Babe Didrickson Zaharias
"The Queen of Golf"
||When you begin researching Mildred
Babe Didrickson Zaharias and her athletic accomplishments you wonder if this was really all done
by the same person or was there more than one Babe running around.
Realizing there was in fact only one it becomes a little easier
and then once deciding a concentration on just her golfing feats it becomes
However no article on the Babe is complete without mentioning that
in 1932 at the age of 21 she competed in the Olympic Games. She qualified in
five events but was allowed to participate in only three. She took home 2 Gold Medals
and a Silver Medal, with the Silver being somewhat controversial in that her
high jump was clearly the best but she was "penalized" because her
method (now the standard for all high jumpers) at the time was considered
Now to the golf. Babe's
golfing career began in 1930 in Houston where she attended a golf
exhibition put on by the greatest of them all, Bobby Jones. Although she
enjoyed the exhibition and appreciated Jones's superior skills, golf itself did not catch her fancy.
A couple years later while living in Dallas
she found her self with some friends at the El Tivoli Golf Club. Her plan
was to walk with her friends while they played, but they would have none of that. So with
borrowed clubs, balls and a young caddie by the name of Lloyd Mangrum (
1946 US Open Champion ), in Babe's own words ".....played five holes
then quit thinking it was a silly game."
Later that year , but still in Dallas
she found herself at a driving range with her sponsor and mentor Colonel
McCombs and although she was pounding her drives 250 yards+ to the amazement of
the Colonel and the Scottish range owner, Babe herself just sort of took it
all in and "Ho-Hummed it" not giving it much if any thought.
In 1932 at the Olympics in
Los Angeles Babe
befriended and was like wise befriended by the top sports writer of the
times Grantland Rice who in turn invited her out to Brentwood for a
friendly round of golf. She graciously accepted and somehow managed to
squeeze in her 1st "golf lesson" with Olin Dutra.
She and Grantland won their
match thank's to Rice's good play and Babe was hooked. In fact hooked so
bad she packed up her mother and father in the spring of 1933 and headed
to California where she dedicated herself to learning the game of golf.
With the help of professional Stan Kertes and hours on practice (many
days from sunrise until midnight under the range lights).
Upon returning to Texas Babe
spent every spare minute working on her golf game, from putting on the
office carpet during lunch breaks to 16 hour days on weekends. Squeezing
in lessons with George Aulbach head professional at the Dallas Country
Club where her employer, Employer's Causality, provided her with a
By November 1934 she was
ready for her first tournament and entered the Fort Worth Women's
Invitational where she took the qualifying medal and was instantly
eliminated in the first round of match play. With this experience
behind her set her sites on the Texas State Women's Championship, and as
she wrote. "I'd hit balls until my hands were bloody and sore. I'd
have tape all over my hands, and blood all over the tape."
Mrs. Zaharias in an effort to continually improve her game
found her way to the lesson tee even during the height of her career. Many of
her teachers were among the game's greats; Olin Dutra 1932 PGA Champion, 1934 US
Open Champion; Jack Burke Sr.; Tommy Armour 1927 US Open Champion, 1930
PGA Champion, 1931 British Open Champion; Stan Kertes; George Aulbach; and Gene Sarazen 1922 & 1932 US Open Champion, 1922,23
& 33 PGA Champion, 1932 British Open Champion, 1935 Master Champion, not
surprisingly Sarazen was instrumental in Babe learning the finer points of "sand
Come April 1935 she was
ready, entered the Texas State Women's Championship at the River Oaks
Country Club in Houston and on April 27th walked away with her first
36 hole match being the fiercest and most viscous she would ever play.
The glow of victory however
was somewhat short lived as on May 14th the United States Golf
Association declared Babe a professional and ineligible for women's
amateur tournaments. Although this was only the 2nd tournament in which
she had ever played, and she had not even entertained the thought of being
a professional golfer the USGA made the ruling according to Archie M. Reid
"for the best interest of the game."
Babe was disappointed
because what she wanted was high level tournament play and at the time all
women's high level tournament were amateur. However Babe figured if they
are going to declare me a pro I might as well be one and signed a contract
with P. Goldsmith and Sons which would later merge with MacGregor Golf
Company. Before long she found herself on the exhibition circuit with
friend Gene Sarazen and began criss-crossing the country. Although she
made a goodly sum of money the only real tournament Babe got to play in
was the Western Women's Open.
After almost 5 years Babe
still craved the high level competitive action and in April 1940 asked the
USGA to reinstate her amateur status. The USGA agreed if Babe went through
a 3 year waiting period which meant NO tournaments, amateur or
Not long into her waiting
period WWII broke out and most tournaments were put on hold anyway. However
during this time Babe found herself being asked to play exhibition matches
for various war effort charities. The USGA permitted these and as a result
Babe at least had some competition to keep her mental game a
When time rolled around for
golf tournaments to resume in 1946 Babe had served out almost double her
required 3 year waiting period and was ready to go, and go she did.
