Sunday, October 22, 2006

"Lazzari's Sports Roundup" ---- 10-28-06

Remembering: Patty Berg

The great Patty Berg quietly passed away a few weeks ago--maybe a bit TOO quietly; many sports fans hardly noticed. But those who WERE familiar with her accomplishments and contributions to women's golf (and women's sports in general) will remember a lady who was quite unique--to say the least.

Growing up in Minnesota, she played quarterback on a sandlot squad named the "50th Street Tigers"--a team that included former Oklahoma coach Bud Wilkinson; yes, like I said--UNIQUE. She spent three years as a lieutenant in the Marine Corps during World War II while continuing to win major golf tournaments; nah, not quite like your average woman of the 1940s. And I guess it should come as no surprise that this special woman was the first female to record a hole-in-one in a USGA competition--and followed that up with another ace at the age of 73 in 1991. Ah yes, there was only one Patty Berg.

Patty Berg's immense mastery of the golf course is well-documented; she won her first major title as a teenager and proceeded to win 14 more major championships during her illustrious career--including the very first U.S. Women's Open in 1946. Her capturing of 15 majors still remains as an LPGA Tour record, and she amassed a staggering 60 victories in all during her often-dominating playing days. I guess the lone question left to be asked about Ms. Berg's legacy is THIS: Did she leave more of a lasting impression/legacy OFF the course than she did on it? It surely seems so as this was a woman who truly LIVED the game of golf--even into her latter years.

Let's start with her being one of the founders of the LPGA and serving as its first president from 1950-1952. Nope, this wasn't a "figurehead" position at the time, either; this was during an era when pushing women's sports on a shoestring budget was a struggle--and when founders like Berg and the great Babe Zaharias performed hands-on administrative duties such as supervising membership and establishing rules. Prize money/operating capital was next to nothing--but it was a special individual like Patty Berg who was willing to absorb bumps along the way until a legitimate organization got off the ground. Yes, call her a "pioneer"; to this day, every prospering LPGA member who cashes a paycheck or enjoys amenities that forerunners only dreamed of owes a major "thank you" to Ms. Berg.

Man, she always loved to give back--despite the little that was given to her. During much of her life, she conducted golf clinics throughout the world--estimating once that she had given 10,000 of them; she was the first woman to give an exhibition in Japan (in 1962). And boy, could she entertain--making people laugh while, at the same time, teaching helpful skills about the game she had loved so much since the age of 13. It wouldn't be out of the ordinary for Patty to give free tips to a struggling amateur--then offer to speak to the same golfer via telephone should further instruction be necessary. Finally, not much could stop Patty Berg; she even continued competing after cancer surgery in 1971 and played until age 62 when hip surgery limited her mobility. I don't know--I guess she had practice in persevering. Yep, that word "unique" seems to have entered the discussion yet again.

Patty Berg's specific awards/honors are too numerous to mention here; suffice it to say that she is a member of NUMEROUS Halls of Fame (I lost count after ten) and has the prestigious Patty Berg Award named after her--given out for outstanding contributions to women's golf. From the time the red-haired, freckle-faced girl first picked up a golf club in her home state of Minnesota, she was well-liked; it became a more-universal adoration years later. And she accomplished SO much in such a classy, under-publicized way--but that was Patty Berg in a nutshell.

Ms. Berg died September 10 in Florida at the age of 88 from complications of Alzheimer's disease. "She had a sense of humor that sparked a smile in all who met her," said LPGA Commissioner Carolyn Bivens on Yes, I guess it's those people like myself who never met Berg personally that lost out; we're the ones who came up short and didn't "make the cut" this time. Ironically, Patty Berg was born on February 13--right around Valentine's Day. That's very appropriate in regard to a woman who was filled with so much love and passion--for both the game of golf AND for people in general. We've lost a true legend.

Bob Lazzari

Reprinted by permission of the Valley Times.


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