Learn more about the 13 LPGA Founders before the start of the inaugural RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup.
Elder of the “Bauer Sisters,” Alice Bauer first performed with a golf club as a child when she barnstormed in cross-country golf exhibitions in the mid-1940s with sister Marlene. Five years older, Alice was golf pro Dave Bauer’s first daughter and she was described by peers as being an “excellent putter, but with an unorthodox swing.”
The Eureka, South Dakota native won her first notable title at age 14, at the South Dakota Amateur Championship, and she was voted South Dakota’s Outstanding Woman Athlete of the Year.
The Bauer family moved to California and Alice soon dominated the Long Beach Invitational for six years, winning from 1944-49. She captured the 1949 Southern California Amateur Championship, and then turned professional with her sister in 1950, becoming co-founders of the start-up LPGA Tour.
By the time the sisters arrived as professionals on the LPGA, their names were widely known in golf circles because of their history as prodigy performers in the game. And like many young girls, they were prodded to perform with incentives.
“Their dad would tell them if they shot a certain score, he would buy them the new shoes they wanted,” said one fellow professional at the time. “Those sisters were the Carneys of the tour from the beginning, even before the LPGA. Everybody who knew anything about golf had heard of the Bauer sisters.”
Alice never won on the LPGA Tour, but she forced a playoff against Marilynn Smith in the 1955 Heart of America tournament. In 1956, she finished 14th on the LPGA’s season money list.
She married Bob Hagge, divorced, and Hagge later married sister Marlene. She then remarried and joined fellow co-founder Bettye Danoff as the first women on the LPGA Tour to travel with their children. But like Danoff, she limited her career as a touring pro to remain at home with her family and teach golf, playing only a few tournaments a year through the 1970s.
Alice is said to have enjoyed making jewelry later in life. She lived in an old mining town in the Arizona mountains and attempted to battle cancer with holistic medicine, eventually succumbing to the disease in March, 2002.
The mention of Patty Berg’s name brings a smile to the face of anyone who ever heard her vivaciously conclude every speech with the words, “God bless you all, God bless the LPGA and God bless America!”
That was the essence of this freckle-faced sparkplug from Minneapolis who was the quarterback in organized sandlot football, enlisted in the United States Marine Corps for a three-year tour of duty during World War II, amassed 28 amateur golf titles in seven years and went on to become a co-founder of the LPGA.
Berg became an amateur superstar when she won the 1934 Minneapolis City Championship to kick off her golf career, adding the 1938 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship, three Titleholders Championships from 1937-39, the 1938 Women’s Western Amateur, two Women’s Trans-Mississippi Amateur Championships (1938-39), two South Atlantic Amateur (Sally) titles (1938-39), five Doherty Cup Championships (1936-40) and membership on the 1936 and 1938 U.S. Curtis Cup teams.
Her first five professional wins came before the formation of the Women’s Professional Golf Association, which preceded the LPGA. She recorded a total of 22 professional wins prior to the start of the LPGA, with six wins on the WPGA in 1948 and 1949. When the LPGA was formed in 1950, Berg served as the association’s first president from 1950-1952.
From a span from 1948 to 1962, she won 44 professional titles and three Vare Trophies. By the end of her career, she was credited with 60 professional victories with 15 major championships, including the 1946 U.S. Women’s Open Championship. She became the first woman to record an ace during a USGA competition with her hole-in-one during the 1959 U.S. Women’s Open.
But while Berg’s ferocity as a player was well known, her colleagues fondly recall her thousands of “Patty Berg Hit Parade” golf clinics and exhibitions for sponsor, Wilson Sporting Goods, which she represented from her professional debut in 1940 until her death at age 88 in 2006. Berg was a demonstrative and engaging performer in an estimated 16,000 golf clinics. In her later years, she often wore comical hats and delivered corny jokes as she displayed a variety of golf shots.
As one of the first women professionals to earn a golf equipment sponsorship, it was Berg who marched other Wilson-sponsored pros through the routine of holding golf clinics throughout the nation with a Marine’s precision of drills and orchestrated jokes. The young pros under Berg’s tutelage, such as future LPGA Hall of Famers Kathy Whitworth and Carol Mann, were instructed to show up on time for the clinics with shined shoes and pressed clothing. Even as recently as the 1990s, Berg still appeared each year at the U.S. Women’s Open Championship to host her “All-American” golf clinics, using Whitworth and other pros to demonstrate shots.
Berg was inducted into the LPGA, LPGA Teaching & Club Professionals and World Golf Halls of Fame, and was the recipient of countless awards, including the 1959 William D. Richardson Award, the 1963 Bob Jones Award, and the 1975 Ben Hogan Award.
Her fellow playing pros affectionately called her “Mighty Mite,” and for good reason. Bettye Mims Danoff, at 5-foot-2 and barely tipping the scales at 100 pounds, made her mark in women’s golf not only in her home state of Texas, but also as one of the LPGA’s 13 founders.
The diminutive native of Dallas got her start in the game at age 6 when her parents opened a driving range and a nine-hole golf course. That course, Sunset Golf Center in Grand Prairie, Texas, which is still in the Mims’ family, was where the youngster took her first swings and where she honed what others called a “beautiful” and “compact swing” that helped the petite player win.
From 1945-48, she won four consecutive Dallas Women’s Golf Association Championships, the women’s division of the Texas PGA Championship in 1945 and 1946, the Texas Women’s Amateur in 1947 and 1948, and in 1947, defeated Babe Zaharias 1-up in the Texas Women’s Open that ended Babe’s 17-tournament winning streak.
The Texan played exhibitions as an amateur with rising PGA star Byron Nelson in the late 1940s, and added honors as the medalist at the 1948 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship, before turning professional in April 1949. She also attended North Texas State University for one year before hitting the road to compete.
Danoff launched her young professional career and traveled with her three daughters, Kaye, Janie and Debbie, at different times while competing on the LPGA Tour. Those days were more challenging because there was no LPGA childcare.
“I remember traveling for five consecutive tournaments with her while she played,” said youngest daughter, Debbie Bell. “She was often frustrated because she had to find friends and people to help watch us while she competed.”
Danoff’s husband, Dr. Clyde Walter Danoff, died suddenly at an early age in 1961. The loss of her husband limited the golfer to play only LPGA tournaments in Texas and nearby Oklahoma, while she reared her family. She played a limited LPGA schedule until the mid-1970s while teaching golf at home in Dallas.
At the 1962 Austin Civitan tournament in Austin, Texas, Danoff gave her fellow Texans something to cheer about when she scored her first hole-in-one. She was awarded a case of beer for her ace.
Known as a “gracious” Texan with a warm smile, Danoff became the first grandmother on the LPGA Tour – a distinction she later shared with fellow LPGA founder Alice Bauer.
Danoff, who turns 88 in May 2011, now resides in McKinney, Texas, just outside Dallas. She has five grandchildren, three great-grandchildren and one great-great grandchild.
Growing up in a family of golfers in the Washington, D.C., area, Helen Detweiler graduated from Trinity College with degrees in history and English and headed to Florida to launch a golf career with money her grandmother gave her as a graduation present.
Detweiler won the first tournament she entered, capturing the 1939 Women’s Western Open as an amateur. Later that year, she joined Wilson Sporting Goods as a staff professional, along with fellow future LPGA Tour co-founders, Opal Hill and Helen Hicks. Patty Berg would follow in 1940.
The D.C. native was instrumental in getting the Women’s Professional Golf Association off the ground in 1947, later serving as the vice president of the LPGA when it was formed in 1950. Detweiler was one of 13 players who co-founded the new association.
Women’s golf struggled to gain footing in the wake of World War II. During the war years, Detweiler became a cryptographer, eventually training signal decoders throughout the nation. From 1943-44, she joined the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs), who were the first women to fly planes for the U.S. military. Detweiler was one of 17 women who flew B-17 bombers.
