A full decade of professional women’s golf had been played and there was more to come. For many, that would have been cause for celebration. After all, with the 1950s in the rear-view mirror, that meant the hard part was over, right?
Not so fast.
Don’t get me wrong, everyone was thrilled that they had managed to compete for 10 consecutive years. But no one thought they could rest on their laurels. There was a lot of hard work left to keep the LPGA Tour moving in the right direction.
Sustained growth required a strong stable of stars and serious competitors so fans and corporate America would take them seriously.
Enter Mickey Wright and Kathy Whitworth. A Hollywood casting call could not have yielded two women more perfect (and necessary) for the time.
Woe. Wait -- did you hear that?
Let me try again.
Enter Mickey Wright and Kathy Whitworth.
There. It happened again.
That beautiful, crystal-clear choral note of “AWE” when mentioning something “other worldly”.
Okay so maybe I’m exaggerating - but only slightly. Wright and Whitworth are LPGA Tour royalty. Just saying those two names gives one pause. But imagine these competitors coming to the LPGA Tour at the same time. Holy Birdie Barrage Batman!, to pull a line that only a child of the 60s will get.
The golf community was about to witness history in the making for the next 20 years.
These two players dominated the LPGA Tour from Kennedy’s election to the Age of Aquarius.
They combined for 121 victories in the 60s (Wright - 68, Whitworth - 53) and nine Vare Trophies between 1960 and 1969. Wright set a record for most wins in a season which still stands today with 13 (1963), and Whitworth captured 35 of her 53 victories in just four years (1965-68).
Despite their greatness, Mickey Wright and Kathy Whitworth weren’t the only players making a statement on the golf course. If those two weren’t winning, Carol Mann and Sandra Haynie were. Mann captured her first title in 1964 and went on to win 28 (of her career total 38) titles in this decade while Haynie collected 17 of her 42 career wins in the 60s. And others like Betsy Rawls, who had joined the Tour in the 50s, continued to win in the 60s, capturing her fourth U.S. Women’s Open title at the start of the decade.
These future Hall of Famers were putting the LPGA Tour on the map and letting the world know that serious competition was happening out here.
There could be no doubt about the strong statement that the LPGA Tour was making on the golf course. Off the course, the LPGA was making an equally strong statement on the social and civil rights issues of the day.
The color barrier in women’s professional golf was broken in 1963 when two-time Wimbledon champion Althea Gibson became the first African American to join the LPGA Tour. Four years later Renee Powell followed in her footsteps.
The LPGA Tour had voted down a “Caucasian only” policy several years earlier and throughout the 60s LPGA players strongly supported the equal rights of these women and fought for their acceptance in the game. If they were not allowed into a clubhouse or faced any kind of discrimination, the LPGA refused to hold the tournament at that facility.
The LPGA had not only survived another decade, it had flourished, doubling the number of events and tripling its total prize money. Women’s professional golf had also made its debut on national TV and was gaining popularity.
But for the LPGA Tour to sustain this kind of growth, it was going to need some major corporate support. And it would come in the form of a “Dynamic Duo” that vaulted the LPGA Tour into 70s mainstream American entertainment.
Be sure to read more about the Decade of the 70s coming up next time. Read more about the Decade of the 50s in The Traveling Sisterhood and Pop the Tent.