Louise Suggs, Co-founder of LPGA Dies at 91
Great institutions move forward from generation to generation, but the special nature of the founding era can never be matched. The age of discovery and establishment is wholly unique, and losing the parent generation of any great organization is difficult to bear. The LPGA Tour must deal with just that this week, as one of its greatest luminaries has succumbed at the age of 91 – the great Louise Suggs. It is fitting that Ms. Suggs was Georgia-born, considering the tradition of Augusta that has stood at the center of the men’s game. In terms of competitiveness, in fact, she wasn’t afraid of anyone, men included.
Mike Whan claims that the passing of Louise Suggs feels like losing a parent, and that is literally what has happened. One of the original thirteen co-founders of the women’s tour in America, Suggs was among the greatest of the great players, and among the rare personalities that could stand up to the brilliant and audacious Babe Didrikson Zaharias, on the tee and on the leaderboard. The two were, at times, bitter rivals, and an eventual reconciliation was hard to bring about.
Suggs occupies a high place in every Hall of Fame to which a female golfer can be inducted. Failing to honor her in this way would be unthinkable. When St. Andrews began to admit women as members, she was among the first in line. Her record as a player, and as three-time President of the fledgling tour was too potent to ignore.
As an amateur, Suggs won everything in sight, as had her idol, Bobby Jones. Not failing to notice the gifted swing mechanics of her male counterpart, she produced an enormous and consistent distance off the tee, despite her diminutive stature. Ben Hogan and other great male players were to comment on her power through the years. As a professional, Suggs continued her winning ways, capturing 61 titles and 11 majors. She won something during every year of her playing career, and yet finished with career earnings of only 190,000 – plus change.
Being a pioneer of the new tour, the money just wasn’t there for the women, not the way it would come to be in future decades, albeit still lagging behind the men. On one hand, Suggs was her customarily frank self in wishing out loud that she had played for such figures, but quickly added that without her efforts, and the efforts of the other founders, the following generations of women wouldn’t be playing for anything, either.
For a generation that believed the Annika or Michelle versus the men phenomenon was new, we must look at a 1961 tournament that pitted Suggs against the likes of Sam Snead and Dow Finsterwald. The only difference between her era and our modern-day tournaments is that she won against the men, and it must be said that Snead didn’t like it one bit. In a famous conversation-ender, it is said that Suggs reminded Snead during his tantrum that she didn’t know what he was “bitching” about, since he didn’t even come in second. Apparently, he burned a good deal of rubber exiting the parking lot.
Suggs considers that her life in golf was not such a bad one, and somewhat of a surprise, since she came out of a baseball family. Her thoughts on one’s commitment to the game likened a golf career to a love affair, in which not taking it seriously fails to get you on the podium, and that taking it too seriously eventually breaks your heart. The LPGA’s heart is broken today. From today forward, the young stars who did not get to meet her will only be able to hear about her second hand. Those who are a little older are more fortunate. They got to meet Louise Suggs, one of the mothers of the LPGA Tour.