There is not a more respected woman in the game of golf than Betsy Rawls. Her 55 career victories rank behind only Kathy Whitworth, Mickey Wright and Patty Berg, and she shares the record with Wright for the most U.S. Women’s Opens with four. But as much as what she did on the course, Rawls was admired for her excellence at every level of the game.
The USGA could not have honored a more deserving person than Rawls when it presented her the Bob Jones Award for distinguished service in 1996. “Betsy has always been committed to work and dedicated to the game,” said Wright. “I can think of only two women who have achieved as much, not only as players but for their lifetime contributions, and that’s Betsy and Patty Berg.”
"I thought I was going to be a winner, and as I went along, winning became easier and easier.''
Rawls did not swing a club until she was 17. Four years later, she won the 1949 Texas Amateur and, in 1950, she finished second behind Babe Zaharias in the Women’s Open. After graduating Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Texas, she turned professional in 1951 and made the Open her first victory.
She led the LPGA in earnings in 1952, won her second Women’s Open in 1953 and her third in 1957. Her biggest year was 1959, when she won 10 times, including the LPGA Championship and the Western Open, and the Vare Trophy. Her biggest thrill was winning the LPGA Championship in 1969 because she had reached a point where she wasn’t sure if she could win again.
“I thought I was going to be a winner, and as I went along, winning became easier and easier,” Rawls has said. “It was something I expected to do. I always played well under pressure because it didn’t bother me, which is why I won so many tournaments. I don’t take much credit for it, but I could perform under tense situations. It was my physical makeup to allow that to happen.”
When Rawls joined the tour, there were about 20 players and 20 tournaments. She served under Zaharias as the LPGA secretary and headed the tournament committee that set up the course, gave rulings, made pairings, kept statistics and did the bookkeeping. The rest of the year was spent barnstorming for Wilson Sporting Goods with Patty Berg. They would do upwards of 120 clinics a year, traveling the country in a car.
When she retired from tournament golf in 1975, Rawls became a tournament director for the LPGA and later took over as executive director of the McDonald’s LPGA Championship. She has also served on the USGA’s rules committee and the LPGA Tournament Sponsors Association. In 1980, she became the first woman to officiate at the men’s U.S. Open.
“Anybody who can make a living in golf is lucky,” Rawls said. “Then to receive all the benefits accorded to me in the process…well, it makes me feel fortunate. It’s more than I could possibly deserve.”