To celebrate Women’s History Month we’re recognizing a few of the incredible figures who laid the groundwork for the opportunities available for women in sport today. Women’s golf participation has risen steadily over the years but saw an 11% boost over the past two years to surpass 11.5 million female golfers, a number that would have been unfathomable for most of these great players from history (Graffis Report, 2022).
Mary, Queen of Scots
One of our favorite stories is of Mary, Queen of Scots. She was one of the first women in recorded history to have regularly played golf despite the complaints of her fellow politicians and leaders. Mary, Queen of Scots can be credited with originating the word “caddie” as military cadets likely carried her club set while she played. Golf is full of unique terms from history and “caddie” is one of the few that can be attributed to a female player, and a queen!
Another athlete from history who continues to inspire us today is Ann Gregory, an amateur player considered to be the best African American female golfer of the 20th century. She started competing on the U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship circuit in 1956, when segregation and discrimiantion was rampant in the U.S. and faced bans from courses and clubhouses while competing. She persisted, and in 1971 was runner-up at the USGA Senior Women’s Amateur and in 1989, at age 76, she won the gold medal in the U.S. National Senior Olympics by 44 strokes. Her legacy is celebrated today in the form of scholarship and tournaments in her honor, and her story will soon be featured in a film called Playing Through.
Babe Didrikson Zaharias
Babe Didrikson Zaharias is arguably one of the most accomplished athletes of all time. She won multiple Olympic gold medals in track and field, is the world record holder for the longest baseball throw by a woman, and completed a golf Grand Slam, winning the U.S. Open, Titleholders Championship, and Women’s Western Open in the same year. She went on to win 17 straight women’s amature events, surmounting Tiger Woods’ record holding 3 consecutive wins (1994-96). In total, Zaharias amassed 82 tournament victories in both her amateur and pro career and in 1950 the Associated Press voted Zaharias Woman Athlete of the Half-Century. She was one of the most visible female professional athletes of this era and certainly inspired and still inspires others to follow her footsteps.
One of those inspired by Zaharias was Patty Berg, who wasn’t far behind Zaharias in wins and remains one of the all-time great golfers with 63 professional victories. She was also a talented speed skater, played quarterback on her local youth football team (in the 1920’s), and served in the Marines. Her golf career was almost sidelined by a nagging injury until an accidental hard fall broke up scar tissue that was restricting her movement. She went on to make a full recovery and win the Women’s Western Open and U.S. Women’s Open.
In 1948, Berg helped establish the prelude of the LPGA, the Women’s Professional Golf Association (WPGA), and then in 1950, along with Zaharias, Berg was one of the 13 founding members of the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) and was the association’s first president. In founding the LPGA, Zaharias and Berg have opened doors for thousands of young women to follow in their footsteps.
Success on the course transcended into the business of golf for many women golfers who later became leaders of companies and organizations. Suzy Whaley (V1 Pro instructor) had a very successful playing career, including being the first woman to play in a PGA Tour event in 58 years when she qualified for the Greater Hartford Open. In 2017, while busy as both an LPGA and PGA Teaching Professional and leader in the business of golf, Whaley was elected the first woman President of the PGA of America, serving through the global COVID pandemic which is one of the toughest events to impact sport ever. She is named one of GOLF’s Top 100 Teachers in America and continues to give back to the golf community as a coveted golf instructor.
Mollie Marcoux Samaan
Today, dozens of notable, accomplished women are leading the resurgence of golf around the world. Mollie Marcoux Samaan, the former Princeton University Athletic Director, was named the LPGA’s 9th Commissioner in 2021, seven decades after those 13 founders watched their vision come to life. Samaan is charged with growing the game of golf for women around the world, and that starts from the ground up with the LPGA*USGA Girls Golf program. Founded in 1989, the program has grown into a community of more than 90,000 girls across the globe and the number of girls (ages 6-17) participating in golf has increased over 200% since 1995 (Graffis Report, 2022).
Programs like LPGA*USGA Girls Golf exist in part because of people like Babe Didrikson Zaharias, Patty Berg, Ann Gregory, and hundreds more who stepped up to the tee when they weren’t welcome and championed the sport for all of the women who followed. At V1 Sports we talk about the importance of legacy and tradition in sport, but perhaps the most legendary thing an athlete can do is walk a path unknown, alone, steadfast that it is the right path to be on. To cap off Women’s History Month, we are all taking moments from the work day to remember and honor these stories and accomplishments, and invite you to do the same.
Have a story you’d like to share with us about women in sport? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.