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This is the sixth in a series of columns on the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2019, which will be inducted at the Jackson Convention Center Saturday night.
Greenwood golfer Cissye Gallagher’s first memory of her sport is a living nightmare.
She was 5 years old. Her brother Keasler was 7. The two were at a driving range in Memphis hitting balls, while their daddy, champion golfer Ed Meeks, played in a tournament. Cissye ran out of balls and walked over to get some from Keasler, who was in the middle of a swing.
Keasler’s iron struck Cissye just above an eye and gashed her forehead to her skull. Blood was everywhere. A harrowing dash to a hospital ensued, Ed Meeks driving and Cissye’s mother holding her in the front seat. When they reached the emergency room, an attendant opened the passenger door, saw the child and the blood, and was clearly alarmed. That’s when Cissye’s mom fainted.
“I don’t remember much about it except what people have told me,” Cissye says almost half a century later. “The important part is there was a plastic surgeon on call. More than 50 stitches later, he fixed me up.”
It did not sour the young girl on golf, because a Hall of Fame golf career ensued. Cissye Gallagher, one of the first five golfers (and the only woman) inducted into the Mississippi Golf Hall of Fame last year, will take her rightful place in the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame Saturday night at the Jackson Convention Center.
Says MSHOF executive director Bill Blackwell, “I think at least half the town of Greenwood is coming.”
Nobody who knows Cissye Gallagher will be surprised by that, least of all her husband, Jim, the former U.S. Ryder Cup hero, who fell in love with her when she was a senior golfer at LSU and he was getting started on the PGA Tour. “Cissye has a gift,” is the way Jim puts it. “She’s a people person. She loves people and they love her back. She’ll do anything for anybody. She has so many friends, and she makes new friends everywhere we go. It is a gift – an amazing personality that just draws people to her.
“I’ve been around after she has beaten somebody’s brains out in a tournament and heard them say, ‘I’ve never had so much fun losing to somebody in my life.’”
She also has a gift for golf. She has won 12 Mississippi State Amateur championships, the most of any golfer in history, male or female. This she has done while raising four children – two of whom have now won two State Am championships apiece themselves.
Cissye won two of her championships while pregnant, once when she was really pregnant, at Northwood in Meridian.
Said Jim, “It was 95 degrees and she had to go 27 holes – nine extra – to win one of her matches when she was big as a house. I remember thinking, ‘Man, this is dangerous.’”
She won one year in Hattiesburg after slamming her right thumb in a car door the day before the championship match. She couldn’t even use her right thumb in her grip. She won another year after a long layoff from a broken wrist, using a baseball grip. She still uses the baseball grip.
Her championship career has spanned more than 40 years. As a high school player, she played on the boys teams and often won tournaments. She won her first Women’s State Am in 1986 and won as recently as 2015. She is still competitive – even against college players who play nearly every day.
And that’s the thing: Cissye has won golf tournaments over the last 30 years when merely dabbling at the sport. Most of her energy was concentrated on raising children and husband Jim’s career.
Jim Gallagher has no doubts his wife could have been successful playing the LPGA Tour. She did play it briefly.
“She had the game,” Jim Gallagher said. “She could have won.”
For Cissye, it didn’t feel right. They were young newlyweds. He would be playing the PGA Tour’s West Coast swing, while she was playing the LPGA’s Florida tournaments. She missed his first tour victory in the 1990 Greater Milwaukee Open. There were other factors. She couldn’t shake a shoulder injury. Her mother was critically ill with cancer that would kill her. And this: She and Jim wanted to have kids. They wanted a family. When Cissye became pregnant with her first child, Mary Langdon, she decided to let pro golf go and regain her amateur status.
Jim and Cissye, who could have lived anywhere (and he is from Indiana), set up house in Greenwood.
Asked earlier this week if she ever thinks about what might have been on the LPGA Tour, she flatly said, “No, I don’t. When I think in terms of what might have been I think about how Jim could have won majors at Medinah, Hazeltine and Crooked Stick. He had the game.”
Cissye was there at The Belfry in England in 1993 when Jim famously (and soundly) defeated Seve Ballesteros on the final day to help the U.S. win the Ryder Cup. Ballesteros was perhaps the best match play golfer in the world at the time.
“Cissye told me before they announced the matchups, ‘I hope you play Seve,’” Jim said. “That made me want to play him, too. Having Cissye was like having my own sports psychologist for free.”
Her kids are grown now. Jim has switched from competitive player to Golf Channel broadcaster. Might Cissye now concentrate more on her own golf game?
Probably not. One word: grandchildren. There are already two with more sure to come.
Previously in this series: