The unfolding history of any organization will more than likely raise many questions about 'what if….?', but one question that can never be answered about the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) dates back to a bloodcurdling incident that took place in Kentucky almost 80 years ago.
Nine years before the LPGA was founded by 13 brave and remarkably talented women, one of the brightest stars of amateur golf in the United States was brutally murdered in an apartment at Lexington Country Club after she had rushed into the living room to assist her mother during a burglary.
Marion Miley was a two-time winner of the Trans championship, the Women’s Southern, the Women’s Western Amateur and also the Western Derby, while she had also recorded victories in the Mexican Women’s Open and the Augusta Invitational. The daughter of a club professional, Miley was a long hitter and a streaky putter who represented her country at the 1938 Curtis Cup.
She was the complete package: brilliant at golf, photogenic, a lover of fashion and someone who could engage easily with anyone - whether that person mowed the fairways at a golf club or dazzled the viewer while acting in a Hollywood movie. Miley took part in more than 100 charity golf exhibitions and she was wined and dined by entertainers such as Bing Crosby and W.C. Fields, as well as by baseball players, horsemen and politicians.
Tragically though, at the tender age of 27 and with the golf world seemingly at her feet, she was shot in the head and back before collapsing to the floor in her home, dead. Her mother Elsa, aged 50, was badly wounded during the same incident and died three days later after slipping into a coma.
Just for a moment, pretend that this horrific event never took place, that Miley continued to shine as a golfer and then consider the big 'what if…?'. What are the odds that Miley might have gone on to become one of the Founders of the LPGA?
In 1950, Shirley Spork, Marilynn Smith, Louise Suggs and 10 other women had the vision to establish the LPGA and nine years later, with the fledgling Tour having expanded to 29 events spread across a nine-month season, this band of pioneering professionals finally set up the LPGA Teaching Division after overcoming a few roadblocks along the way. Had Miley still been alive when the LPGA was born, she would have been 36 and in her golfing prime.
Interestingly enough, Miley had been something of a role model for Suggs, who carved out a sensational amateur career herself before turning professional in 1948, and she won a total of 11 major championship titles to earn her place in both the LPGA and World Golf Halls of Fame.
According to the USGA Golf Museum Oral History Collection, Atlanta-born Suggs was asked in the early 1990s which players had a major influence on her own career and she replied: "Dot Kirby has as much as anybody because she was right there in Atlanta. Let’s see, Dot’s 92 now, and I was 10 when she won the state title at 13. And I said, 'That’s what I want to do.' You know, that kind of a thing. And I did sort of ape Dot in that respect."
Suggs won the Georgia State Amateur in 1940 at the age of 16, and again in 1942.
"Strangely enough, another one (who had a profound influence on me) that you’ve probably never heard of is Marion Miley," said Suggs, who died in 2015 aged. "She was killed defending her mother in the club up there. That was in the forties, I guess."
Whether the influence of Miley on Suggs would have translated into Miley potentially becoming one of the LPGA's Founders had fate not intervened on that horrific night on Sept. 28, 1941 will never be known.
LPGA Founders Spork and Smith have their doubts.
"Marion Miley was before my time," Spork, who is now a spritely 90-year-old, told LPGA.com. "She played a lot of golf with Louise Suggs and Betty Jameson - that era. She played a lot of amateur golf before the LPGA or the Women's Professional Golf Association even started. I don't think she had any influence at all (on the forming of the LPGA)."
Smith concurred, saying: "I never knew her (Marion) and we didn't even think about starting the LPGA at that time, in the early 1940s."
Miley, however, will never be forgotten.
Rhonda Glenn, in an absorbing article entitled 'The Tragic Death Of Marion Miley' (which was posted on the USGA website on April 30, 2010), wrote: "Nearly 70 years after her death, she (Miley) is a ghostly presence wafting through the annals of the game.
“If she is remembered at all, it’s because she is the only fine player in the insular world of golf to be murdered in her prime. Surely she is worth remembering, for her life as well as her tragic death."