LPGA Founders: 13 who made their dreams come true

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LPGA. (Original Caption) Bound for England, where they will participate in the Weathervane International Trophy matches are six of America’s leading women golfers. Waving goodbye before boarding their plane for London are, from bottom to top: Betty Bush, Betsy Rawls, Peggy Kirk, Betty Jamison, Patty Berg, and Babe Didrikson Zaharias. The sextet, first American women’s professional golf team to play in a tournament in Great Britain, will oppose a picked British team at Sunningdale, July 13-14.

Meet the LPGA Founders, a gang of 13 gal-pals who went on a protracted golf trip together

The LPGA Tour was organized by a bunch of stubborn women who wanted to play more golf, as much golf as they could, and maybe get paid for doing what they loved.

They were glamour girls and debutantes and girls who horrified their parents because they really wanted to play football with the boys. They were wives and mothers, daughters and sisters, and they loved playing golf!

Many were already professional golfers who survived during the 1930s and 1940s playing exhibition matches and selling sports equipment. Some had seen military service during the war. They had all come into the post-war 1940s with a taste of exhilarating personal freedom. They wanted what their male counterparts had, a Tour of their own.

The 5th U.S. Women’s Open

By the late 1940s it became clear that the fragile, underfunded Women’s Professional Golf Association was collapsing. In 1950 the dominant players in women’s golf put their heads together during the 5th U.S. Women’s Open at Rolling Hills Country Club in Wichita, Kansas. With the help of Fred Corcoran, Babe Zaharias’ manager, they birthed a new pro golf tour. (Corcoran also worked with Wilson Sporting Goods and represented Ted Williams. He knew something about the professional sports world.)

Marilynn Smith, the LPGA’s first president, recalled how it all came together with Corcoran’s guidance and suggestions:

He called us all together and told us we were starting a new tour. So we were just there at the right time. We had to build it, so we’d speak at Kiwanis luncheons, give swing clinics, do anything we could think of. I didn’t look at it as work, though. It was fun.

The thirteen women who founded the LPGA represented a broad swath of American womanhood at mid-century. They were driven more by ambition and desire than a vision. The women who put their heads and hearts together in Wichita in 1950 founded what has become the world’s most successful women’s sports organization.

They were part athlete, part entertainer, and part a gang of gal-pals who went on a protracted golf trip together.

Let’s get to know them as more than names on a list and pictures of banners!

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