Olympic gold medal winner in track and field. All-American basketball player in college. Champion golfer. If there was a Jim Thorpe among women athletes, it was Mildred “Babe” Didrikson Zaharias. As a professional golfer, she won 31 tournaments, including three U.S. Women’s Opens, and helped found the Ladies Professional Golf Association. “Babe changed the game of golf for women,” said Patty Berg.
Didrikson didn’t even take up golf seriously until she was 21. She was introduced to the game by Grantland Rice in Los Angeles during the 1932 Olympics. Somewhere in between winning gold medals in the javelin and hurdles – she might have won the high jump, too, had she not been disqualified – Didrikson joined Rice and three other sportswriters for a round of golf at Brentwood Country Club. According to Rice, the Babe shot 91 that day and regularly hit drives measuring 250 yards.
The following year, while she was touring the country with the House of David baseball team, Didrikson traveled back to Los Angeles and took golf lessons from pro Stan Kertes at Brentwood. Two years later, she won the Texas Women’s Amateur Championship with an eagle on the 34th hole. The United States Golf Association ruled the following day that as a professional athlete Didrikson could no longer compete in amateur events.