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 easier still. 

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 unorthodox.

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 membership.

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."



Golf Lessons

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 wedge play"



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 championship, the final 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 professional. 

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 little fresh.

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 the official site for the Babe Zaharias Museum in Beaumont Texas tells the story. 

Babe won 3 in a row in 1946:

  1. 1946 Trans-Mississippi at the Denver Country Club Denver Colorado, beat Polly Riley in finals, 6 & 5.
  2. Broadmoor Invitational-Colorado Springs, beat Dot Kielty 6 & 4.
  3. All-American Championship at Tam OíShanter, 310 (medal play).

 She lost one, then went on to 14 amateur victories in a row from 1946-47: 

  1. 1946 U.S. Womenís 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.
  2. Texas Womenís Open, beat Betty Hicks 5 & 3.
  3. Tampa Womenís Open, won by five strokes.
  4. Helen Lee Doherty Womenís Amateur-Miami, beat Margaret Gunther 12 & 10. Qualified eight below womenís par with 68 and four under menís par.  Babe was only one stroke off the menís record for the course.
  5. Florida Mixed Two-Ball, Partnership with Gerald Walker, won on 31st hole.
  6. Palm Beach Womenís Amateur, beat Jean Hopkins, 1 up.
  7. Womenís International Four-Ball-Hollywood, FL, with Peggy Kirk, beat Louis Suggs and Jean Hopkins in 18 hole playoff, 4 & 2.
  8. South Atlantic Womenís Championship-Ormond Beach, FL beat Peggy Kirk 5 & 4.
  9. Florida East Coast Womenís Championship-San Augustine, beat Mary Agnes Wall 2 & 1.
  10. Womenís Titleholder-Augusta,  overcame 10 stroke lead by Dorothy Kirby to win with 304, by five strokes.
  11. North and South Womenís Amateur- Pinehurst, beat Louise Suggs on 2nd extra hole.
  12. National Celebrities in Washington, DC
  13. 1947 British Womenís Amateur-Gullane, Scotland, beat Jacqueline Gordon.
  14. 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 starts. 

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 Hicks. 

September 22 to 25, 1949 - Runner-up  at Prince 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 at Druid Hills Golf Club in Atlanta, Georgia, Babe finished 6 strokes behind winner Betsy Rawls and one stroke behind runner-up Louise Suggs.

Babe 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 display ever.

Mrs. 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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