AUGUSTA, Ga. – Fifty-six years later, Rhonda Glenn can still vividly recall seeing that orange book in the children’s section of the Lake Worth Public Library in Florida. She leafed through the pages and was astonished at the contents.
Here was a story about the iconic Babe Didrikson Zaharias, a female Olympic gold medalist who had gone on to become a golf champion.
An accomplished athlete herself, Glenn couldn’t contain her excitement. She jumped on her bicycle and went home overwhelmed with excitement.
“I was floored there was an actual book about a woman athlete,” said Glenn.
Glenn never became “The Babe,” as Zaharias was known by her contemporaries on the golf course, but that didn’t prevent Glenn from becoming golf journalism’s version of The Babe, especially as it pertained to women’s golf.
Armed with a treasure chest worth of knowledge, Glenn became one of the world’s most preeminent experts on women’s golf, writing “The Illustrated History of Women’s Golf,” which was published in 1991, and “Breaking the Mold,” the story of Judy Bell, the first female president of the USGA (1996-97).
Glenn, 67, retired from the USGA communications department last June after nearly two decades with the Association because she needed to devote time to her latest project, “Nancy: The Course of My Life,” an autobiography on World Golf Hall of Famer and two-time USGA champion Nancy Lopez.
It is that dedication and passion to the game which earned the respect of the Golf Writers Association of America (GWAA). On the eve of the Masters Tournament Wednesday night at the GWAA’s 42nd Annual Awards Dinner held at Augusta Country Club, Glenn received the William D. Richardson Award for consistently making outstanding contributions to the game.
“When you wanted to know something about the U.S. Women’s Open, the U.S. Women’s Amateur, the U.S. Girls’ Junior or the Curtis Cup, you went to Rhonda Glenn,” said Golfweek senior writer Jim McCabe, who introduced Glenn to the 300-plus attendees.
Glenn was overcome with emotion when she received a call from McCabe, a GWAA board member, in January, informing her that her peers had voted for her to win the Richardson Award.
“I had to go lie down,” said Glenn, who had a dozen or more family and friends in attendance, including her sister, Kathy Williams, and best friend, Barbara Romack, the 1954 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion and Curtis Cup Match competitor in 1954, 1956 and 1958. “I didn’t believe it. It’s a huge honor for me.”
Glenn discovered her passion for journalism in high school. As a Florida high school golf champion, she earned the opportunity to play in a couple of LPGA Tour events in the early 1960s. While she was a strong player and could have competed against legends such as Mickey Wright, JoAnne Gunderson Carner and others, she preferred to stay connected to the game through reporting and writing.
In 1981, Glenn became the first full-time national network female sportscaster when she worked opposite Chris Berman for ESPN. Three years earlier, she was hired by ABC as a golf commentator alongside Jim McKay.
Glenn joined the USGA as a full-time staff member in 1995, four years after “The Illustrated History of Women’s Golf” was published. She had been commissioned to write the book by former USGA historian Janet Seagle. Without a publisher, agent or much financial backing, Glenn spent 10 years researching and writing before finding a publisher.
Glenn first fell in love with writing because it was one of the few interesting sports jobs available to women. When she saw the dedication and work that the LPGA Tour players were putting into their events, she felt obligated to tell the world. The only way that was possible at the time was through journalism.
“So, that’s what I did,” said Glenn, who has competed in a number of USGA championships, including the U.S. Girls’ Junior, U.S. Women’s Amateur, U.S. Women’s Open and U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur. “I became a golf reporter.
“It’s all I ever wanted to do, because journalism is my passion. But golf … golf has always been my music.”
Glenn recently helped set the wheels in motion to create a Mickey Wright Room inside the USGA Museum in Far Hills, N.J. A longtime friend of the World Golf Hall of Famer, Glenn helped secure most of the memorabilia that resides in the museum’s first room dedicated to a female golfer.
A cancer survivor, Glenn closed her speech by acknowledging all her friends and family who made the trip. She also paid homage to her late parents, who she knows would have been proud to see her win the award.
“I know exactly what my father would say if I showed it to him,” she said. “‘All right Rhonda, now you have to live up to that.’ And I promise I’ll try.”
Given her passion for the game and accomplishments thus far, there’s no doubt she will live up to it.
NOTES: Three other USGA champions were honored on Wednesday night. Reigning U.S. Women’s Open champion Inbee Park and reigning U.S. Senior Open champion Kenny Perry received their LPGA Tour and Champions Tour Player of the Year Awards. Perry could not attend the ceremony. Graeme McDowell, the 2010 U.S. Open champion from Northern Ireland, received the ASAP/Jim Murray Award for being accommodating to the media.
“I’m very honored to accept the Jim Murray Award tonight,” said McDowell. “I know this usually goes to a player later in his years who has become a little more thoughtful, a little more reflective about their golf career. I guess I am a little thoughtful. I always try to answer questions as honestly and openly as I possibly can. I feel it’s my duty to speak to the people. You guys help grow this game globally. You help give us the exposure around the world.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.