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LPGA Pioneer, Three-Time USGA Champion Suggs Dies

By David Shefter, USGA

| Aug 8, 2015
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After winning the 1947 U.S. Women's Amateur, Louise Suggs helped found the LPGA Tour and won 11 majors, including two U.S. Women's Opens. (USGA Museum)

Louise Suggs, one of the 13 founders of the Ladies Professional Golf Association and a two-time U.S. Women’s Open champion, died on Aug. 7 in Sarasota, Fla., at the age of 91. Suggs had been in hospice care.

After a highly successful amateur career that included a victory in the 1947 U.S. Women’s Amateur, Suggs turned professional at the age of 24 in the nascent days of women’s professional golf. She won 61 LPGA Tour titles, 11 of which were major championships, including three that she won as an amateur.

“While I have never lost a parent, the passing of Louise Suggs feels that way to me,” said Michael Whan, the LPGA Tour commissioner, in a statement. “Like a parent, she cared deeply for her LPGA family and took great pride in their successes. She always made time to hear my problems and challenges – her personal guidance was priceless.

“Like a parent, I think she was even more proud of the LPGA players of today than she was of her own playing results. I feel like the LPGA lost a parent, but I’m extremely confident that her vision, her competitiveness, and most importantly, her spirit will be with this organization forever.”

Born Mae Louise Suggs on Sept. 7, 1923 in Atlanta, Ga., Suggs grew up in a baseball family. Her grandfather owned the Atlanta Crackers, a Class AA minor-league team in the Southern Association, and her father, John, went to spring training with the New York Yankees in 1923, but failed to latch on as a pitcher.

Photos: Remembering Louise Suggs

Golf would go on to dominate their lives after the family moved to Lithia Springs, Ga., and John Suggs opened a golf course. Louise took up the game at age 10 and before long, she had developed into one of the country’s premier amateurs.

Before winning the 1947 U.S. Women’s Amateur with a 2-up victory over Dorothy Kirby at Franklin Hills Country Club in Franklin, Mich., Suggs claimed a pair of Georgia Women’s Amateurs (1940 and 1942), two Southern Women’s Amateurs (1940 and 1947), and three North and South Women’s Amateurs (1942, 1946, 1948). She also won a pair of major championships in 1946: the Titleholders and the Women’s Western Open. She would win the Women’s Western Open again in 1947, and claim the Ladies British Open Amateur title in 1948. That year, she also represented the victorious USA Curtis Cup Team, which was captained by the legendary Glenna Collett Vare at Birkdale Golf Club in England.

By the time Suggs decided to turn professional in 1948, she held five of the major amateur titles of the era. She helped found the LPGA Tour in 1950 with such luminaries as Patty Berg and Babe Didrikson Zaharias, and she served as Tour president from 1955-57.

“We figured if we could maybe get some tournaments together, we could at least pick up a little pocket change,” Suggs once said. “We were so dumb that we didn’t know we couldn’t succeed. We survived and succeeded despite ourselves.”

That inaugural season, Suggs and her fellow professionals managed to conduct 14 tournaments with a combined purse of $50,000. In 2015, the LPGA Tour has 32 events with a combined purse of nearly $60 million. This year’s U.S. Women’s Open champion, In Gee Chun, of the Republic of Korea, earned $810,000.

Suggs’ first of two U.S. Women’s Open triumphs came in 1949 when she won by 14 strokes over Zaharias at Prince Georges Golf & Country Club in Landover, Md. The margin of victory remains the largest in the championship’s history. Three years later, she beat Marlene Bauer and Betty Jameson by seven strokes at Bala Golf Club in Philadelphia.

Suggs owns U.S. Women’s Open records for the most top-five finishes (14) and most top-10 finishes (19). Besides her two victories, she finished second five times, a mark she shares with JoAnne Gunderson Carner. Her 11 major championship wins are third all-time behind contemporaries Berg (15) and Mickey Wright (13), and one ahead of Zaharias and Annika Sorenstam.

From 1950-62, Suggs managed to win at least one tournament, and she led the money list in 1960. She also proved she could compete against male professionals by winning a tournament on a par-3 course in Palm Beach, Fla., where the field included major champions Sam Snead, Lew Worsham, Dow Finsterwald and Tommy Armour, as well as leading female golfers of the era.

Snead was apparently so distraught over losing to a female that he stormed off the premises.

“He burned a quarter-inch of rubber,” Suggs recounted.

In a foreword to Suggs’ book, “Par Golf for Women,” Hall of Famer Ben Hogan wrote, “If I were to single out one woman in the world today as a model for any other woman aspiring to ideal golf form it would be Louise Suggs.”

Suggs’ 61 LPGA Tour victories rank fourth all-time behind Kathy Whitworth (88), Wright (82) and Sorenstam (72), and just ahead of Berg (60) and Betsy Rawls (55).

In 1966, Suggs was the first female inducted into the Georgia Athletic Hall of Fame. In 2007, she was the recipient of the Bob Jones Award, the USGA’s highest honor, which recognizes an individual who demonstrates the spirit, personal character and respect for the game exhibited by Jones, a fellow Atlanta native. The Golf Writers Association of America (GWAA) honored her in 2008 with the William D. Richardson Award, which recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions to the game.

In 2000, the LPGA named its Rookie of the Year award the Louise Suggs Trophy. That year, she also received the Patty Berg Award in recognition of her many contributions to women’s golf.

In 1951, Suggs was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame as its first female member.

In February 2015, Suggs was among seven women selected for honorary membership to The Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, the first time the club added female members in its illustrious history.

While long retired from competitive golf, Suggs continued to teach five days a week well into her 70s and often played recreational rounds using her old persimmon woods.

She once quipped: “If you spot me enough yardage, I will take your money.”

She also published a biography last year entitled, “And That’s That,” which was written with Elaine Scott.

For Suggs, golf and the LPGA Tour remained a love affair.

“If you don’t take it seriously, it’s no fun,” she once said. “But if you do, it breaks your heart. Don’t break your heart, but flirt with the possibility.”

Information on her survivors and funeral arrangements was not immediately available.

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at