The list of those who’ve won the U.S. Women’s Open at least three times is brief and powerful. Mickey Wright and Betsy Rawls have four. Babe Zaharias, Hollis Stacy and Annika Sorenstam captured three. Also managing the triple is a name less familiar to the casual fan – Susie Maxwell Berning.
Now Berning rightfully joins the other five in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Berning, who was at her best when it meant the most, with four of her 11 career LPGA Tour wins coming in major championships, was elected to the class of 2021 along with Tiger Woods, former PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem and Marion Hollins, a pioneer player and developer.
Berning’s Hall of Fame resume started on the playing fields of Oklahoma and ended on the practice tees of Nevada and Palm Springs, where she is an acclaimed teacher. Along the way, her LPGA journey landed Susie in some very elite company.
In addition to being among that heady half-dozen who won the U.S. Women’s Open three or more times, Berning is one of only seven to win the Open in back-to-back years, which she managed in 1972-73. She’s also on one of the most exclusive lists in all of golf – mothers who’ve won major championships.
That Berning managed to win 11 times is remarkable, considering she always placed her personal life above her professional pursuits. In 1968, she played only nine events because she took time off for a honeymoon after marrying Dale Berning, yet she still won the first of her three U.S. Women’s Open titles that year.
In 1970, she played only seven events when she was pregnant with her daughter Robin then came back to win the Women’s Open in 1972 and ‘73. And, in 1977, she made only two appearances while giving birth to her daughter Cindy. At the peak of her career – a 10-year span from 1968 through 1977 – Berning averaged fewer than 13 tournaments a year.
The list of women who’ve won an LPGA Tour major after becoming a mother is as short and as exclusive as those who’ve won the U.S. Women’s Open three or more times, including Nancy Lopez, Juli Inkster and Catriona Matthew. And when Berning played the Tour, the Smucker’s Child Development Center had yet to become a traveling fixture helping working moms on the LPGA.
“In my second year, I think I played every tournament," Berning said. In fact, she played 30 events in both 1965 and 1966 and 26 in 1967.
“When I joined the Tour in 1964, we had to play every week because the Tour needed us to keep the sponsors happy,” she said. “After I got married in 1968, when I won the Open, I had played one tournament before that, but I hadn't played in like four weeks before that because I was on my honeymoon.”
Susie Maxwell was born July 22, 1941, in Pasadena, Calif. Her family moved to Oklahoma City when she was 13 years old and she took up golf at 15, quickly mastering the game. She won both the Oklahoma State High School Championship and the Oklahoma City Women’s Amateur three consecutive times. She also won the 1963 Oklahoma Women’s Amateur and was the first woman to get a golf scholarship to Oklahoma City University, where she played on the men’s team.
Maxwell joined the LPGA in 1964 and was the Rolex Rookie of the Year. She picked up her first professional win at the 1965 Muskogee Civitan and later that year won the Western Open, a major championship at the time. In 1967, she won the Louise Suggs Invitational and the Milwaukee Open. But it was in the majors that she played her best.
“I found myself giving more attention and more focus to every shot during a major,” Berning said. “When it came time for the majors, for some reason, I tried harder. I often asked myself, ‘Why can't I try that hard in a regular tournament?’ And I don't know the answer to that.”
Berning won her first U.S. Women’s Open in 1968 at Moselem Springs Golf Club near Reading, Pa., finishing three strokes ahead of Mickey Wright, who already had four Women’s Open trophies. A newlywed of less than two months, Berning led wire to wire, closing with a 71 to hold off Wright’s hard-charging 68.
Berning triumphed again in the 1972 U.S. Women's Open at Winged Foot after finishing tenth in her previous start, also a major. “I probably went into that year's Open with some confidence because I'd finished pretty good in the LPGA Championship,” said Berning, who won at Winged Foot by one stroke over Kathy Ahern, Pam Barnett, and Judy Rankin.
“When you're playing good, you want to continue playing in tournaments and at that time I didn't play in every tournament because I was married and I was raising a family,” Berning said. “I had a two-year-old daughter, so I played maybe just 10 or 11 tournaments that year.”
Berning is especially proud of the fact that she won at Winged Foot despite a first-round 79. “To this day, that's still the highest opening round of any winner of the U.S. Women's Open,” she said.
Berning picked up her third U.S. Women’s Open – and successfully defended the title – in 1973 at Rochester Country Club. She opened with a solid 72 but faltered to 77 in a second round that included four three-putt greens. That night, Dale handed her a lighter putter he bought for $5. She practiced with it in their motel room and closed 69-72 to win by five strokes over Gloria Ehret and Shelley Hamlin on her 32ndbirthday. In photos, Susie has the trophy in one hand and Robin in the other.