September 18, 2009

The Female Golfer Who DID Make The Cut At PGA Tour Events

These days, when a woman tries to compete against men in professional golf, an argument often comes forth that it is impossible for a woman to compete successfully against men, in other words, to belong in the competition in the first place.

On the surface, that argument seems to bear witness to the facts: at the height of her golfing powers, champion Annika Soremstam was unable to make the cut at the Colonial Tournament in 2003, after which she said that "it was a great week but I've got to go back to my tour, where I belong. I'm glad I did it, but this is way over my head." Soremstam was in Forth Worth a year after she shot two 59s in tournament play, and 13 of the 25 tournaments that she entered. Clearly, she was the best player in the world of women's golf, but the 7,080-yard Colonial CC course that was longer and tougher than anything she had ever played.

Michelle Wie's attempts at competing on the PGA Tour have been a lightning rod for criticism of the 19 year old golf prodigy, with many fans pointing to her participation in these events as evidence of mismanagement by her parents and her management group. Wie never made a cut in several tries, and thus far in 2009 she has focused exclusively on the LPGA Tour, where she continues to hone her game and look for her first professional win.

Other players, like Suzy Whaley and Izzy Besiegel have also tried to play with the boys in recent years, and both have had less success than even Wie or Soremstam, both of whom looked for a time as though it was possible that they might make it to the weekend after making the cut on the bottom side of the field.

The Greatest Female Did Play Against The Men, And She Proved She Belonged.

All of this has fueled and fortified the idea that women can't compete with men in golf played on equal terms, especially in professional tournament golf. History, however, tells a far different tale. Babe Didrickson Zaharias competed in several PGA Tour events in 1945 and she also made the cut in a few of them and collected a check for playing on the weekend.

That The Babe is one of the greats in the history of women's golf would be an understatement. In fact, she may have been 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." Among other things - tennis and diving, and she also was a champion seamstress and a vaudeville performer. Anything that The Babe tried, she succeeded in, and that includes playing at the highest level of golf, the American men's tour.

Zaharias didn't even take up golf seriously until her 20s, and it, like most sports, came naturally to her. Her taking to golf may have come from an event in the pressbox in the 1932 Olympiad - where she won two gold and a silver medal, after being allowed to complete in only three events. Watching her, famed sportswriter Grantland Rice told a group that included Will Rogers, Paul Gallico and Damon Runyan that The Babe could hit a golf ball like no one they had ever seen. The group told Rice that he had clearly let his enthusiasm for the Olympic heroine get the better of him, or maybe had enjoyed too much whisky the night before. To prove his point, Rice asked Didrickson up to the pressbox and asked her if she'd like to play golf the next day. She told the men that she hadn't been on the links for over a year, but if someone could find her some clubs and cleats, she'd be glad to play 18.

The next day at Brentwood Country Club, Didrickson took nine holes to get used to not only playing golf again, but also using borrowed equipment in a time when clubs were highly individualized. On the back, she fired a very respectable 43, including banging two shots to the apron on a 523 yard par 5 17th -- into the wind. On the 18th hole, Didrickson scorched a 250 yard drive down the center of the fairway. Keep in mind that this was long before modern balls, modern equipment, and that a 250 yard tee shot was equal to or longer than what most professional males players like Ben Hogan or Sam Snead would hit.

Zaharias turned professional shortly thereafter, trying her hand at Vaudeville before realizing that performing indoors was not for her. Afterward, she would do exhibitions of athletic skills, including pitching an inning for Brooklyn Dodgers versus the Philadelphia Phillies. By 1934, Didrickson was tired of mere exhibitions and wanted the thing she craved the most: competition, and winning. It was then that she turned to golf. It took several years to hone her game from one merely of smashing long drives to the champion's skills of exacting iron shots, precision in short game and putting, not to mention the creativity and skills of escaping the inevitable foibles of hazards and woe. After she started competing and gained her footing, she never looked back. By the time she was done, she was the greatest female golfer ever, one whose records and standing have never come close to being eclipsed.

