Hepburn and the New Woman Golfer

Katherine Hepburn: The Early LPGA Rebels Weren’t All on Tour 

The script has been basically the same through the centuries. If a woman wants to do something and boldly exercises her right to do it, there’s a catch, at least in the beginning. Name it, and there is a powder puff or silent version of it to which one is obligated to conform. The woman who refuses to play that part is not a product of the 20th or 21st century. The one who stands up, and sometimes dies for it, goes back to the Old Testamen and beyond.. Among the pioneers of the LPGA, we see the defiant ones in players like Didrikson, who would and could wrestle alligators if there was a medal, title, or paycheck to be gotten out of it. The bumper sticker that reads “Nice women never make history” makes a good and clever point, but isn’t literally true all the time. Among those greats of the early LPGA, there were a lot of nice people, but they didn’t play silent or powder puff golf. And, they had help from the place in western society where everyone has always loved to go – the movies. Who did they see there? They saw movie star Katherine Hepburn making golf movies, doing her own swinging, and wearing pants decades before anyone else. Hepburn, as it turns out, played numerous sports, and was considered a fine golfer.

We can consult the youtube video of the 1952 Pat and Mike, where Hepburn offers a driving demonstration of six teed up balls, hitting all six with barely any preparation. Purportedly, each went around 200 yards, and straight as an arrow. She never let a stunt woman fill in for her, because the stunt woman couldn’t hit the shots she could, and never stood up straight enough.  Hepburn  never took on the submissive female role. If you were ok with that, you could hang around with her. Otherwise, it wasn’t safe to hang around with her, and you were  better off leaving.

From the age of 5, Hepburn perfected her game at the 9 hole course in Connecticut from her house on the 14th fairway. She played with fluidity and grace, but there was no saggy half swing to it. When she hit it, she hit it. She played golf the way she played everything else, with power, a disciplined aggression, and calling her own shots, literally and figuratively. Years before the feminist movement of the late 20th century, Hepburn was reminding the cinematic audience in the west of the statements made by unbending women, from the Biblical Judith to Mickey Wright and the Babe, or  Amelia Earhart and Rosa Parks. In short, those women appear throughout history, but once in a while, one’s got to speak a little louder so that everyone can hear her. For playing golf, what is better than the movies?

Katherine Hepburn has been gone for a while, but she has descendants all over western society.  Between such high profile people, early professional founders, and the many contributors and organizers of youth golf, the woman’s game is thriving all over the world. The movie world is still joining in. Among the best female golfers among celebrities has been Canadian singer Anne Murray. The silky-voiced performer is apparently a no-nonsense, take no prisoners type on the golf course. In the states, actor Tea Leoni is swinging away with a pretty low handicap. Why not? She was elected president on Madame Secretary, so her unapologetic excellence is, shall we say, par for the course. Apparently, Catherine Zeta-Jones, referred to by some as Lady Zorro when the film came out, handles a golf club as well as she did a sword.

Our modern day LPGA pros were developed from the efforts of early pioneers of the game. Added to that, a culturally muscular Hepburn, among others, taught us from the screen that what was happening was a good thing, and the right thing.

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