LPGA Founder and Hall of Fame member Marilynn Smith, whose remarkable life will be celebrated by friends, family and the world of golf in Phoenix tomorrow (May 11), positively influenced the lives of everyone she touched and a heartwarming example of this surfaced just a few days after she passed away on April 9 at the age of 89.
Jim Hawley, a mere teenager when he caddied for Smith at two LPGA Tour events during the late 1960s, wrote a letter to her in late March this year but sadly it never arrived at LPGA headquarters in time for the addressee to read it. That letter, which he penned on March 28, was his first communication with Smith in almost 50 years and it was written as a personal thank-you for the massive impact which she had on him and on his future career.
"She was such an inspiration to me, and she had a huge effect on my life," Hawley, who caddied for Smith at the 1968 Gino Paoli Open and the 1969 Danbury Lady Carling Open in Danbury, Connecticut, told LPGA.com. "She commanded such a presence by just being so sweet, so genuine and so sincere. I really wanted to take a page out of her mannerisms, her attitudes and her reflections. She was such a classy person that she just made you want to take her for a role model. She taught me about respect and honor, and I can hardly say enough good about her. And never did you hear a bad word from her on the course. She loved golf but she kept it all in perspective. I caddied for other ladies and everyone is capable of getting upset and losing it out on the golf course, but she was always the picture of hospitality. You talk about the kind of person you want to have as the poster child for the LPGA. She was it."
Hawley vividly recalls how he first got to carry Smith's bag at his home course, Ridgewood Country Club in Danbury, and how the strong rapport they quickly established led to an unfortunate argument he had with his mother.
"I was aged just 16 but I had gotten pretty senior in my status at the Ridgewood Country Club as a caddie and it kind of went by what status you had and who you wanted to caddie for," Hawley said. "I had seen Marilynn in years previous and I knew that I wanted to caddie for her, and so I did! It was a wonderful, wonderful relationship. I wanted to make it a fulltime job, but my mother insisted that I needed to go to school and get into college. So I only caddied for Marilynn at Ridgewood for those two tournaments. Unfortunately that caused one of the biggest arguments I ever had with my mother. I wanted to go on tour with Marilynn but my mother forbade it. I often wonder how things might have turned out otherwise."
The opportunity to caddie for Smith in 1968 and 1969 was a dream come true for Hawley. One of the 13 pioneering women who founded the LPGA in 1950, Smith had established herself among the biggest names in the game and she ended her glittering professional career with a total of 21 victories on the LPGA Tour, including two major championships.
REMEMBERING ‘MISS PERSONALITY’
Yet for all her achievements on the golf course as a fierce and highly successful competitor, Smith was remembered even more for her warm-hearted nature and her generosity of spirit. She was nicknamed ‘Miss Personality’ by her fellow Founders because of her ultra-friendly nature and her outgoing presentations on behalf of women's golf.
"I never saw a sweeter, kinder or gentler woman who could hit the daylights out of the golf ball," said Hawley. "In those days, the LPGA was giving out cars to the players. They were white, I think they were Pontiacs, and I always remember seeing her car because it had her name on it, 'Marilynn Smith, Miss Personality'. She paid me WAY more than I was worth, and she made me feel like a million dollars.”
Asked how much money he received from Smith, Hawley chuckled: “She gave me $100 a day which, for a 16-year-old kid in the late sixties, was a gold rush! I don't recall having discussions with other caddies about how much money they got but I always felt like I was the highest paid. That was so much money for a kid back in that time and I was just overwhelmed. And she paid me in cash every day.”
Hawley, who enjoyed a long career with the Eastman Kodak Company before retiring five years ago, has just one regret – that he and Smith never crossed paths again after their player-caddie association in 1968 and 1969 came to an end.
“Although my caddying career went through my college days, the LPGA never came back to Danbury,” said Hawley, who now spends as much as time as possible with his children and grandchildren when he is not doing volunteer work for Kairos Prison Ministry, a Christian faith-based ministry that addresses the spiritual needs of incarcerated men, women, youth and their families.
“I’ve followed the LPGA all my life and I've been to several LPGA Tour events since then, but I never saw Marilynn in any of them. It just tickled me, year in and year out, to see her on TV at the Founders Cup in Phoenix. I always pointed her out to my wife, children, grandchildren and friends. And I kept saying to myself, 'Jimmy, you just want to go to that tournament, go meet her and say hi again.' That had certainly crossed my mind since I have been in retirement and it's too bad now that I left it too late. I can only wish we had made that connection while she was still alive. What a wonderful person, what a wonderful life."