Berg, LPGA Founder, Dies At 88
Mickey Wright: She Didn't Get Due
As Fine Golfer
September 10, 2006
, 88, the first United States Women's Open Champion, first
president of the Ladies Professional Golf Association, and one of
golf's greatest ambassadors, died in Ft. Myers, Fla.,
|Patty Berg celebrates with the Women's
Amateur trophy after winning in 1938. (USGA Photo
She won the 1938 United States Women's Amateur Championship,
one of 28 career amateur championship victories in a seven-year
period. As a professional, had 60 career victories, including
a record 15 major championships, three as an amateur. She was
a member of two USA Curtis Cup teams, in 1936 and 1938.
She turned professional in 1940 at the behest of the Wilson
Sporting Goods Company and represented the company in hundreds of
clinics and exhibitions promoting golf equipment. Over the
years, a multitude of golf fans heard her comedic routines and
solid golf knowledge in performances in the and in .
"She carried the name of and the LPGA into every corner of the
golfing world," said . "People came to see her time after
time, always laughing at the jokes, always admiring the crisp
shots, and always loving ."
Although she was one of the most skilled players in history,
Berg's big personality nearly overshadowed her talent and she
was much in demand for public appearances long after she competed
in her last tournament, in 1980.
wracked up one of the finest amateur and professional records in
the game. When she played in the first U.S. Women's Open
in 1946, it was conducted under the auspices of the Women's
Professional Golf Association and she survived a grueling week of
match play to become champion.
|Patty Berg and Babe Zaharias, friends off
the course, share a light moment. (USGA Photo Archives)|
"Thirty-six holes of qualifying, then the matches, then
finally a 36-hole semifinal match and a 36-hole final (against
)," Berg later recalled, "Whew! That was a lotta
was born Feb. 13, 1918 in Minneapolis, Minn. A champion ice skater
as a youngster, Berg's legend included a childhood stint as the
quarterback of the "50
Street Tigers," a neighborhood football team that featured at
tackle. "We only had one play - 22," she recalled.
"I'd yell, '22!' and everyone would run every
turned to golf at the age of 13, ("My mother didn't see
any future in football for me.") and honed her skills at
Interlochen Country Club. She always pointed to winning the
1934 Minneapolis Women's City Championship as a 16 year old as
the turning point of her competitive golf career.
In the 1930s, her father, , encouraged her philanthropy and
arranged fund-raising golf exhibitions for and other young
athletes. The small gang barnstormed the Midwest raising
money for charity. It was in these appearances that acquired
the rollicking, wise-cracking style that entertained crowds.
University of Minnesota Development Fund
LPGA Hall of Fame
World Golf Hall of Fame
LPGA Teaching & Club Pro Hall of Fame
PGA of America Hall of Fame
Women's Sports Hall of Fame
University of Minnesota Hall of Fame
American Sports Hall of Fame
Minnesota Sports Hall of Fame
Florida Sports Hall of Fame
Associated Press Woman Athlete of the Year 1938, 1945, 1955
1959: Award, Golf Writers Association of
1963: Award, Golf Association,
1975: Graffis Award, National Golf Foundation
1975: Award, Golf Writers Association of
1976: Humanitarian Sports Award, United Cerebral Palsy
1978: Gold Tee Award, Metropolitan Golf Writers
1981: Herb Graffis Award, National Golf Foundation
1982: Award, Golf Writers Association of
1983: National Golf Foundation Honorary Consultant
1987: Female Contributor to Sports Award, United States Sports
1988: 100 Heroes of the Game, Golf Magazine
1988: Golfer of the Decade, (1938-47) Golf Magazine
1988: Honoree, ' Memorial Tournament
1990: Award, LPGA
1991: All-American Collegiate Hall of Fame
1993: Patty Berg Cancer Center dedicated
1994: Meritorious Golf Award
1994: Courage Award
1994: Van Achievement Award
1995: Distinguished Service Award, PGA
1995: Big Ten Centennial Award
1995: University of Minnesota Women's Athletics Department
Hall of Fame
1995: Sisterhood Award
1995: National Conference of Christians and Jews Award
1995: EWG Leadership Award, Executive Women's Golf League
1996: J. Rebholz Distinguished Service Award
1997: Sprint Lifetime Achievement Award
1998: National Golf Course Owners Association Award of Merit
2000: 50 Greatest Golfers of All Time, Golf Digest
2000: LPGA Top 50 Teachers and Players
2000: Solheim Cup Honorary Chairperson
2003: Marine Corps Sports Hall of Fame
2005: Distinguished Achievement Award, The Fisher Center of
Alzheimer's Research Foundation
Her amateur career was virtually unequalled and she became the
first to win the Women's Western Amateur, the Women's
Trans-Mississippi and the U.S. Women's Amateur in the same year
in, a feat matched only by in 1998. She won five straight
championships (1936-40). As an amateur she won three straight
Titleholders (1937-39), a major championship open to professionals.