She later became friends with Jackie Cochran, a pioneer American woman aviator, who married the CEO of RKO in Hollywood -- then considered one of the world’s wealthiest men. Detweiler and Cochran designed a nine-hole golf course on the Cochran ranch in Indio, Calif., that is now Indian Palms Country Club, a 27-hole facility.
Seemingly always in the right place at the right time, Detweiler played golf with the owner of the Washington Senators Major League Baseball team in Washington, D.C. He arranged for her to work as the “voice of the Senators” for a year as the team’s play-by-play broadcaster.
In 1949, Detweiler appeared in the Hollywood film, “Pat and Mike” with fellow golf pros Babe Zaharias, Betty Hicks and Beverly Hanson, alongside actors Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn.
While she was there for the LPGA’s beginning, Detweiler left the tour in the early years to teach golf, returning to California to become the head professional at Indian Palms. She also taught for seven years at Thunderbird Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif., often teaching golf to the stars of Hollywood, and later at El Dorado Country Club in Indian Wells, Calif., where she instructed President Dwight Eisenhower.
According to one fellow LPGA professional, PGA star Ben Hogan once called Detweiler “the best teaching pro there ever was.” She was honored for that talent in 1958, as the first LPGA Teacher of the Year.
Detweiler retired from teaching golf and opened an apparel store in Palm Springs, Calif. She died of cancer in 1990, at age 71, after a life of many adventures.
Marlene Hagge and sister Alice Bauer got an early start in golf at age 3, thanks to golf pro father, Dave Bauer. In fact, their father billed them as “The Bauer Sisters” in golf exhibitions around the country in the mid-1940s.
By age 10, Marlene had won California’s Long Beach City Boys Junior Championship, and by age 13, she had captured crowns at the Western and National Junior Championships, the Los Angeles Women’s City Championship, the Palm Springs Women’s Championship and the Northern California Open.
She also made the tournament cut that year at the 1947 U.S. Women’s Open Championship, finishing eighth. The petite blonde went on to win the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship, and at age 15, was named the 1949 Associated Press Athlete of the Year, Golfer of the Year and Teenager of the Year.
So it was no surprise that just before her 16th birthday, she joined the LPGA Tour in 1950 to launch her professional career. She won her first professional title at the 1952 Sarasota Open. By 1956, Bauer led the tour in earnings with nine runner-up finishes and eight tournament wins, including the 1956 LPGA Championship, which she won in a playoff against fellow LPGA founding member Patty Berg.
Bauer’s final season on the LPGA Tour was in 1996, when she competed in four tournaments, placing sixth at the Sprint Titleholders Senior Challenge. She played in that event one last time in 1997, once again finishing in the top 10 to place ninth in her final LPGA tournament appearance.
From 1952-1972, Bauer recorded 26 victories and was voted into the LPGA and World Golf Halls of Fame in 2002, through the Veteran’s Category ballot. One of the 13 founding members of the LPGA, Bauer will long be recognized for her longevity, playing in each of the LPGA Tour’s first five decades. The petite blonde will also be remembered as the player who brought a splash of California glamour to the LPGA Tour.
One of the LPGA’s 13 founders, Helen Hicks launched her golf career with several top amateur wins, including a victory over legendary American amateur Glenna Collett Vare at the 1929 Women’s Canadian Open. She recorded two other key wins at the 1931 Women’s Eastern Championship and at the 1931 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship, where, once again, she defeated Vare in the finals.
Following membership on the 1932 U.S. Curtis Cup, the native of Long Island, N.Y., was hired in 1934 by Wilson Sporting Goods to travel and promote its golf equipment. She is believed to be the first woman hired to perform golf exhibitions for a clubmaker.
In fact, it was Hicks who helped train future LPGA co-founders and Wilson staff members Opal Hill and Patty Berg how to conduct golf clinics. Berg once described Hicks to USGA historian Rhonda Glenn, saying she had watched Hicks “give clinics and exhibitions and [observed that] Helen Hicks had a tremendous personality, in addition to being a great player.”
