"Wonder Girl: The Magnificent Sporting Life of Babe Didrikson Zaharias" Wins 2011 USGA Herbert Warren Wind Book Award

March 16, 2012

Don Van Natta Jr. captures the triumphs of Babe Zaharias, who won two gold medals in the 1932 Summer Olympics before winning four USGA championships, including three U.S. Women's Opens. (John Mummert/USGA) 


Far Hills, N.J. – In recognition of its high standard of achievement in golf literature, “Wonder Girl: The Magnificent Sporting Life of Babe Didrikson Zaharias,” written by Don Van Natta Jr., was today named the recipient of the United States Golf Association’s Herbert Warren Wind Book Award for 2011.

“Babe Zaharias is among the most versatile and accomplished American athletes of all time; she rose from the Texas heartland to change the face of golf and the Olympics, breaking barriers on the playing fields and off,” said Robert Williams, director of the USGA Museum. “Don Van Natta’s book is a deeply compelling account of Babe’s athleticism, courage and invincibility as she triumphed from the track to the tee and endured cancer to achieve a remarkable comeback victory at the 1954 U.S. Women’s Open.”

Comprehensively researched and beautifully written, Don Van Natta’s “Wonder Girl” paints a vibrant portrait of early-20th-century America, while telling the extraordinary story of a heroic athlete who captured a nation’s heart. The brash, athletic and fearless Babe overcame biases of the time against female athletes to excel in golf, basketball, track and field, baseball, softball, tennis and bowling. She achieved All-American status in basketball and won two gold medals in track and field at the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

As a champion golfer, Babe won 10 major championships, including three U.S. Women’s Open titles, was a founding member of the LPGA, and in 1938 became the first woman to play in a PGA Tour event. At the height of her fame, she was diagnosed with cancer, and was told by physicians that she would never return to competition. Fifteen months after major surgery, Babe won the 1954 U.S. Women's Open by 12 strokes.

“There are so many wonderful lessons that can be learned from Babe’s life and career,” said Van Natta. “She overcame many obstacles through persistence, perseverance and tremendous courage, becoming the greatest all-sport athlete in history. Capturing in words a quintessential American life and one of the most inspirational stories in all of sports was such a rewarding experience.”

Van Natta is a senior writer for ESPN the Magazine and ESPN.com, and spent 16 years as an investigative correspondent at TheNew York Times. Prior to that, Van Natta worked for eight years at The Miami Herald. He has been a member of three Pulitzer Prize-winning teams and is the author of “First Off the Tee: Presidential Hackers, Duffers, and Cheaters from Taft to Bush” and co-author of “Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton,” both of which were New York Times bestsellers. Van Natta lives in Miami with his family.

The award will be presented to Van Natta on April 4 in Augusta, Ga., at the 40th Golf Writers Association of America awards dinner during the week of the Masters Tournament.

“Winning this award is a huge honor for me, considering who the award is named after and all the past recipients,” added Van Natta. “Golf is such a great sport to cover. The game’s drama and emotion really lend themselves to the written word. I am humbled by the USGA’s recognition.”

Van Natta is donating a portion of his royalties from the sale of “Wonder Girl” to the Babe Didrikson Zaharias Foundation in Beaumont, Texas, which Babe and her husband, George Zaharias, established in the last months of her life to support cancer clinics and treatment centers.

The Herbert Warren Wind Book Award was established in 1987. The award recognizes and honors outstanding contributions to golf literature while attempting to broaden the public’s interest in, and knowledge of, the game of golf. Wind, who died in 2005, was the famed writer for The New Yorker and Sports Illustrated who coined the phrase “Amen Corner” at Augusta National. He is the only writer to win the USGA’s Bob Jones Award, the Association’s highest honor.

The USGA is currently accepting submissions for the 2012 Herbert Warren Wind Book Award. To be eligible, a book must be an original full-length work about golf, written in English, and published in the calendar year. For more information, contact Nancy Stulack, the USGA Museum’s librarian, at (908) 234-2300, ext. 1107 or nstulack@usga.org

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