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Patricia “Patty” Berg – A Trailblazer of her Time

Golf Reiminaged Business Analyst, Justin Lukacs, delves into one of the pioneers of women’s professional golf.

 

Patty Berg is a legend when it comes to the game of golf. The Minnesota native was a force to be reckoned with on the course winning a total of 60 tournaments on the LPGA, holding at 4th all-time wins on this tour. This alone is an impressive feat, but Patty had much more to offer than dominance on the golf course. Berg was a volunteer member of the United States Marine Corps, helping out her fellow Americans during the Second World War. In addition to winning a multitude of tour events, she was maybe just as famous for her ‘Patty Berg Hit Parade’ golf clinics, in which she was widely regarded as an engaging and demonstrative performer. Perhaps the most relevant mark she left on the game of golf was that of a founding member of the WPGA, which led to the current LPGA, allowing women the opportunity to pursue their dreams of becoming professional golf players.

 

As a child, Patty showed an interest towards football. She started her sports career here and even became the quarterback of her local organized sandlot team. This plight wouldn’t last very long, however, as Berg was soon coaxed into trying golf by her parents. She picked up the sport at 13 and it was clear from the get-go that she would find success in golf. Just 3 years later she kicked off her golf career by winning the 1934 Minneapolis City Championship, gaining her a lot of media attention. However, it was the following year that saw Patty Berg rocket into stardom at none other than the US Women’s Amateur Championship. Taking place on her home turf course, Interlachen, Berg had an advantage, but would, unfortunately, fall in the final to Glenna Collette-Vare, taking home second place. Of course, she didn’t stop there. Patty went on to win 28 amateur golf titles including multiple Titleholders Championships and US Women’s Amateur Championships.

 

Patty Berg was one of the first female golfers to find sponsorship, in the way of Wilson Sporting Goods. This is also where her Hit Parade clinics started. Wilson paid Patty to go around and provide these exhibition clinics where she would usually play a round of golf and deliver commentary and instruction on how to play the game. As mentioned, Berg was an absolute pleasure in these clinics, providing engaging and insightful narration that captivated many. Female golfers at this time would see the Patty Berg set of Wilson clubs as something to covet, as representation was sparse in the industry. It is estimated that Patty performed around 16,000 of these clinics over the course of her life, which is an insane number to think of in terms of one person hosting and demonstrating. Always cordial and a strong patriot, Berg would end each session with “God bless you, and God bless America”.

 

Following her amateur career, Berg would face a scary head-on car accident that shattered her knee and had many, including doctors, worried she would not be able to return to golf. In typical Patty Berg fashion, the injury didn’t weigh her down for long. She recovered fairly quickly and soon thereafter volunteered to the US Marines where she was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1942. Serving in the Eastern Procurement Division from her start through to the end of the war in 1945, Patty had the difficult job of recruiting others to the military. For these years, she would tour around college campuses for candidates who were ready, willing, and able to join combat forces immediately. Berg was successful in her role and used her celebrity status and sparkling personality to sway those able into joining the incredibly important effort that was needed during this trying time. While her efforts were of much value to Americans, she would eventually return to civilian life and do it with a bang.

 

Coming back to the golf scene saw Berg win the inaugural US Women’s Open, one of her first tournaments back after her stint in the marines. Showing that Berg had no quit and hadn’t lost a beat. After winning a few more tournaments, Berg would go on to help establish the Women’s Professional Golf Association in 1948. This was a precursor to the LPGA and saw Patty win another 3 tournaments under this organization. Berg and a few other female pros at the time came together to build this foundation as there were very few stages for women to compete in golf at the time. After a few years and still lackluster opportunities for women in the sport, Berg and 11 other pros would come together to form the LPGA in 1950, of which, Patty was elected the first president. This was a monumental moment for female athletics overall, as the LPGA paved the way for participation and was especially prominent as many clubs at the time forbade women from playing.

 

Over the course of her professional career, Berg would record 60 professional victories with 15 of those being major championships. She also has a particularly unique record of being the first woman to achieve an ace in a USGA event, doing so at the 1959 US Women’s Open. While I could spend this whole paragraph listing and discussing her many tour wins, for the sake of brevity I’ll simply say she won multiple Western Open, Titleholder’s, and Women’s PGA championships plus a US Women’s Open title. On top of these victories, Berg also won a plethora of awards over her career including the Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year 3 times, the LPGA Vare Trophy 3 times, and the Bob Jones Award once. She was the top money earner on the LPGA tour 3 times and even has an award named after her. The Patty Berg Award goes to an individual who “exemplifies diplomacy, sportsmanship, goodwill and contributions to the game of golf” and was first awarded in 1979. To cap all of these achievements off, Patty was added to the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1951.

 

While undoubtedly one of the most dominant golfers of all time, solely looking at her professional golf achievements downplays the impact Patty Berg had on the industry and the country. Over the course of her life, it was estimated she introduced over half a million new golfers to the game through multiple avenues; Hit Parade clinics, professional performances, and charitable efforts. Her efforts during the second world war showcased her drive and patriotism for her country. Patty was instrumental in paving the way for women in golf not just through her early sponsorship with Wilson, but additionally founding the LPGA and building upon it for years opened the capability for women to pursue a career in a sport that was traditionally restricted to men. Having a personality to match all her success, despite standing at an unassuming 5’2”, Patty was nothing short of a golf icon. The sheer number of accomplishments under her belt alongside her lasting legacy cement Patty Berg as one of the most influential golfers of all time.

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