Known for her length and strength, as well as her non-classic reported “baseball swing,” Hicks was also the first woman to have signature Wilson golf clubs bearing her name. The company actually gave her the title of “business woman golfer,” and sent her out on the road to engage customers with the power of her game and her big personality. Sometimes, she conducted clinics with PGA star Gene Sarazen and a young, big-hitting Babe Zaharias.
But while the Wilson clinics kept her busy, Hicks, whose married name was Helen Harb, maintained a hand in competition. She won the 1937 Women’s Western Open as the first professional to win the title, and won the 1940 Titleholders Championship, which was a major championship at the time for women.
Most of her time, however, was spent in building Wilson’s business and reputation in the golf industry, and in molding the young Wilson staff members who followed, including future LPGA Hall of Famers Patty Berg, Betsy Rawls, Mickey Wright, Carol Mann and Kathy Whitworth.
One of the LPGA’s 13 founding members, Opal Hill began playing golf at age 31, when physicians urged her to add gentle exercise as she battled a long-time kidney ailment. At one point, she was told she only had three years to live.
But the woman who was born in Nebraska, and reared in Kansas City, Mo., not only conquered her illness, but also went on to win numerous golf tournaments. In fact, she fell in love with the game.
Hill won the Kansas City Championship nine times, captured three Doherty Cup titles, won the 1928 North and South Women’s Amateur Championship and was named to four U.S. Curtis Cup teams.
A trained nurse, Hill married attorney Oscar Hill and the couple maintained their base in America’s Heartland. She was sometimes called “the matriarch of women’s golf” because she entered the game late and was older than many of her fellow competitors.
In the late 1920s and early 1930s, she also won three Trans-Mississippi Amateur Championships and three Women’s Western Amateur titles. Hill also won the Women’s Western Open in 1935 and 1936, and was a three-time Missouri State champion from 1935-1937.
One former playing peer praised her effective, yet unorthodox putting method, saying Hill used a blade-style putter that worked like a magic wand. According to fellow LPGA co-founder Shirley Spork, Hill once had nine one-putt greens during a National Golf Foundation seminar match in Ohio. “Time after time, the ball hopped off the face of her club into the air and just rolled into the hole,” recalled Spork.
Hill served as chairman of the 1935 USGA Women’s Committee and also served on women’s executive boards for the Missouri Golf Association, the USGA and the Trans-Mississippi tournament.
She turned professional in 1938, and was the first LPGA Teaching and Club Professional (T&CP) honorary member from the Midwestern Section. Hill also was the first recipient of the National Golf Foundation’s Joe Graffis Award and was a member of the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame.
She played and taught golf into her 80s, and died in 1981, at age 89 in Kansas City.
An Oklahoma native, Betty Jameson established her reputation as a top American amateur long before she became one of the LPGA’s 13 founders.
The lanky player, who possessed what her peers called “the perfect golf grip” and a “natural beauty,” won 14 top amateur titles, including the 1939 and 1940 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship. In 1942, she became the first player to win the Western Women’s Open and the Western Women’s Amateur in the same year. Her amateur career was launched when she won the 1932 Texas Publinx Title at age 13.
Jameson turned pro in 1945, and won seven times prior to the start of the LPGA. Two years after her professional debut, she won the 1947 U.S. Women’s Open with a 295 total. That score marked the first time a woman had scored lower than 300 for a 72-hole tournament. She went on to win 13 LPGA tournaments, including three major championships, and was one of the LPGA’s first six Hall of Fame inductees.
When she was not playing golf, Jameson was an artist who enjoyed painting and all forms of modern art. She regularly visited art museums in cities around the nation as she traveled to golf tournaments. Even in her later years, she enjoyed art and sometimes referred to herself as her “artist name of Bess.”
A devout Christian Scientist, her peers say she read the Christian Science Monitor every day. She was also called a “true individualist who marched to the beat of her own drum.” Her favorite color was reportedly yellow, and for years, she drove a yellow convertible car.
