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PostWatch: An irregular correction to the Washington Post

Brought to you by Christopher Rake


Monday, December 09, 2002
5:26 PM

From Days of Yore.... Though Suzy Whaley is the first female golfer to qualify for a PGA event--under circumstances I regard as fraudulent--she is not the first golfer to play in a PGA event. [UPDATE FIX: obviously I meant not the first female] That distinction was acheived by the great Babe Didrikson, a who entered the Los Angeles Open in 1938. I'm not sure, but it looks like nearly anyone could enter--my additional guess, provided you were white--and so she did. Here's an account I found from Glendale College:

At 23, Didrikson was at an awkward point in her career. Her 1932 Olympic exploits fading from popular memory, she bounced from sport to sport in an era that offered few professional opportunities for women in sports. Her career became a barnstorming tour, with Didrikson often picking up her biggest paychecks by playing alongside the top male athletes of the time....

In 1935 these activities lost Didrikson her status as an amateur golfer in Texas, her home state. Since the Ladies' Professional Golf Association didn't exist yet, she was somewhat at a loss about where to compete. Media-savvy and comfortable matching her talents against men, Didrikson (who was now living near Paramount Studios in Hollywood) chose a course that would draw attention to her and cement her in public perception as the nation's top woman golfer.

She entered the Los Angeles Open, held in Griffith Park. Women were a fairly common sight on the links at Griffith Park. The Women's City Golf Championship had been held in the park since at least 1930, when the event turned a profit of $3.60. But this wasn't a women's tournament. Actually, it wasn't explicitly a men's tournament, either. An open tournament meant just that. Anyone could enter. "There was no rule that said a woman couldn't play in it," she recalled in her autobiography. "So I got in there."

She was put into a threesome that was unlikely to break any course records: C. Pardee Erdman, a Presbyterian minister who was professor of religion at Occidental College; George Zaharis, a professional wrestler; and herself.

They drew a fair amount of attention. Sports photographers, forever looking for an angle, egged the big, good-natured Zaharias to demonstrate various wrestling holds on Didrikson, who was apparently up for anything. Although they had met only minutes earlier, they hammed it up for the cameras.

And even though the pros were tearing the place apart and posting some spectacular rounds--there were two 65s on the first day of the tournament--nearly the entire gallery followed the minister, the wrestler and the woman. But Didrikson recalled, "Those people didn't see too much good golf." She shot an 84. Zaharis had an 83. Rev. Erdman, though, was on his game, shooting a 75.

The next day she scored high, and missed the cut. She later married that wrestler and became Babe Zaharias--and also a founding golfer of the LPGA. Also one of the most amazing athletes who ever did live.

Photo: 1938 Los Angeles Open, from the Glendale College site, credited to UCLA Department of Special Collections

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