LPGA Founder Marilynn Smith, a.k.a. Miss Personality, speaks with as much passion about the game today as she did when she helped form the LPGA back in 1950. The winner of 16 LPGA titles, including one major championship, Smith was also instrumental in starting the LPGA Teaching and Club Professional (T&CP) division. Smith served as the President of the LPGA from 1950-1952, and was the very first recipient of the Patty Berg Award in 1979.
Recently, the LPGA caught up with Marilynn as she reminisced back to her days on the tour.
Marilynn, the Founder
“The tour survived the tough times because of the incredible teamwork of the players, the passion for the game, and the desire to compete against the best in the world.” – Marilynn Smith
In the early years, the “players did everything they could to publicize the tour”, which included some original public relations moves. One time, she and fellow founder Shirley Spork, attended a big time boxing match in Landover, Maryland. The plan was for both of them to get in the ring after the match and talk up the LPGA. Well, the match got so bloody; Marilynn got woozy, and couldn’t get in the ring. Luckily, the gore did not affect Spork, who ducked under the ring ropes, hopped onto the canvas, and told all the boxing fans to come out and watch the LPGA. At other times, Marilynn, whose childhood dream was to pitch for the St. Louis Cardinals, would often hit balls from home plate into center field of the major league parks. After the exhibition she would grab the microphone and rally the baseball fans to attend the golf tournaments.
Marilynn remembers 1957 as a critical year for the LPGA. After the one of the tour’s marquee players, Babe Zaharias, died from cancer in 1956, the tour struggled. Smith says “the tour survived because of the support and dedication of the small towns and the sponsors.”
Marilynn, the Player
In 1950, while many of her peers signed with Wilson Sporting Goods, Marilynn linked arms with Spalding for a salary of $5,000, an expense account, and a car - a green dodge with a white pinstripe. In total, she had 27 one-year contracts with Spalding. In between tournaments Marilynn performed exhibitions and clinics for Spalding across the United States.
Marilynn always played her best golf when she had complete focus on this one thought - release the forefinger and the thumb on her right hand and the toe of the club to the target. Since she had a tendency to pull down too much with the left arm and hold on too long, this swing key helped her release the club properly. Of course, she says “you have to get the club down in the slot first.”
The best part of Marilynn’s game was her driving. Next to Babe, she and Bev Hanson were the longest hitters on the tour. The worst part of her game was her putting. She had a tendency to aim left and “literally had no confidence”. After playing a round with Johnny Potts, she was the first player to try left hand low. Even though she putted better with the new grip, her peers told her that it looked funny, and she switched back to conventional.
Smith says that the two greatest highlights of her career were playing a round of golf with Ben Hogan, and defeating Mickey Wright in an 18-hole play-off to win the 1963 Titleholders Championship. This was Marilynn’s only major championship victory.
When talking about the players today, Marilynn says the biggest differences are the swings. “All the swings are so similar now,” cited Marilynn. She described the great players of her era as, Zaharias, the “swashbuckler”, Betty Jameson, “great hands”, Louise Suggs, “smooth,” and Patty Berg “shot-maker and great bunker player.”
While Marilynn no longer plays golf, she keeps herself busy with her new passion - helping fund college education for girls. In 1999, as part of the LPGA Foundation, she established the Marilynn Smith Scholarship Fund. The purpose of the fund is to provide a scholarship to a female high school senior who has played golf in high school or in her community, and is planning to play golf at an accredited college or university in the United States. Marilynn will host the 2nd Annual Marilynn Smith LPGA Charity Classic on September 20, 2010 at the Tuscany Falls Golf Club in Goodyear, Arizona.
Topics: Smith, Marilynn