Jameson learned the game as a student of Scottish-American professional Tommy Armour. She eventually joined “The Silver Scot” in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Jameson’s greatest legacy is the Vare Trophy, which she donated in 1952, in the name of her idol, American amateur star, Glenna Collett Vare. It was the idea of this freethinking player to institute the concept of the Vare Trophy, which continues to be awarded to the LPGA Tour player with the lowest scoring average each year.
A native of North Muskegon, Mich., LPGA co-founder Sally Sessions was both a gifted athlete in tennis and golf. She won the Michigan State Tennis Championship at age 16, and won both the City of Muskegon’s tennis and golf championships on the same day in 1942.
But eventually, Sessions directed her focus solely toward golf. She won the 1946 Michigan Women’s State Championship, and in 1947, became the first woman to break par-72 at Pinehurst Country Club in Pinehurst, N.C., with a score of 69. That same year and playing as an amateur, she finished as runner-up to Betty Jameson at the 1947 U.S. Women’s Open Championship, also adding a win at the 1947 Mexican Women’s Open.
A year later, Sessions turned pro, tying for 10th at the 1948 U.S. Women’s Open. She recorded a fifth-place finish at the 1949 Tam O’Shanter All-American tournament.
Just as many other women professionals of her time, she became a staff professional for Wilson Sporting Goods and performed clinics and exhibitions around the country as a member of the Wilson staff. She never won on the LPGA Tour during her brief golf career, but Sessions served as the association’s first secretary.
A graduate of the University of Michigan, Sessions was also an accomplished pianist. She is said to have written an opera and earned the respect of her peers as “an excellent musician.”
The initial stages of leukemia began to slow the Michigan native’s ability to compete in professional golf, so she left the LPGA and entered the classroom as a teacher in the Detroit Public School System. Sessions retired from teaching in February 1966, and died in December 1966, at the age of 43.
LPGA co-founder Marilynn Smith was known as “Miss Personality” and the “LPGA’s Goodwill Ambassador” on the LPGA Tour in its early years. And it was Smith, wearing pearls and heels, who was often pushed out to ad-lib the LPGA’s earliest public relations efforts in front of fans, sponsors and the media.
Accompanied by her fellow pros, she would often hit balls from home plate to the outfield and invite fans at Major League Baseball parks to come watch the local LPGA tournament. Once, she even attended a boxing match with the goal of reminding fans between rounds to attend that week’s LPGA event. Unfortunately, the grueling nature of the sport made Smith swoon and one of her fellow pros had to jump into the blood-splattered ring to invite boxing fans to come watch women’s golf.
But while Smith was a true girl-next-door native of Topeka who called herself “just an ordinary gal from the Kansas prairie who has lived an extraordinary life,” she was a solid competitor on the LPGA Tour from 1957 to 1976, playing a more limited schedule until 1985.
During that time, Smith won 21 tournaments, including two major championships at the 1963 and 1964 Titleholders Championships. The Kansan’s first LPGA win came at the 1954 Fort Wayne Open in Indiana, with her final professional title notched at the 1972 Pabst Ladies Classic. She recorded nine top-10 finishes on the LPGA’s money list from 1961-1972.
Smith was always interested in helping the LPGA build a strong foundation. She served as the LPGA’s president from 1958-1960, and along with players Betty Hicks, Barbara Rotvig and co-founder Shirley Spork, she helped launch what would become the LPGA Teaching & Club Professionals (T&CP) in 1959.
As was typical in the LPGA’s early days, Smith conducted golf clinics alongside fellow LPGA founder, the late Patty Berg. She participated in more than 4,000 golf clinics around the world and was a regular face in the LPGA “Swing Parade” clinics that were conducted for two decades. Since 1949, the Kansan estimates that she has taught some 250,000 golfers.
But “Miss Personality” didn’t end her involvement in the game when she concluded her career in competition. She became the first female TV commentator at a men’s golf tournament at the 1973 U.S. Open Championship. She also organized the Marilynn Smith Founders Classic, which was the first senior women’s professional golf tournament. And she went to work raising funds for college-bound women golfers, hosting the annual Marilynn Smith LPGA Charity Classic.
