Berning, Four-Time Major Winner Inducted
Considering that an induction into the World Hall of Fame is a big deal after all that effort, I’m always surprised that in golf, the process is so quiet. I’ve listened to induction speeches at football’s shrine in Canton, Ohio, and baseball is always a “What about Pete Rose?” festival. But golf? Sometimes a Hall of Famer is met with “Gee, that’s great, but who knew?” At least this year, they told me about it not too long after the fact. Tim Finchem and Marion Hollis are in, but the one that caught my eye is Susie Maxwell Berning.
Berning piled up a heap of statistics that would warrant such an honor at the outset, but there’s so much more to this player She didn’t want to lose a traditional life while she competed, and balanced out a family and a tournament regimen to a, pardon the expression, ‘tee.’ Born in Pasadena, California, she moved to Oklahoma City at the age of 13, cutting a swath through the academic golf ranks through the University of Oklahoma playing against the men. Her coach was the legendary basketball coach, Abe Lemons, who listed her as Sam so the opposing men wouldn’t know she was their next match. She won the bulk of them.
The ironic part of it is that she got into the game because of a runaway horse. Chasing it down the fairway of the Lincoln Park Golf Club, the head pro and other course officials were chasing her. Once caught, the ordinary thing for the pro to do was call the police, but asked Berning to teach his children how to ride instead. On the way off the course, she stopped to watch Patty Berg giving a demonstration and class, and it perked her imagination. The next thing she knew, she was in the clubhouse with Mickey Wright, Berg, Kathy Whitworth and Judy Rankin.
As a pro, she won eleven times, including four majors, three of them U.S. Women’s Opens. The Western Open win came in ’68, and the three U.S. Opens were won in ’68, ’72, ’73. The ’72 win came two years after the birth of her first daughter in over nearest rival Rankin, who had been a maid of honor at her wedding. With her interest in family, Berning’s statistics were attained in a curtailed schedule of tournaments, and by early retirement. Now, at 78 years of age, she speaks of the entire life experience fondly, particularly of how kindly she was treated by Patty Berg at the onset.
The LPGA had no day care in those days, and Berning recalls having to withdraw from one tournament because she couldn’t find a babysitter. Common references are made to a woman’s superior ability to multi-task, but science suggests that in reality, no one truly does that. However, in my experience, there have been a greater number of women who are expertly organized and committed to detail than men. Putting together a practice, travel, and playing regimen has got to be a stellar example of such qualities for someone with a family, and only a person built to last can do it.
Berning didn’t end it with golf once she stopped playing. A highly respected teacher with the Nicklaus Flick Golf Schools, she has maintained a relationship with the game as teacher or administrator of some sort. She reminds us that ultimately, we have to “swing the club,” not try to tear the cover off the ball with our core. She never had huge distance, but her swing efficiency seemed to neutralize that. That’s an awful lot of majors for a short career.
So, I appreciate someone telling me about the induction of Berning into the Hall of Fame,, and the life that got her there. Next time, I’d like to see the powers-that-be make a little more hoopla about a life that well-lived and a game that well-played.