In the late 1800s, golf was one of the few recreational sports that society found acceptable for women, although they were not welcome on the competitive circuits until many years later. Some female golfers during this time helped to shape the sport and make women equals on the golf course.
Joyce Wethered, who died in 1997 at the age of 96, made her first appearance on the English golf circuit at the British National Championship at the age of 18. At the end of her career, she took the British Amateur Championship four times and the English Ladies Championship five times. During her career, she became known as the first female golfer to break gender barriers and become known for her ability to play as well as or better than many of the top male golfers of the era.
Mildred Didrikson Zaharias
Mildred Didrikson Zaharias, known simply as “Babe,” grew up in poverty in South Texas. She discovered sports in high school and quickly became a star basketball player. After setting her sights on track and field, she won gold medals at the 1932 Summer Olympics. Babe was a natural sportswoman, excelling at every one that she put her heart into. She established her amateur golfer status in 1938, going on to win all of the major titles available to women. Just a few years before her death in 1956, she became a founding member of the Ladies’ Professional Golf Association.
Patricia Jean Berg
Born in 1918, Patricia J. Berg career in golf happened quickly. She started playing at the age of 14, won the Minneapolis City Championship two years later before taking the title of state amateur champion at the age of 18. Over the next seven years, she won 29 more titles making her one of the most well-known female athletes of her time. Berg entered the Marine Corps in 1943, returning to the sport in 1946 by winning the U.S. Women’s Open. She helped to found the Ladies’ Professional Golf Association in 1948, and acted as its first president. She died in 2006.
Known as the “Queen of Swing,” Mickey Wright was one of the greatest golfers of her time. She retired in 1980 after winning 82 professional golf tournaments, including 13 wins in the majors. "Sports Illustrated" journalist Michael Bamberger echoed the sentiment of many when he said, “No golfer, man or woman, has dominated an era the way Wright did hers. No golfer ever swung a club the way she did, every part of her swing ideal, the sum of those parts perfection.” She returned to the course in 1995, playing her final strokes in the Sprint Senior Challenge.
Californian Nancy Lopez picked up her first golf club at 8 years old, won her first tournament at 9 years old and quickly followed that by winning the state golf championship. She played on the boys’ golf team in high school, helping them to win two state championships. After being named “Rookie of the Year” in 1977, she began winning major tournaments, including the LPGA Championship, and was the leading money winner in the sport for several years. She fought racism along the way after being denied membership to the Roswell Country Club because of her Latino descent. By the age of 30, she had won 35 tours and was inducted into the LPGA Hall of Fame in 1989.