf Club. May won her match against Margaret Curtis. The Hezlets became friends with the Curtis sisters, Margaret and Harriet, who were America’s best women golfers. (This 1905 event would lead eventually to the inauguration in 1932 of the biennial Curtis Cup, contested between teams representing the USA, and Great Britain and Ireland.)
She retired from championship golf upon her marriage in April 1909 to the rector of Ballymena, Arthur Edwin Ross, although she represented Ireland one last time in the 1912 Home Internationals. In 1921 she was elected an honorary member of the ladies’ committee at Royal Portrush, and in 1922 she was instituted as the first president of the ladies’ club, having already served the club as captain in 1905. She was also a life vice-president of the ILGU.
She published one book on golf, as well as numerous articles, and was praised for being a clear, precise and witty writer. Her book, Ladies’ golf (1904, revised edition 1907), was replete with good practical advice and sold well. In it she wrote that golf was the ideal game for women: ‘the exercise is splendid without being unduly violent, as is sometimes the case in hockey or tennis … The girl of the present day must have some outlet for her superfluous energy, and she is not content with the life which women were expected to lead in former years’ (Ladies’ golf (1907 edition), 3). Lauding golf as a means for achieving serenity and self-reliance, she encouraged women club members to manage their club finances instead of leaving it to the men. At a time when women golfers had to wear impractically long and heavy skirts, she advocated shorter skirts – by which she meant about a foot off the ground.
Her husband served in the 1914–18 war and was awarded the military cross; he was appointed bishop of Tuam in 1920 but died suddenly in May 1923. She subsequently moved to England and worked for the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel and became president of the Mothers’ Union, although she had no children herself. For many years she lived with her sister Violet, by then Mrs Violet Hulton, in Trowbridge, Wiltshire, before entering a nursing home in Sandwich, Kent, in the mid-1970s. She died there on 27 December 1978. A portrait by Harry Douglas of her aged seventeen hangs in the Portrush Ladies clubhouse.