"The Babe is here. Who's coming in second?" - Babe Didrickson Zaharias

Wins: LPGA - 41
Other - 41

Majors Wins 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

"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," Patty Berg once said of Zaharias. The record is clear: as a player in women's golf, Zaharias had no equal and no player to come since her has come even close. But women were not the only competitors Zaharias would square off against - she loved a challenge, and never backed down from one.

In January 1938, at the beginning of her career, The Babe entered the PGA Tour's Los Angeles Open, shooting 81-84 and missing the cut. Later, after establishing and improving her game drastically, she would try the PGA Tour again, and she would never miss the halfway cut in any event that she entered. In 1945 she again played in the L.A. Open, this time making the 36-hole cut with rounds of 76 and 81. In that tournament. there was also a three-day cut, which she missed. She continued her cut streak at the Phoenix Open, where she finished in 33rd place. At the Tucson Open she shot 307 and finished tied for 42nd. Unlike other female golfers competing in men's events, she got into the Phoenix and Tucson opens through 36-hole qualifiers, as opposed to a sponsor's exemption.

While The Babe never won against the likes of Hogan, Nelson and Snead, she more than proved that she belonged on the same couse with them, and she proved for all time that in some cases saying that women cannot compete against men in golf, even at its highest levels - is merely folly.


  1. Great piece on a great woman !! (though we disagree on the conclusion) :-)

    Two shots to a 523 yard par 5...into the wind...yet her 250 yard tee shot on the next hole is described as "scorched" ? If 250 yards is "scorched" what did she have in her bag to make up the 273 yards to the par 5 green a hole earlier ?

    I wish I could have seen Zaharias - and not just on the golf course. What a spectacular athlete.

    As impressive as she was in making a few cuts with the men, they were all during WWII when most of the men were overseas. This was the year that Byron Nelson won 11 tournaments and still gets criticized for doing it when the Tour was greatly depleated.

    What really impresses me is that she didn't depend on sponsors to get into these tournaments. She went through qualifying rounds against guys who were trying to make a living in the days before the all exempt tour.

    Michelle Wie's best shot at making a cut came very early when the men were afraid of being seen as "mean" if they just beat the daylights out of her. Once they decided to stop playing the nice guy, she had a string of DFL's and mysterious injuries and illnesses. (heat exhaustion in 78 degree weather ? really ??)

    These things don't and won't happen in modern times. Se Ri Pak made a cut in Korea a few years ago against a sub-Hooters Tour field - but she made the cut. (the highest ranked player in the field was in the 400's) Great for her.

    I think Annika SoreNstam's comments say it all for the modern game - not that women who want to try shouldn't - but just know what you're up against and don't feel bad when you're slamming your trunk after a Monday qualifier or, in the case of Michelle Wie, on Friday when the circus is leaving town.

  2. I think Annika would have done fine at Colonial if her putting had held up. I didn't get to see all of her two rounds, but I did see her miss 4 or 5 putts that she normally wouldn't have missed on the ladies' tour. And if I remember correctly, for all that, she only missed the cut by one shot.

    And, by the way, Annika proved her game compared pretty well to Fred Funk's... and Fred hasn't done too bad on the Tour. I think it takes a special woman to stand up to the pressure, though; the men on Tour aren't as chivalrous as they'd like to sound. After all, the last thing they want to say is that a woman beat them.

    The Babe was one in a million. She not only could stand the pressure, she craved it. A true legend.

  3. What a special woman the babe was.

    She and courtgolf were in high school together.

  4. The Babe was exceptional. Mentally and physically she possessed such rare abilities for athleticism. That said, when comparing men to women and attempting to understand why it's so rare for a woman to even approach the cut in a men's tournament, I think the question of distance should almost be set aside as the physiology of men and women is clearly different. Much more enigmatic...and interesting to look at... is putting, where there's no quantifiable reason that women should do less well than men.


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