Looking back with Betsy Rawls

Betsy Rawls: From Golf Champion to Champion Of Women’s Golf

A member of the LPGA Hall of Fame, Betsy Rawls won 55 LPGA tournaments, including eight major championships that boasted four U.S. Women’s Open titles, two LPGA Championships and two Western Opens. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate in math and physics from the University of Texas, Rawls played 25 years on the LPGA Tour, and then played a key role in running LPGA tournaments for another two decades. Here is what she had to say to the LPGA developmental tour’s senior writer Lisa D. Mickey in a recent interview:

LPGA: For a lot of players, when their competitive careers are over, they are done with golf. Why not you?
RAWLS: I went from playing on the LPGA Tour for 25 years to being a tournament director for the LPGA. Everybody’s reluctant to stop playing and I was, too, because nothing else compares to playing golf. But I just thought it was time to move on and I was very fortunate that the LPGA asked me to become involved. This was a dream job for me, so it was not a hard decision.

LPGA: How much of a transition did you have from playing to running tournaments?
RAWLS: I retired in 1975. I played in the U.S. Women’s Open and the next week, I was running the LPGA tournament in Philadelphia. The minute I started working on tournaments, I never thought about playing because we were so busy. Back then, we set up the course, made the rulings, worked with sponsors and assisted club operations. We sprinkled lime on the ground for the ground-under-repair areas, pounded the out-of-bounds stakes, wrote the rules sheets and then played our practice rounds in the afternoon. We didn’t have radios to call other people, so you had to figure things out for yourself. Players had to do everything, so I would stay on the golf course all day long.

LPGA: How long did you work as a tournament director for the LPGA?
RAWLS: For six years, and then I went up to White Manor Country Club in Malvern, Pa., for the 1981 McDonald’s Kids’ Classic. The tournament sponsors asked me if I would go up there and run the tournament for them. They were so committed to raising money for the Ronald McDonald House charity. I worked with them for 20 years – first with the McDonald’s Kids Classic, which became the McDonald’s Championship and then the McDonald’s LPGA Championship, which became a major championship in 1994. We moved to DuPont Country Club in Wilmington, Del. The pro-am was so popular that we needed their two courses.

LPGA: You also served on the USGA’s rules committee, as well as on the LPGA’s Tournament Sponsors Association. How long did you do that?
RAWLS: I was president of the association for two terms and on the rules committee from 1975-1983.

LPGA: You sound like a woman who believes that “if you rest, you rust.”
RAWLS: Yes, but I’ve been so lucky to work for 50 years in something I’m passionate about. Any job in golf is enjoyable. It’s also really satisfying to help the Ronald McDonald House charity raise more than $46 million to help kids.

LPGA: LPGA co-founder Patty Berg never stopped working for the LPGA. How much of an influence did Patty have on you and your career?
RAWLS: I was on the Wilson Golf staff with Patty and Babe Zaharias and Wilson sent us to clubs to hold clinics and exhibitions. One year, we gave as many as 120 clinics. I could not have been Patty Berg because she was constantly working with the public and talking about the LPGA, but I learned to speak in public and give clinics because of Patty and how she related to people. I learned a lot about human relationships. She never stopped working because that’s how she got the most satisfaction out of life.

LPGA: Were those clinics in the early years more of a marketing effort by the LPGA or by Wilson?
RAWLS: I was a Wilson employee and I played LPGA tournaments around my schedule with Wilson. Sometimes I missed tournaments. There wasn’t that much prize money on the LPGA at that time, so the players worked for golf equipment companies. The top players were able to turn pro and play the tournaments we had because of the support we had from the manufacturers. So all of those clinics we did were actually the manufacturers promoting their professionals who happened to be LPGA players.

LPGA: How did the link work between the early LPGA and the club companies?
RAWLS: Well, Patty Berg and Babe Zaharias went to see the president of Wilson in 1950. They told him that we needed a place to play competitively. Wilson hired the first tournament director for the LPGA, Fred Corcoran, and paid his salary and told him to start booking tournaments for us. After three years, they pulled out and said they thought we could now make it on our own, but they got us started.

LPGA: How long were you with Wilson?
RAWLS: From 1951-1975. Just about every woman who started playing golf during those years probably had Wilson Patty Berg clubs.

LPGA: So, how did you win 55 LPGA tournaments and do all of those other duties?
RAWLS: I could just separate it all. I’d set up the course, write the rules and then get down to playing golf. Back then, we took ownership of the organization and felt responsible for it. We had to do the things we did if the LPGA hoped to survive. We went to every sponsor party. We became great PR people for the LPGA.

LPGA: You’ve had a lot of accolades and milestones in your career with an induction into the LPGA and World Golf Hall of Fame. What do you consider the highlight?
RAWLS: I think winning the USGA’s first U.S. Women’s Open Championship at Rochester Country Club in 1953 was the tournament I got the most satisfaction out of winning. The tournaments seemed to step up that year and the level of excellence rose for the LPGA Tour. I also got a great deal of satisfaction by winning the Bob Jones Award from the USGA for contributions to golf.

LPGA: You were diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatments in 1999. Are you healthy?
RAWLS: Yes, thank God. It’s been 11 years now. I had a lumpectomy and underwent the treatments. I was one of the lucky ones.

LPGA: Is there anything left on your “to-do” list?
RAWLS: I still want to find the perfect golf swing. I’ll be 82 in May and I still play a couple times a week. I can break my age, but not always. But yes, I still love the game.

Topics: Rawls, Betsy

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