Babe Zaharias (1915 - 1956)
Born Mildred Didrikson in Texas, USA of Norwegian stock, Zaharias is remembered as probably the greatest women athlete to have ever lived. Her achievements in golf were mirrored by her great success in many other sports.
Zaharias grew up in a large family. Her father was a sailor and the immigrant family worked hard to scrape a living. Sport and outdoor pursuits were actively encouraged. When Zaharias was 15, her parents made the necessary sacrifices to send her to the National Athletics Championships in nearby Dallas. Her impact was immediate and she was quickly selected for many teams events around the country. Sometimes a team would win purely on the merit of her individual performance.
At the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles, she won 3 gold medals and set 3 new world records in track and field events. However she was an all round athlete and excelled in around 20 sports. She made a living from Baseball where the 'Babe' nickname comes from. In addition she was a professional basketball player. She was also an accomplished swimmer and planned to to swim the English Channel (13 miles) but her busy schedule never gave her the opportunity to do so. In all she was voted five times Womens Althlete of the Year.
Zaharias took up golf when she was 18 and practised relentlessly; so much so that her hands developed blisters. She won her first tournament, the Texas Amateur Women's Invitational , in 1935. However because of her earnings from basketball and baseball, her amateur status was revoked. She did not consider herself a professional and did not participate in the tour. Instead she married a Texas wrestler and went into semi retirement. She did contest the Western Open in 1940 and subsequently went on to win it a total of 4 times.
In 1945, her amateur status was restored. Between 1946 and 1947, she won 17 amateur tournaments in a row which included the US Womens Amateur and the British Ladies Amateur. She was the first American to win the latter tournament in it's 53 year history.
Zaharias turned professional in 1949 and topped the money list five years in a row. Included in her 31 professional victories are three US Womens Opens. She also helped to promote the ladies professioanl game. She was a founder member of the Ladies PGA and was the first lady professional at a golf club.
Unfortunately, she was diagnosed with cancer in 1951 but true to her spirit fought against it. She continued to play until 1955. Alas after an operation, the disease reoccured and she eventually succumbed to her illness in 1956. Her death was front page news around the world; the Guardian carried the headline "Death of the World's Greatest Athlete".
No words can suitably honour the the magnitude of Zaharias' achievements. She was a truly remarkable individual without equal.