Betsy Rawls, women’s golf pioneer who won eight majors, dies at 95

Betsy Rawls, a beloved figure in the early years of the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA), passed away at the age of 95. Rawls was not only a highly accomplished player, winning four U.S. Women’s Open titles, but she also made significant contributions as an executive and tournament director. Her short game was exceptional, known for her imaginative and accurate chips and putts that helped her escape difficult situations on the course. Despite not being a power hitter, Rawls won consistently when her drives were on point. By the end of her career, she had an impressive 55 LPGA victories, with only five players surpassing her record. Her intelligence and skill on the course were often praised by her fellow players.

Rawls played a pivotal role in the growth of the LPGA and was recognized for her contributions. She was one of the six inaugural members inducted into the LPGA Hall of Fame in 1967. She was also honored with a place in the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1987 and received the prestigious Bob Jones Award from the U.S. Golf Association in 1996. After retiring as a player, Rawls continued to serve the LPGA as an administrator. She was the president of the LPGA from 1961-62 and then worked as an LPGA tournament director for six years. Rawls also played a key role in the development of the McDonald’s Kids Classic, which later became the McDonald’s LPGA Championship. She served as the executive director of the tournament until 2002. Rawls was highly respected by her colleagues, and her contributions to the LPGA were instrumental in shaping the organization into what it is today.

Rawls discovered golf relatively late in life, starting at the age of 17 when her father introduced her to the sport. She quickly excelled, winning amateur tournaments and receiving guidance from renowned instructor Harvey Penick. Although she initially planned to pursue a career in physics, Rawls decided to join the LPGA after receiving an offer from Wilson Sporting Goods. The camaraderie among the players and the thrill of the sport convinced her to choose golf over physics. In the early years of the LPGA, the conditions were far from ideal, with players often having to prepare the courses themselves and limited prize money. However, Rawls found joy in the sport and dedicated herself to becoming one of the best players in the world. She won her first U.S. Women’s Open title as a rookie and went on to win three more throughout her career.

Rawls was known for her ability to navigate challenging situations on the course, often emerging victorious in high-pressure moments. Her victory in the 1959 Women’s Western Open is a perfect example. She found herself in a difficult position with her ball wedged between tree roots. With resourcefulness and skill, Rawls managed to hit the ball low on the slanted trunk of the tree, causing it to run up and back over her. She made par on the hole and ultimately won the tournament by six strokes. These moments of triumph fueled Rawls’ love for the game and her determination to leave a lasting impact on women’s golf.

Born on May 4, 1928, in Spartanburg, S.C., Rawls began her successful golf career by winning the women’s Texas amateur golf title. She went on to finish second in the U.S. Open as an amateur in 1950. Despite being in the minority as a female golfer at the time, Rawls never felt stigmatized and was always up for the challenge of playing against men. She joined the LPGA early in its history and quickly became involved in the tour’s administration. Rawls worked as a circuit secretary under president Babe Didrikson Zaharias, even making score rulings that affected her competitors. She regarded the camaraderie and experiences she had during those years as truly special.

Rawls won her final major title in 1969 and continued to play golf until she was 92 years old. She faced challenges adjusting to life after retiring from the LPGA tour, but eventually found fulfillment working as a circuit administrator. Rawls’s love for the game remained strong until the end of her life. She passed away at her home in Lewes, Del., leaving behind a legacy as not only a remarkable player but also a pioneer and influential figure in women’s golf. The LPGA, along with her family, mourns her loss and recognizes the countless contributions she made to the sport.


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