The IX: Golf Thursday with Carly Grenfell, April 11, 2019
Remembering Marilynn Smith's Hall of Fame induction speech-Must-click links in women's golf
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The Impact of LPGA Founder Marilynn Smith
When you really take the time to sit back and reflect on women’s sports in their entirety, and how far we’ve come in terms of acceptance and support, it’s pretty amazing. Marilynn Smith, one of 13 LPGA Founders, passed away earlier this week—and she was one that certainly had her hand in the momentum we’ve seen in golf. I’m using today to celebrate her impact.
She would have turned 90 on April 13 and was last seen at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup less than a month ago. As part of this event, the founders are given special seating and the players shake their hands at the end of their rounds.
If you’re unfamiliar, the other 12 founders are Alice Bauer, Patty Berg, Bettye Danoff, Helen Dettweiler, Marlene Bauer Hagge, Helen Hicks, Opal Hall, Betty Jameson, Sally Sessions, Shirley Spork, Louise Suggs and Babe Zaharias. Now just Hagge and Spork are the only surviving founders. These women put their heads together to launch the LPGA in making it what it is today.
As a professional golfer, Smith won two majors, 21 LPGA events and has been a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame since 2006. She turned pro in 1949 and by 1950, the LPGA was founded. She served as President from 1958 to 1960 and in 1973, was the first woman to work on a men’s golf television broadcast. But let it be known, her golf journey did not come easy. Smith attended the University of Kansas and won the 1949 national intercollegiate tournament. At this time, the university did not have a women’s golf team. She had to fund her own travel expenses after the athletic director told Smith’s father it was “too bad she wasn’t a boy.”
Smith didn’t pout. She didn’t get bitter. She founded a Charity Pro-Am that raises scholarship money to help female golfers with college expenses instead. As President of the LPGA, Smith’s giving spirit was no different. She was the one out selling sponsorships for the tour when it was first founded. And right before she turned pro, signed a deal herself with Spalding for $5,000 annually.
In the last year, the LPGA now has more new corporate partners than any other time in its history. The purse money has never been higher at $70.55 million. This is up from $65.35 million in 2018. Can you guess what the total prize money was in the LPGA’s first year? Just $50,000. Players couldn’t afford to fly to tournaments back then, either. So what did they do? They traveled in caravans.
Girls golf participation continues to skyrocket. Over the last seven years, there has been a 1,400% jump in participation for LPGA/USGA Girls Golf—increasing its reach from 4,500 in 2010 to 72,000 in 2017. In 2019, I would guess the growth is even more drastic. The talent keeps getting better, too. In 2018, there were 10 first-time LPGA winners, 26 winners from ten countries and 32 official tournaments. This year, there are 33 official tournaments that includes four new events. When the LPGA first started, Smith and the other founders did everything: they were the tournament directors, sponsorship sellers, rule makers and their own publicists, calling in results to agencies and newspapers.
The terrific state of the LPGA today speaks volumes to what Marilynn Smith and the other 12 founders helped build. If they didn’t believe in what the LPGA could be, and work tirelessly to bring their vision to life, we wouldn’t be sitting here today talking about the tremendous growth of the longest-standing women’s sports organization. What she did is remarkable in its purest form. Nothing came easy, and she was rewarded minimally when it came to compensation, yet she kept going. She persisted. She drove on!
Rest in peace, Marilynn Smith. Your impact will be felt forever.
This Week in Women’s Golf
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Jennifer Kupcho was crowned the inaugural champion of the ANWA.
Jennifer Kupcho has a bright career ahead of her.
LPGA Founder Marilynn Smith dies at 89.
This is a beautiful tribute to Marilynn Smith by Ron Sirak.
There are questions about when Augusta National will have an LPGA event.
Alison Lee wants her shot at Augusta National.
New sponsors give stability to popular LPGA Kingsmill tournament.
Jin Youn Ko is your first major champion of 2019 after winning the ANA Inspiration.
The Jutanugarns are caddying at The Masters!
Annie Park missed the cut at the ANA Inspiration after her clubs were stolen.
Augusta National doesn’t want a women’s masters.
A big week for women’s golf, but maybe not progress.
Renee Powell named first At-Large Director of the PGA of America BOD.
Tweet of the Week
Five at The IX: Marilynn Smith
In the spirit of honoring, celebrating and reflecting on Marilynn Smith’s impact on the world of golf, a giant in the game of golf as they say, here’s her Hall of Fame induction acceptance speech from 2006. Her speech begins around the 12-minute mark and lasts around 15 minutes. If you have the time, I highly encourage you to listen! Smith talks about how she wanted to play professional baseball as a little girl and gives more insight to her upbringing and how she got started in golf that I did not highlight above. She is gracious, humble, soft-spoken and shows that anything is possible even if the odds are against you.