Lessons From The Great Patty Berg

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - September 20, 2006
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If you carry around a Lady Ping in your golf bag or tend to hit more fairway woods then irons, there is a person you should know, recognize and thank: Patty Berg. Sadly, Berg passed away Sept. 10 of complications from Alzheimer’s disease. She was 88.

Born in Ft. Myers, Fla., Berg began playing golf at the age of 13. Three years later she won the Minneapolis City Championship and was off and running. Throughout her career she logged 60 professional victories - No. 3 all time - and 15 majors (No. 1). She also won 28 times as an amateur and even recorded a hole-in-one when she was 73.

Before Berg and her good friend Babe Didrikson Zacharias, ladies’ golf was just that, a ladylike competition that was more social than athletic event. Berg changed that. She was an athlete who thrived on competition. She played quarterback for the 50th Street Tigers, an otherwise all-boys neighborhood football team in Minneapolis. Her teammate, tackle Bud Wilkinson, would later go on to a rather productive career at the University of Oklahoma, winning three national championships.

Berg was a lieutenant in the Marine Corps during World War II, the first woman to give a golf exhibition in Japan in 1962, was one of the founding members of the LPGA and served as its first president.

To list all of her achievements would take much more space then this column is allowed. Some of the more impressive are: inaugural member of the LPGA Hall of Fame, LPGA Teaching and Club Professional Hall of Fame, All-American Collegiate Hall of Fame, University of Minnesota Women’s Athletic Department Hall of Fame, PGA of America Golf Hall of Fame and both Minnesota and Florida sports halls of fame. Three times she was recognized as the Associated Press female athlete of the year, was named one of the 100 Heroes of Golf, and Golfer of the Decade for the period of 1938-47 by Golf magazine, and was selected as one of the 50 Greatest Golfers of All Time by Golf Digest in 2000. In 1976, she became the first woman to ever receive the Humanitarian Sports Award from the United Cerebral Palsy Foundation, and in 1993 the Southwest Florida Regional Medical Center was re-dedicated as the Patty Berg Cancer Center.

For as many awards as she had received, none may be more fitting than when, in 1978, the LPGA established the Patty Berg Award, given for outstanding contributions to women’s golf. Berg’s accomplishments were amazing,but her legacy will not be based on athletic success, but on her impact on the growth of the game. Above all else, she was an ambassador - a Johnny Appleseed of golf.

Berg may have taught more people the game than anyone in history. She gave literally thousands of clinics in the U.S. and beyond. Even after cancer surgery in 1971, hip surgery in 1980 and back surgery in 1989, she was always cheerfully promoting her sport with a mixture of passion, humor and even a song or two. No one who had ever met Patty Berg is likely to ever forget her. Following her death, golf’s biggest names spoke of her kindness, support and love of the game. And even though she is gone, she is still teaching.

In a 2004 interview, replayed on the Golf Channel, Berg talked about what it takes to be a champion. Practice was a gimme.

Repetition a no-brainer, but the real message, one that needs to be embraced more by the PGA then the LPGA, was that to be a champion you need “the will to win. Not the wish to win, but the will.”

Seems the only one listening is Tiger Woods.

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