Winning 17 or her next 18 tournaments. This list from
BabeZaharias.org the official site for the Babe Zaharias Museum in
Beaumont Texas tells the story.
Babe won 3 in a row in 1946:
- 1946 Trans-Mississippi at the Denver Country
Club Denver Colorado, beat Polly Riley in finals, 6 & 5.
- Broadmoor Invitational-Colorado Springs, beat Dot Kielty 6 & 4.
- All-American Championship at Tam O’Shanter, 310 (medal play).
She lost one, then went on to 14 amateur victories in a row from
- 1946 U.S. Women’s Amateur- played at Southern Hills Country
Club Tulsa, Oklahoma beating Clara Callender Sherman 11 & 9 for
the biggest margin in the history of the tournament.
- Texas Women’s Open, beat Betty Hicks 5 & 3.
- Tampa Women’s Open, won by five strokes.
- Helen Lee Doherty Women’s Amateur-Miami, beat Margaret Gunther 12 &
10. Qualified eight below women’s par with 68 and four under men’s par.
Babe was only one stroke off the men’s record for the course.
- Florida Mixed Two-Ball, Partnership with Gerald Walker, won on 31st hole.
- Palm Beach Women’s Amateur, beat Jean Hopkins, 1 up.
- Women’s International Four-Ball-Hollywood, FL, with Peggy Kirk, beat
Louis Suggs and Jean Hopkins in 18 hole playoff, 4 & 2.
- South Atlantic Women’s Championship-Ormond Beach, FL beat Peggy Kirk 5
- Florida East Coast Women’s Championship-San Augustine, beat Mary Agnes
Wall 2 & 1.
- Women’s Titleholder-Augusta, overcame 10 stroke lead by Dorothy
Kirby to win with 304, by five strokes.
- North and South Women’s Amateur- Pinehurst, beat Louise Suggs on 2nd
- National Celebrities in Washington, DC
British Women’s Amateur-Gullane, Scotland, beat Jacqueline Gordon.
- Broadmoor Match Play, beat Dot Kielty 10 & 9.
Shortly after the British Amateur and
Broadmoor tournaments to lure of the professional dollars came along, but
this time around it came the with prospects of high level professional
women's tournaments including a United States Women's Open and co-founding
of the LPGA Tour. Babe turned pro, this time on her terms and what a pro
she would become winning 31 official tournaments in only 69 career
But first it was back out on the
exhibition circuit, this time though she was not part of the show, she was
the show, north to south, east to west. One stop along the route would
start a bond with Boston sports fans that would carry way beyond the
exhibition match's final hole .
Mrs. Zaharias's tournament record her pro
career was no less than spectacular winning 31 of 69 career tour starts
for a startling winning percentage of 44.9 %. Even more staggering is her
United States Women's Open record;
Gullane Golf Club
Course 1, Hole 7
August 12 to 15 1948 - Champion, winning
her 1st US Open at Atlantic City Country Club,
Northfield NJ "The Birthplace of the Birdie". Winning by 8 strokes
over former United States Women's Amateur champion and 1st LPGA President Betty
September 22 to 25, 1949 - Runner-up at
Georges Golf and Country Club in Landover,
Maryland. Babe finished a stunning 14 strokes behind the winner the great
Louise Suggs. Upon winning the tournament Louise became the 2nd woman
to win both the US Amateur Golfing Championship and the US Women's Open Golf
Championship. As of this writing in 2014 Louise and Babe remain the only 2
golfers to accomplish this feat.
September 27-30, 1950
Champion, winning her 2nd US Open at Rolling Hills Country Club, Wichita Kansas ,
Mrs. Zaharias won by a 9
stroke margin over future US Open Champion and Hall of Famer Betsy Rawls who finished even par.
September 13 to 16, 1951 - Babe finished 3rd
Hills Golf Club in Atlanta,
Georgia, Babe finished 6 strokes behind winner Betsy Rawls and one stroke
behind runner-up Louise Suggs.
missed the 1952 US Women's Open Golf Championship as she was recovering
hernia surgery, however she did serve as honorary starter. She missed the 1953
Open recovering from her cancer surgery.
June 30 - July 3, 1954
Champion, winning her 3rd and final US Women's Open Golf Championship at Salem Country
Club, Peabody, Massachusetts. Winning with a tournament
total of 291 and 12 stroke margin over runner up over Betty Hicks, Babe's 1954
United States Women's Open is considered by many the most courageous golfing
Zaharias would play in a few more tournaments after the Open including the Tam
O'Shanter All American where she missed tying her own record by one stroke but
found soon after she simply could not stay strong enough for four full rounds.
She decided to spent more time time and home and write her autobiography with
Harry Paxton. She completed her book in early September 1955, and passed away
September 27, 1956.
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"Babe" Didrickson Zaharias and her athletic accomplishments,
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