In preparation for the LPGA Founders Cup, pioneer of women’s golf and a founder of the LPGA, Marilynn Smith, took some time to answer questions for the LPGA women’s network.
A woman who has impacted the game of golf by keeping it alive for women players, Smith now dedicates her time and efforts to raising scholarship funds for women players; an opportunity that she was never given during her era. Below is what she had to say about golf, the hard work it took to make the LPGA what it is today, and the advice she offers to women who are hesitant to start playing.
1. What drew you to the game of golf?
When I was 12 years old I was the owner, coach, and manager of local boy’s baseball team. I came home one day quite frustrated and used a word I shouldn’t have (one I also picked up from the boys). My mother immediately took me to the bathroom and washed my mouth out with soap. When my father got home, she told him the story of what happened and the language I used.
At that point, my father took me to the local country club and said that I needed to play a sport that was more ladylike. I had always taken golf to be a ‘sissy sport’, as baseball was my favorite sport to play at the time. As soon as my father had me on the driving range, my love of golf started, and I have never looked back.
Golf is still a huge part of my life even though I no longer play it. I now put all my attention and focus on my Pro-Am tournament. The goal of my event is to raise scholarship money to give to five women golfers who are pursuing college. I was never given that opportunity when I went to University of Kansas years ago. In fact, the Dean of the college said that if I was a boy then he could help me, but because I was a girl, then no funds were available to me. I want to make sure that women golfers don’t ever have to face that same hurdle that I did when I was their age.
2. What motivated you to continue playing, particularly during a time when women really weren’t welcome to play?
I was blessed as I was sponsored by golfing company, Spaulding, for $5,000 a year. They gave me unlimited expenses, a car to drive around in, and baseball mitts. I personally requested the baseball mitts, because the golf caddies and I would play catch during breaks on the golf course. I also got the chance to travel and meet six U.S. Presidents during my golfing tenure (Eisenhower, G.W. Bush, Nixon, Ford, JFK and President Trump back in 2006). The experiences I made, and the people I met, were always enough to keep me attached to the game of golf.
The LPGA also added the teaching division in 1958, which finally passed after failing to go through the year before. I wanted to see that division thrive, and it gave me the passion to keep the game going for future women players.
3. What would others find interesting to learn about golf’s first professional, female players?
I can say that I saw some of the best female players in golf during my competition years. Babe Zaharias changed the game of golf for women. She was an Olympic champion who drew in galleries of people to come out and watch her play. When she died of cancer in 1956, we were left to figure out how to sustain ourselves and women’s professional golf.
After Babe’s death, many of us women golfers went out to other sporting events, such as baseball games or boxing matches, to promote women’s golf tournaments. We had to work hard to make women’s golf and the LPGA what it is today.
4. Tell us about your worst and best golf experience.
I am a people person. Throughout my golfing tenure, I have gotten to meet some of the best people in my life. My fondest memories were of those individuals who helped make our golf tournaments a success, and their desire to keep the game going for women.
I am also blessed in that I don’t have a bad experience in golf that I can recall. The game has been so good to me, and all I have is fond memories of playing it with the women who I call my family.
I will say that most memorable moments was introducing the late President Eisenhower at an LPGA event. My uncle was Governor of Kansas at the time, so when I went to introduce President Eisenhower, I announced myself as Governor Arn’s niece and not as the President of the LPGA.
5. What advice would you give to a woman hesitant to try golf?
The most important bit of advice that I can give is to go to the driving range and take lessons when first starting off. Golf is a humbling game, so it’s important to get a feel of it before going out and playing it on the golf course. I also recommend learning about golf etiquette and its safety precautions when first trying out the game.
Golf teaches you a lot about life and yourself. Do not be hesitant to try it, as golf can be something whose lessons will last a lifetime and be applicable long after you leave the golf course.