A pioneer of women’s professional golf, Betty Jameson is one of only six women to have won both the U.S. Women’s Open and U.S. Women’s Amateur championships.
In her prime, Jameson was a tall, stylish woman who was sometimes referred to as golf’s first “glamour girl.” She was a founding member of both the Women’s Professional Golf Association and the Ladies Professional Golf Association. She was also the first woman to break 300 for a 72-hole event.
Elizabeth Jameson was born May 19, 1919, in Norman, Okla. After her family moved to Dallas, she began playing golf at age 11 and was soon completing as many as 50 holes a day on a nine-hole course.
"I love my career, though I think it was a little time-wasting."
Her long, graceful swing was much admired. Herbert Warren Wind wrote after watching her that “all you are conscious of is how perfectly the left hand does what the left hand is supposed to do, and, as she moves into the ball, an acceleration which keeps building so smoothly that it is hardly perceptible.” According to Lawson Little, Jameson had “the soundest swing, the best pivot and the greatest follow through of the hips of any woman player except Joyce Wethered.”
Jameson won the 1932 Texas Publinx at age 13, followed by the state championship. At age 15, she captured the Texas Women’s Amateur and went on to win it four years in a row. In 1939, she won the U.S. Amateur at Wee Burn in Connecticut and repeated the next year at Pebble Beach. In 1942, she became the first player to win the Western Open and the Western Amateur in the same year.
Something went out of Jameson when her mother died in 1942. “My mother knew I could be a world beater-that was the old-fashioned term,” Jameson told author Liz Kahn in her 1996 book on the LPGA. “I cried a lot at her death, for everyone needs someone in her corner, and my mother was a great motivator. Maybe I didn’t have the same stimulus after that.”
Because tournament play was virtually suspended during World War II, Jameson held jobs that included a stint on the copy desk of The Dallas Times Herald. In 1945, she joined the fledging WPGA and accepted an offer from the Spalding Company to turn professional and perform clinics.
In 1946, the WPGA put on the first U.S. Women’s Open in Spokane, in which Jameson was defeated by Patty Berg in the final, 5 and 4, the only time the championship was contested at match play. The next year, at the Starmount Forest Country Club in Greensboro, N.C., Jameson became the first woman to break 300 for 72 holes, her 295 total winning by six strokes. She was runner-up again in 1952.
When the LPGA was started in 1948, Jameson, along with Patty Berg, Louise Suggs and Babe Didrikson Zaharias, made up the tour’s “Big Four.” However, Jameson wasn’t as inspired by the professional game as she had been as an amateur. Among her 10 victories were the 1949 Texas Open, the 1952 World Championship and the 1954 Western Open. Her best year was 1955 when she won four tournaments. Although she played until 1963, she never won again.
“I love my career, though I think it was a little time-wasting,” said Jameson, who after retiring from competition taught golf and made a living as a painter. “I didn’t dream that without match play the whole essence and drama of golf would disappear. I didn’t realize how humdrum it is, playing hole after hole and not daring to take chances.”
In 1951, Jameson was named one of the 11 charter members of the LPGA Hall of Fame. It was Jameson who conceived the idea annually honoring the player with the best scoring average on the LPGA Tour and, in 1952, donated the trophy that would become the Vare Trophy in honor of her idol, Glenna Collett Vare.