The box is among an assortment of golf ball boxes in a recently acquired USGA Museum collection. It has the familiar “Wilson” sporting goods company script and the not-so-typical wording “One dozen Betsy Rawls golf balls,” along with a photo of a confident Rawls.
Betsy Rawls had reason to be confident, and to have golf balls branded with her name. The box, which held a dozen “vulcanized cover, natural rubber center” golf balls, is a reminder of a rare accomplishment for a woman professional golfer.
Born Elizabeth Earle Rawls, in Spartanburg, S.C., in 1928, and raised in the small town of Burnet, Texas, Rawls was introduced to the game by her father and started her career at the age of 17. Within four years, she won her first amateur tournament. One year later, still an amateur, she came in second to Babe Zaharias in the 1950 Women’s Open, which was then conducted by the LPGA.
Consistency best describes the years between 1954 and 1965 for Rawls, because she won at least one tournament a year over that span. Her career total of 55 wins places her sixth all-time, and she was regarded as having the best short game of her era.
Playing in the company of women such as Mickey Wright and Patty Berg, Rawls would often travel around the country by car between tournaments, taking in the sights and giving golf clinics for Wilson. Rawls went on to capture the 1951, 1953 and 1957 U.S. Women’s Opens, and in 1960, she became the first player to win four U.S. Women’s Open titles.
In that same year, Rawls became the LPGA Hall of Fame’s fifth member. Wright is the only other player to have won four U.S. Women’s Opens, and together, the two attracted spectators who ultimately became fans of the early LPGA Tour.
Pioneering players such as Rawls, Berg and Louise Suggs were recognized in 1995 at the 50th U.S. Women’s Open, when record crowds watched Annika Sorenstam of Sweden win her first U.S. Women’s Open, on the East Course of The Broadmoor Golf Club in Colorado Springs, Colo. Sorenstam established a Women’s Open scoring record of 205 for 54 holes, and she went on to claim a one-stroke victory with a two-under-par total of 278. In the process, she became the 13th player to make the U.S. Women’s Open her first professional victory in the United States.