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The Babe Zaharias golf story is one for the books, but did you know she was a gold-medal Olympian and a minor-league baseball player?
While not prominently known as some world-renowned players, she was one of the greatest women golfers and most versatile athletes of all time.
Early Years of Babe Didrikson
Babe was born Mildred Ella Didriksen on June 26, 1911, in Port Arthur, Texas. Her parents, Ole and Hannah Didriksen were originally from Norway and wanted to start a better life with their seven children. As a toddler, her mom referred to her as “Bebe.”
Even as a child, Babe showed early signs of becoming a multitalented athlete. She gained the new nickname “Babe” after hitting five home runs, just like the famous slugger Babe Ruth.
⛳️ Fun Fact: Babe originally spelled her name Didriksen and later changed it to Didrikson.
Becoming a Golfer
Babe Zaharias didn’t immerse herself in the world of golf until 1935. Despite her late start, she ultimately rose to become one of the most recognizable figures of her time.
In the early years, her status fluctuated between professional and amateur, with her amateur golf designation briefly stripped. Yet, this setback didn’t deter Zaharias. She made headlines by participating in the male-dominated PGA Tour’s Los Angeles Open in January 1938, a testament to her talent.
Babe Zaharias grappled with financial difficulties given her parents’ modest means. To finance her athletic ambitions, she undertook several part-time jobs.
In her pursuit to play golf, she was at times met with staunch opposition and prejudice due to her being a woman in a traditionally male-dominated sport. Yet, she embraced these hurdles with a resilient spirit, viewing every challenge as an opportunity for growth.
Babe Zaharias Golf Tour Career
Babe Zaharias officially started her professional golf career in 1947. She had 48 professional wins, 41 LPGA Tour wins and 7 other victories on the golf course. The 10 major championships are included in 48 wins.
When Babe first joined the LPGA Tour in 1950, she completed what was the Career Grand Slam in the same year. She also became one of the founding members of the LPGA Tour.
Zaharias played in almost all the championships during her time except U.S. Open. This was because USGA rejected her application due to this being a men-only event.
Accomplishments in Sports
Babe Zaharias, despite not excelling academically and even leaving school for a period, demonstrated extraordinary athletic talent from a young age. This unique ability catapulted her into the global spotlight at just 21 years old, following her remarkable performance at the Amateur Athletic Union Championships.
After completing her education, Babe faced challenges in securing a stable income. However, she managed to land a position as a secretary for the Casualty Insurance Company of Dallas, which provided her with financial stability.
In the 1932 AAU Championships, Babe represented her company by participating in eight out of the ten events. She emerged victorious in five of these events and tied for first place in the sixth event. Her solo efforts were so outstanding that they secured the team championship for the Golden Cyclones.
Babe’s athletic prowess was further highlighted at the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles, where she set four world records in track and field. She clinched two gold medals and a silver medal, cementing her status as a world-class athlete.
Babe Zaharias Golf Wins
Babe began playing golf seriously in the 1930s. She rose to prominence and became the game’s top player in the 1940s and 1950s. She became the first American lady to win the U.S. Women’s Amateur in 1946 and the British Ladies’ Amateur in 1947. She also won three Women’s Western Opens. She won the Babe Zaharias Open in Beaumont, Texas, a competition that bears her name.
She won 17 consecutive amateur female wins. She had won every golf title available by 1950. Zaharias won a total of 82 golf competitions, including both her amateur and professional wins.
Zaharias won numerous golf championships and other awards in her career. Some of her major accomplishments include:
- LPGA Tour Money Winner (1950, 1951)
- LPGA Vare Trophy (1954)
- Associated Press (1932, 1945, 1946, 1947)
- Female Athlete of the Year (1950, 1954)
Babe Zaharias Golf Course
The Babe Zaharias Golf Course, known to locals as “The Babe,” is situated in Tampa, Florida. It was originally built in 1926 and included riding stables.
Zaharias purchased it in 1949 and spent time hosting clinics and playing with the men’s club. Rumor has it she also lived on the second floor of the clubhouse for a period.
Following her death, the Babe Zaharias Golf Course became abandoned and overgrown. By 1962, the clubhouse was a hang-out for teenagers and transients, which inevitably resulted in being burnt down.
This 18-hole golf course is now part of the Florida Historic Golf Trail and has been owned by the City of Tampa since 1974. Both local and out-of-town golfers may enjoy this historical place.
- Address: 11412 N Forest Hills Dr, Tampa, FL
- Phone: (813) 631-4375
- Website: Babe Zaharias Golf Course (The Babe)
Babe Zaharias Museum
The Babe Didrikson Zaharias Museum & Visitor Center is located in Beaumont, Texas. It is situated near I-10 and open to the public Monday through Saturday from 9 AM to 5 PM.
The museum features a variety of exhibits, including memorabilia, photographs, and personal items that belonged to Zaharias. Visitors can learn about her numerous accomplishments, such as her record-breaking performances in the 1932 Olympics, her professional basketball career, and her dominance in golf.
The Babe Zaharias Museum also highlights her off-field achievements, including her cancer battle and philanthropic efforts. The museum serves as a testament to Zaharias’s enduring legacy and her role in breaking barriers for women in sports.
Babe Zaharias Personal Life
In 1938, Mildred Ella “Babe” Didrikson married professional wrestler George Zaharias. Following their nuptials, she adopted her husband’s surname, becoming known as Babe Didrikson Zaharias, or more commonly, Babe Zaharias. She was renowned for her exceptional personal branding skills.
A few months post their wedding, the couple embarked on an adventurous journey to Australia. During their visit, George organized a golf exhibition to showcase Babe’s extraordinary talent.
Eventually, the couple made their home in Tampa, Florida. Despite their desire to start a family, they faced challenges due to the stringent adoption requirements of the era, which prevented them from adopting a child.
In 1953, Babe Zaharias was diagnosed with colon cancer. Following surgery in 1954, she made a remarkable but brief comeback. Displaying her indomitable spirit, she clinched the U.S. Women’s Open and the Vare Trophy for the lowest scoring average just a month after undergoing a colostomy operation. This marked her 10th and final major victory.
Sadly, Babe Zaharias’ battle with cancer ended on September 27, 1956, when she passed away at the age of 45. Her legacy, however, continues to inspire and influence the world of sports and amateur golfers like me.
After Babe Zaharias death, George re-married several years later. According to the Orlando Sentinel, this didn’t last because his new wife felt like she was living in Babe’s shadow. He re-married again before passing away in 1984 at the age of 76.
Babe Zaharias Fun Facts
- Gold Medal Winner – 1932 Olympics for the Javelin Throw
- Gold Medal Winner – 1932 Olympics for the 80-meter hurdles
- Silver Medal Winner – 1932 Olympics – Track High Jump
- In 1934, she played in spring training for Major League exhibition games.
- Babe performed on the vaudeville circuit and even did some acting in films.
- In 2021, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom (Posthumous award)
Babe Zaharias AutoBiography
If you have an interest in learning more about Babe Zaharias, there are multiple books written about her. This Life I Ve Led My Autobiography is her own story and is available for free through the US public domain, or you can purchase a printed copy from Amazon.
Babe Zaharias was an incredible athlete that died before her time. While she was not from a rich family, her natural abilities, grit, and determination brought her the fruit of success.
From her childhood, she was more interested in athletics than anything else. Her life’s goal was to be the greatest athlete ever to live, and in many ways, she met her life’s ambition.