In October 2000, when she became one of six inaugural inductees into the LPGA T&CP Hall of Fame and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in October 2006, through the Lifetime Achievement category, becoming the 23rd member of the LPGA Tour to earn Hall of Fame entry.
LPGA co-founder Shirley Spork was always a player with a keen eye for golf swing technique, leading her to become one of six inaugural members of the LPGA Teaching and Club Professionals’ (T&CP) Hall of Fame.
Spork graduated from Eastern Michigan University, where she won the first-ever National Collegiate Championship in 1947, which was the equivalent of today’s NCAA Championship. A teacher at heart, she was the Western educational director for the National Golf Foundation (NGF) for seven years and taught golf in the early 1950s at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. Typical at that time, she spent the summer months competing on the LPGA Tour and the winter months teaching golf in the California desert.
In 1959, Spork helped found the LPGA’s teaching division along with Marilynn Smith, Betty Hicks and Barbara Rotvig. The Michigan native was twice named LPGA National Teacher of the Year (1959 and 1984). She also served as the LPGA’s T&CP chairperson for eight years.
But Spork could also hit the shots, finishing among the top 10 on the LPGA’s money list in 1950, placing second in the 1962 LPGA Championship and fourth in the Carling Eastern Open that year. Widely considered the LPGA’s resident “trick-shot artist,” Spork would please crowds with golf shots on command and entertain fans in clinics wherever the tour traveled.
Spork likes to tell the story about the day she turned professional at the urging of LPGA star Babe Zaharias. “One day, Babe said, ‘Kid, why don’t you turn pro? We need players out here?’” said Spork. “I told her that I didn’t know how to do it and she popped me on the head and said, ‘Go down there and tell them you’re a pro, and then you are a pro. That’s all there is to it.’” And that was the unceremonious beginning of Spork’s professional playing career.
Because of her reputation and experience as a knowledgeable golf teacher and capable player, custom clubmaker, Golfcraft, Inc., hired Spork as an advisor to the company. It was there that she provided feedback to the development of Golfcraft’s clubs.
An avid outdoorsman who loves to fish and travel in an RV, Spork still teaches golf in Rancho Mirage, Calif., and plays nine holes of golf once a week in spite of two knee and two hip replacements.
Inducted into the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame, Spork’s accolades in the game include being a recipient of the Bryron Nelson Award, the Marilynn Smith Achievement Award, the Joe Graffis Award (1976), the LPGA’s 1998 Ellen Griffin Rolex Award and the 2000 Commissioner’s Award as an LPGA Founder. Sixty-plus years into her golf career, the spirited teacher with the Detroit accent is still out the door to the teaching tee most every day, enthusiastic as ever.
LPGA co-founder Louise Suggs always let her clubs do the talking. Nicknamed “The Little Hogan” by media in the early years, Suggs brought with her to the newly formed professional golf association a sparkling amateur career.
The Georgia native was no stranger to golf fans, as she had wowed media and galleries throughout the 1940s with amateur wins that included two Georgia State Amateur Championships, wins at the 1941 and 1947 Southern Amateur Championship, three wins at the North and South Women’s Amateur Championship, the 1947 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship, the 1948 Women’s British Amateur Championship, and a member of the 1948 U.S. Curtis Cup team.
The sweet-swinging Georgian also won the 1946 Western Amateur Championship and Western Open and defended both titles the following year, adding the 1946 Titleholders to her impressive resume. These tournaments were professional events when Suggs won them as an amateur.
Suggs’ excellence as a player continued when she turned professional in 1948. She won once that year, but captured four tournament titles in 1949, including the U.S. Women’s Open Championship, which she won by 14 strokes over Babe Zaharias. In fact, Suggs won eight tournaments, including five major championships, before the founding of the LPGA in 1950.
In spite of the loss of early LPGA records, Suggs is credited with 58 LPGA career wins and 11 major championships. In 1957, she won the Vare Trophy (for low scoring average) and also became the LPGA’s first player to complete the career grand slam, which included the U.S. Women’s Open, the LPGA Championship, the Western Open and the Titleholders Championship, at that time.
