Chip Shots: One of the country’s finest female athletes

‘The Babe’




I had reasonably assumed that there wouldn’t be anything of great interest to me inside the Babe Didrikson Zaharias Museum in Beaumont, Texas, but nothing could have been further from the truth. I truly wish I hadn’t waited so long.

It’s a tribute to the great Mildred “Babe” Didrikson Zaharias, who, by the looks of the center, is clearly was one of the greatest athletes this country has ever produced. She was multi-talented, multi-accomplished, beginning her career playing high school basketball on a company team called the Golden Cyclones, which won the national championship three years in a row. The Babe was an All-American for two of those years while still a teenager.

She was the winner of 17 consecutive tournaments from 1946-47. Between 1933 and 1953 she won a total of 82 titles

Her attention then turned to track and field. At the national women’s Amateur Athletic Union track meet in 1931, she won first place in eight events and was second in her ninth. She went on to compete in the Olympics, where at the time women were only allowed to enter three events. She broke several world records while winning gold in the javelin throw and the 80-meter hurdles, and silver in the high jump. Sportswriter Paul Gallico referred to her as “the most talented athlete, male or female, ever developed in our country.”

Indeed, she seemed to excel in whatever she tried: sewing her own clothes, typing 86 words a minute, competing in tennis and bowling. She once threw a baseball from deep center field to home plate — 300 feet — and even pitched an inning in an exhibition game for the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Babe started her love affair with golf around 1932 and played and succeeded in multiple tournaments around the state, country, and the world. In 1947, Zaharias became the first American woman to win the British Ladies’ Amateur Championship in Gullane, Scotland. Shortly after that, she announced she was going pro and for the next six years dominated women’s golf until her untimely death in 1954.

She was the winner of 17 consecutive tournaments from 1946-47. Between 1933 and 1953 she won a total of 82 titles — yes, it’s a familiar number, as that is the same amount that both Tiger Woods and Sam Snead have recorded. The Associated Press named her “Woman of the Year” in 1936, 1945, 1947, 1950 and 1954. In 1950, AP acclaimed her the “Woman Athlete of the Half Century.”

But how did Mildred Didrikson become known as “The Babe?” Well, as an adolescent in the Babe Ruth era, and while playing baseball with her brothers, she hit five home runs in a single game. From that moment on, her nickname became “Babe.”

Meanwhile, as I journey back into the present, Brendon Todd just won back-to-back victories on the PGA Tour — the first in Bermuda, second in Mexico. Previously, his game was in complete shambles — money was short, and worse than that, he had no idea how he was going to recover. But, like “The Babe,” he believed that hard work was the only road to success.

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