During World War II (1942-45), was a lieutenant in the Women's
Marine Corps, assigned to recruiting duties.
As a pro, first competed in the few events conducted by the
Women's Professional Golf Association, an organization
eventually supplanted by the Ladies Professional Golf Association.
The LPGA was founded in 1950 after Berg, promoter , Babe Zaharias
and her husband met in Miami and determined that women's
professional golf needed to be run on a business-like basis.
The LPGA began with Corcoran as Tournament Director and 13 founding
players, with Berg serving as the association's first
president, in 1950 and '51.
A good friend of Babe Zaharias, Berg and "The Babe,"
whose dramatic antics often overshadowed Berg, entertained budding
women's golf fans in exhibitions and went head-to-head in
professional tournaments, most notably the series of tournaments
sponsored by Weathervane. It was where prevailed in the
season-ending 144-hole Weathervane in 1951.
" got kicked under the rug because of Babe," said .
"As a player, as someone who knew golf, all aspects of it, I
really don't think she got her due as the fine golfer she
Using a solid, powerful swing, Berg's game had no
weaknesses. She was a great shot-maker, a master bunker
player, imaginative around the greens, and wielded her putter with
distinction. She was also a crafty competitor.
"It was nothing for to let you look in her bag to see what she
was hitting, which of course you weren't supposed to do,"
said one veteran player. "Then she might hit the club
full, or three-quarter, or half-speed. When you tried to do
the same thing, with the same club, you'd either be over the
green or short in the bunker. She'd look at you with a
little smirk and after you did that a few times, you'd never
look in her bag again."
Berg's major championship wins included seven Women's
Western Open titles (1941, '43, '48, '51, '55,
'57, '58), seven Titleholders Championships (1937, '38,
'39, '48, '53, '55, '57), and the 1946
Women's Open. She won the LPGA's Vare trophy for the
season's lowest scoring average in 1953, '55 and '56.
Throughout her life, the dynamic redhead, nicknamed "Dynamite
Berg," promoted the LPGA Tour. One of the highlights of
any tournament week in the 1950s and '60s was "The Patty
Berg Swing Parade," which encouraged tournament ticket
sales. In this exhibition, Berg lined up her fellow players
on the practice tee, narrating while they hit shots. A rookie
was always required to hit the 2-iron.
, who joined the tour in 1959, said of her rookie appearance in
Berg's Swing Parade: "I only had to hit the 2-iron once
because I showered with mud. After that, I graduated to a
3-iron, and she insisted that I hit it off a golf tee.
"Peggy Kirk Bell used to have a bad shank whenever she
appeared in the Swing Parade. When it was 's turn, would talk
about shanking, introduce , and then yell to the spectators,
'Stand back on the right if you value your life!' After
that, couldn't help but shank."
"The Patty Berg Swing Parade," an annual golf clinic for
spectators at recent U.S. Women's Open Championships, was
officially named in Berg's honor by the USGA in 2004.
was the dean of the women staff members signed by Wilson Sporting
Goods and she coached rookie staffers such as , , and in how to
conduct golf clinics. Her toughness as a taskmaster was
legendary, but at the same time she taught the women solid golf
Barely topping 5'2" and inclined to stoutness because of a
thyroid ailment, was undaunted by several serious health
problems. In 1941, she was sidelined for 18 months by an
automobile accident that resulted in a severe knee injury.
Over the years she persevered despite cancer and back surgeries and
a hip replacement, continuing her round of public appearances until
she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2005.
A hard-charging advocate of women's professional golf
throughout her life, Berg praised the LPGA to countless reporters
until her final illness. "Every one of these girls has done a
great public relations job," she would say, "and the LPGA
is just going to get bigger and bigger and better and better."
She raised untold amounts of money for charity and was known as the
caddie's best friend, putting several through college.
As a public speaker, she had no equal among golfers. Her
speech, "What It Takes to Become a Champion," delivered
in ringing tones, inspired hundreds of appreciative audiences over
a 50-year period. In that speech, she listed what she
considered to be championship qualities, elaborating on each one.
The qualities were: desire, dedication, determination,
self-control, the will to win and not the wish to win, never giving
up and faith in God.
To those of us fortunate enough to have known her well, had all of
those qualities, and so much more.
is a Manager of USGA Communications. E-mail her with questions
or comments at email@example.com.