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A Look Back At Babe Zaharias

LPGA Founder and Hall of Fame member, Babe Zaharias, was one of the greatest athletes and golfers in sports history. Her competitive nature, athleticism, and courageous spirit made a profound impact on the LPGA in a very short period of time.  From the inception of the Ladies Professional Golf Association, in 1950, until her death in 1956, Zaharias won 31 tournaments, including 5 major championships.  She also won 10 professional events prior to 1950, including the 1940, 1944, and 1945 Western Opens, the 1947 Titleholders Championship, and the 1948 U.S. Women's Open.

In the first year of the tour, Babe dominated the LPGA, winning all three major championships, the Western Open, the Titleholders Championship, and the U.S. Women's Open.  Not including her 10 wins prior to the foundation of the LPGA, Zaharias became the fastest player to reach 10 wins, a record she still holds today. She also holds the LPGA record for the fastest player to 20 career wins and the fastest player to 30 career wins.

While competing for these tournament titles, Babe also waged a personal battle against colon cancer. Diagnosed in 1953, she underwent surgery and returned to the LPGA in 1954.  Upon her comeback, she won her third U.S. Women's Open at Salem Country Club, in Peabody, Mass., and proceeded to win her first and only Vare Trophy in that same year.  Remarkably, during this same time, Zaharias also served as the President of the LPGA, from August of 1952 until July of 1955. 

Babe's amazing comeback, so shortly after surgery, exemplified her resiliency as an athlete. In 1954, she won the prestigious Ben Hogan Award, for which she was the first recipient, and the equal honor of the William R Richardson Award by the Golf Writers' Association of America.  She earned her final two victories in 1955, at the Tampa Open and Peach Blossom Classic, before losing her battle to cancer in 1956.  She received the Bobby Jones Award, posthumously, in 1957.

Today, Zaharias is still widely regarded as one of the best female athletes of all time. She won the AP Woman Athlete of the Year in 1932, 1945-1947, 1950, and 1954.  At the turn of the century in 1999, the AP named her the top Woman Athlete of the Century, Sports Illustrated named her the Top Individual Female Athlete of the Century, and ESPN ranked her 10th on the list of the 50 Greatest North American Athletes of the Past 100 Years.  She was the only female athlete honored in the top 10.

Babe Zaharias Fast Facts:

● Zaharias claimed to have gained the nickname Babe, as a child, after she hit five home runs in one game.

● Babe has a museum dedicated to her. The Babe Zaharias Museum is located in Beaumont, Texas and is free of charge to the public.

● Shortly after her second bout with colon cancer, Babe established the Babe Zaharias Cancer Fund to help support early detection of cancer for the underprivileged. The fund's first project was a tumor clinic at the Galveston Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas.

● Babe Zaharias won three medals at the 1932 Olympic Games. She won gold in the 80 meter hurdles, gold in the javelin, and silver in the high jump. 

● Babe Zaharias was the first female player to compete in a PGA Tour event. She missed the cut in her first attempt, but proceeded to make three consecutive PGA Tour cuts in 1945.  After shooting 76-81, at the Los Angeles Open, Zaharias became the first and only female player to make the cut in a PGA Tour event. While she missed the three day cut at the same tournament, she proceeded to make the cut at the Phoenix Open, finishing in 33rd place, and the cut at the Tucson Open, tying for 42nd.

● Babe won an astounding 17 consecutive amateur tournaments over a two-year period stretching from 1946-1947.

● Zaharias was the first American female player to win the British Women's Amateur. She won the 1947 Championship at Gullane Golf Club, defeating Jacqueline Gordon, 5&4, in the final match. With this victory, Zaharias became the first American to win both the British Women's Amateur and the U.S. Women's Amateur. Babe's U.S. Amateur win came in 1946, in a resounding 11&9 victory over Clara Sherman, at Southern Hills Country Club.

● Babe was the third oldest player to win an LPGA major, behind Fay Crocker and Sherri Steinhauer. Crocker won the 1960 Titleholders Championship at 45 years, 7 months, and 11 days. Steinhauer captured the 2006 Weetabix Women's British Open at 43 years, 7 months, and 10 days, while Zaharias won the 1954 U.S. Women's Open at 43 years, 7 days.

Topics: Zaharias, Babe

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