When prize money was limited in the early years, it was not uncommon for the Georgia player and her Atlanta businessman father to put up the purse at some tournaments. Suggs joked that she always had incentive to play well to win back her own cash.
Suggs became one of the six inaugural inductees of the LPGA Hall of Fame, as well as a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, and the LPGA’s Teaching and Club Professionals’ Hall of Fame. Over the years, she was honored with numerous awards, including the Patty Berg Award in 2000, the 2007 Bob Jones Award for “distinguished sportsmanship in golf,” and the William D. Richardson Award in 2008, which recognizes “individuals who have consistently made an outstanding contribution to golf.”
But while her winning record distinguished Suggs as one of the LPGA’s top players, her leadership also placed her at the helm of the association as the LPGA’s president from 1955-1957. And her leadership, both on and off the course, was saluted when the LPGA announced the creation of the Louise Suggs Trophy in 2000, presented annually to the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year.
Mildred Ella Didriksen was the born in 1911 as the child of Norwegian immigrants who settled in Port Arthur, Texas. But this LPGA co-founder and LPGA and World Golf Hall of Fame member became better known as “The Babe” during her lifetime in sports. Moreover, she was the centerpiece for the LPGA Tour in its early days.
Zaharias was an Olympian who was often called the “greatest female athlete in history.” She starred in track and field, winning gold medals and setting or tying world records in the 80-meter hurdles and the javelin, and winning the silver medal in the high jump at the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. She also was an All-American basketball player, earned her nickname after hitting five home runs in a single baseball game in the style of home run king Babe Ruth, and was said to have been equally adept in tennis, bowling, billiards, diving and roller skating.
But it was golf, and specifically, the LPGA, where Zaharias made her final mark. She began focusing on golf in 1934, and won her second tournament a year later at the 1935 Texas Women’s Invitational. Two weeks later, the USGA ruled that she was a professional athlete because of her earnings in baseball and basketball, but she regained her amateur status in 1943, and won 17 amateur events from 1946-47, including the 1946 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship and the 1947 Women’s British Amateur Championship. She turned professional in August 1947.
Taking her showmanship cues from husband George Zaharias, a Greek-American professional wrestler, Babe was said to have shown up at professional tournaments and announced to the media, “The Babe is here! Who is going to finish second?” It was that brashness that rubbed some of her peers the wrong way, but they also recognized her star power in those early years, and all knew it was Zaharias who drove fans through the gates to see the Olympic gold medal winner play golf.
Zaharias didn’t disappoint. Quick with the quips, she would stand on the first tee before she hit her first tee shot and announce that she was going to “loosen my girdle and let it fly.” Her swaggering style and athleticism gave her 41 professional wins, with 10 victories prior to the LPGA’s start in 1950, with 36 professional titles on the LPGA Tour, including 10 major championships. She still holds the LPGA’s record as the player who reached 10 wins, 20 wins and 30 wins the fastest.
She also tried her hand on the PGA Tour in 1945, making two cuts in three tournament starts. Zaharias became the first and only woman to make the tournament cut in a regular PGA Tour event. She entered two of those events by playing a 36-hole qualifier.
In 1953, Zaharias underwent the first of two surgeries for colon cancer, but she battled back and won the 1954 Vare Trophy for the LPGA’s low scoring average. She also won the 1954 U.S. Women’s Open only months after another operation. Zaharias won five times in 1954 and two more events in 1955. The cancer returned and she underwent another surgery in 1956, ultimately succumbing to the disease in September of that year at age 45. The great champion received the 1957 Bobby Jones Award posthumously.
Topics: Berg, Patty, Danoff, Bettye, Hagge, Marlene, Hicks, Helen, Jameson, Betty, Sessions, Sally, Smith, Marilynn, Spork, Shirley, Suggs, Louise, Zaharias, Babe, Bauer, Alice, Dettweiler, Helen, Hill, Opal, Get to know [+]