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Sunday, June 15, 2014

US Women's Open: Remembering The Babe

Babe Didrikson Zaharias, 1911-1956
In 1954 the United States was in the grip of the Cold War and being held in thrall by Joe McCarthy's Red Scare, and it seemed like only Edward R Murrow and Fred Friendly were going to take exception to McCarthy's madness.  Love was in the air and so was radioactivity: Monroe married Dimaggio and the first hydrogen weapon exploded over the Bikini Atoll.  The nation was poised on the brink of a cultural revolution, pondering but not yet able to envision the post-Brown v Board of Education social landscape.  Texas Instruments launched the transistor radio and Burger King launched its proletarian hamburger challenge.  The first issue of Sports Illustrated appeared on newsstands.

This was the year Babe Zaharias won the US Women's Open for the third and final time, defeating Betty Hicks (for the second time) at the Salem Country Club in Peabody, Massachusetts.  It was her 48th and final victory on the links.

Babe Zaharias didn't deliver women's golf to the public state singlehandedly.  She didn't even pioneer it.  But when she joined with a dozen other sportswomen who were determined to carve out a space in the domain of professional athletic competition where they could follow their dreams, the US Women's Open became the championship to win and the event to watch.

The Open is upon us again, a contest that will showcase -- as it does annually in mid-summer -- the finest physical and mental skills golf has to offer.  But even as Inbee Park steps up to the first tee to defend her title to the championship she so handily claimed last year, even as Juli Inkster and Karrie Webb, two-time Open champions, claim their right to compete, there are others -- Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, Minjee Lee -- poised to challenge for the honor of hoisting the Cup in this annual celebratory contest.

In a world of rapid and often dramatic shifts of focus -- conflict in the Middle East has replaced conflict in Indochina, fear of global terrorism has trumped the threat of Communism, and silicon chips have eclipsed transistors -- there is continuity in the Royal and Ancient Game of Golf and The Babe's advice on what it takes to hit a golf ball 250 yards resonates:
It's not just enough to swing at the ball.  You've got to loosen your girdle and really let the ball have it!
[Follow this link to read my preview of the 2014 US Women's Open in St Andrews Golf Magazine.]