LPGA Founders and the 70th Anniversary

What Would the Founders of the LPGA Think Today?

The beginning of the 2020 season for women’s golf wasn’t just spectacular because of what Gaby Lopez did in the Diamond Resorts Championship. It’s not even what she might do this week. Someone is going to be the inaugural winner of a new tournament, the Gainbridge LPGA, played in Boca Rio, Florida., one of two new tournaments this year, it’s all a good sign for the LPGA. It makes me wonder what the founding mothers of the women’s tour would see today, and what they would think of it all.

Those LPGA pioneers include Alice Bauers. We lost her in 2002. Marlene Bauer is still here, having made her contribution to the women’s tour at the age of 16.  Patty Berg, hero to many in the 1950s, lived to 2005, Bettye Danoff to 2011. Helen Dettweiler lived until 1990. She is among my favorites, because when she stopped by to give a few exhibition golf lessons at Neskowin Beach, Oregon, I got a couple minutes in with her. That was heady stuff for a young kid just getting started. Helen Hicks died in 1974, and we lost Opal Hill in 1981. I certainly would have loved to meet the woman behind that smile, Betty Jameson was here until 2009, and Sully Sessions to 1966. The great Marilyn Smith died only last year in April of 2019, and Louise Suggs in 2015. Babe Didrikson seems as much here as ever, but only got to see the first years of her tour, dying in 1956. Shirley Spork is still here.

Some have gotten to see the modern result of their efforts, but most have not. What would they have appreciated the most about today’s LPGA pros and their tour that houses them every year? They would see a tour with a vastly larger number of tournaments. They would be mind-boggled by the prize money that seems to increase every year. The television coverage negotiated so well by commissioner Mike Whan would seem stunning in terms of exposure. In particular, the end-of-the-year CME blast, with its million dollar bonus would be staggering. Those who are no longer with us might take special enjoyment in seeing their industry’s descendants play against one another at Augusta in Georgia as amateurs. Who would have ever seen that coming in the ’50s?
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What about the players? Ads during the tournaments have teased us with Bobby Jones and his pals coming out of the ether to watch this new kid, Tiger Woods, fading away again in amazement.The LPGA founders would have seen new whizkid women coming from all over the globe, with names more difficult to pronounce than Smith or Jones. They would have seen 14-year olds like Lydia Ko win sanctioned tour events, and they would have seen golf included in the international Olympic Games again for the first time since the early 20th century.

Of course, they probably wouldn’t have responded to the same thing in the same ways. Some might bask in what has become of women’s golf, but I have a hunch Babe Didrikson would have said “Lemme at ’em. I can beat ’em.” Of all the spectacular things that have happened to the LPGA since the early days, the one that might be appreciated as much as anything else is the state of youth golf for girls, all the way through the collegiate programs and Q-school.

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As those of the younger professional generation should salute the women who gave them the game, I believe that the reverse would also be appropriate. The LPGA pro of the last decades have developed into insanely excellent players, competing week to week in a first rate field. The modern industry has retained its kindness, taking care of members in trouble, and pouring enormous hours into charitable events amid the hunt for victories.

When Babe Didrikson signed up for an exhibition during her career, she once remarked, “And I’ll bring a few of the girls along with me.” As it turns out, she had no idea.


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