By Dr. Tony Parker, Historian
Eighty years ago, a young female athlete took a chance and challenged the status quo when she entered one of the regular tournaments on the men’s circuit, becoming the first woman to play in a men’s event at the 1938 Los Angeles Open – now known as the Genesis Open.
Babe Didrikson Zaharias, while trying to establish herself as the greatest woman golfer, decided to go against the best male players of the time. As the 23-year-old said, “there was no rule that said a woman couldn’t play in it so I got in there.” She knew she could not beat the top men pros, but she wanted to prove herself. Babe did not make the 36-hole cut shooting rounds of 84 and 81, but she got a bonus out of the experience. She met her future husband George Zaharias.
Zaharias took up the game of golf during the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles when sportswriter Grantland Rice invited her to play a round at the Brentwood Golf Course. She said that she had held golf clubs before but had never played a round and was willing to give it a try. She teamed up with Rice against two other journalists and won the match on the last hole.
“We may be looking at the greatest future woman golfer of all time,” Rice said after watching her play. Babe loved the game and took that comment to heart.
Babe would compete in the Los Angeles Open again in 1945 and made the cut in the 36-hole qualifier by shooting 76-76; however, she missed the 54-hole cut after shooting a 79 on day three. Zaharias went on to play three PGA tournaments in 1945 including the Phoenix Open and the Tucson Open, finishing 33rd and 42nd respectively.
Those experiences did not deter her from becoming one of the elites of the women’s game. During her career she claimed 41 professional wins, including 10 major championships. She won the Western Open four times, the Titleholders Championship three times and the U.S. Women’s Open three times.
Sadly, Zaharias died in 1954 at age 45 and the golfing world lost one of its greats; however, her accomplishments live on in the World Golf Hall of Fame & Museum.