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Babe Didrikson Zaharias

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Babe Didrikson Zaharias

Babe Didrikson Zaharias, circa 1953

Underwood Archives/Getty Images
Babe Didrikson Zaharias and Patty Berg

Babe Didrikson Zaharias (right) holds the trophy she won at the 1950 All-American Championship, along with runner-up Patty Berg.

Underwood Archives/Getty Images

Babe Didrikson Zaharias is arguably the greatest female athlete of all-time. She took up golf after years playing other sports, but quickly became one of the best-ever in that sport, too.

Born: June 26, 1911, in Port Arthur, Texas
Died: September 27, 1956
Nickname: Babe, of course. Her given name was Mildred. "Babe" was bestowed upon her as a young girl because she was such a good baseball player.

Tour Victories:

41

Major Championships:

Professional - 10
• U.S. Women's Open: 1948, 1950, 1954
• Western Open: 1940, 1944, 1945, 1950
• Titleholders: 1947, 1950, 1952
Amateur - 3
• U.S. Women's Amateur: 1946, 1947
• British Women's Amateur: 1947

Awards and Honors:

• Member, World Golf Hall of Fame
• LPGA Tour money leader, 1950, 1951
• Vare Trophy (low scoring average), 1954
• Associated Press Woman Athlete of the Year, 1931, 1945, 1946, 1947, 1950, 1954
• Recipient, USGA Bob Jones Award, 1957 (posthumous)
• Named Female Athlete of the Century by Associated Press and Sports Illustrated

Quote, Unquote:

• Babe Zaharias: "Before I was ever in my teens, I knew exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up. My goal was to be the greatest athlete that ever lived."

• Babe Zaharias, on her power: "I just loosen my girdle and let the ball have it."

Patty Berg: "When I come in second to her I feel as though I have won. It's kind of like the Yankees. They're the champs and you want them to win."

• Babe Zaharias: "The Babe is here. Who's coming in second?"

Trivia:

• Babe Didrikson Zaharias was featured on a U.S. postage stamp in 1981.

• She was portrayed by actress Susan Clark in the 1975 made-for-TV movie Babe.

• She was the first American to win the British Ladies Amateur Championship.

• Zaharias won the LPGA "grand slam," claiming all three majors played in 1950.

• Holds the LPGA records for fastest to 10 wins (1 year, 20 days), fastest to 20 wins (2 years, 4 months), and fastest to 30 wins (5 years, 22 days).

• In 1945, Zaharias played in three tournaments on the PGA Tour. She shot 76-81 to make the two-day cut at the Los Angeles Open, but didn't survive the three-day cut after a 79. She made the cut at the Phoenix Open, shooting 77-72-75-80. And she made the cut at the Tucson Open, shooting 307 and finishing tied for 42nd. She got into the Phoenix and Tucson events through 36-hole qualifiers, and into the Los Angeles Open on a sponsor's exemption. • Zaharias had previously played in the Los Angeles Open in 1938, shooting 81-84 and missing the cut.

Babe Didrikson Zaharias Biography:

She is undoubtedly one of the greats in the history of women's golf. But a strong argument can also be made that Babe Didrikson Zaharias was the greatest female athlete of all-time. Writing about her in 1939, Time magazine described Babe as a "famed woman athlete, 1932 Olympic Games track & field star, expert basketball player, golfer, javelin thrower, hurdler, high jumper, swimmer, baseball pitcher, football halfback, billiardist, tumbler, boxer, wrestler, fencer, weight lifter, adagio dancer."

They left out tennis and diving, among others. Somehow, Babe even managed to find time to play harmonica on vaudeville and win the sewing championship at the 1931 Texas State Fair!

Later, a newspaper reporter wrote that Zaharias "operates like a woman whose life is a constant campaign to astound people."

The Babe grew up in Texas, the daughter of immigrant Norwegians. She was nicknamed after Babe Ruth because of her baseball talents (she later barnstormed with the famed House of David team).

In basketball, she led her team to the Amateur Athletic Union national championship in 1931 and was an All-American 3 years.

In track and field, Zaharias set five world records in one day at an AAU meet in 1932. At that meet, her team won the national team title ... and Babe was the only member of the team!

At the 1932 Olympics, Babe won gold medals in the 80-meter hurdles and javelin, and silver in the high jump.

She didn't even take up golf until she was in her 20s, then won the first tournament she entered, the 1935 Texas Women's Invitational. And she worked hard at her game, hitting as many as 1,000 balls a day.

All the work paid off. She won, and won a lot, including her first major at the 1940 Western Open. She won 17 of the 18 tournaments she entered in 1946-47, including the U.S. Women's Amateur in '46 and British Ladies Amateur in '47.

Babe won on the Women's Professional Golf Association tour, too, the predecessor to the LPGA, of which she was a cofounder.

Zaharias was, by far, the biggest star of the young LPGA. At tournaments, she was a showman and a showboat. Her on-course banter with fans was often off-color, sometimes crude, but always entertaining. She gave the people what they wanted, and they came out to see her. Babe's star power has often been credited with keeping the fledgling tour alive, and behind the scenes she worked tirelessly to line up sponsors - sometimes cold-calling companies and haranging their CEOs until they agreed to sponsor an event.

Babe was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1953 and underwent surgery. She returned to win the 1954 U.S. Women's Open by 12 strokes, plus the Vare Trophy. But the cancer came back in 1955. She won the last tournament she played, the 1955 Peach Blossom Open, then was too ill to continue.

In December of 1955, barely able to walk, Zaharias had a friend drive her to Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth. She knelt down and touched the grass one last time.

She died months later at age 45.

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