Louise Suggs: the female golfer who helped pioneer the women's game and beat Hogan and Snead

The often abrasive champion won more than 60 tournaments

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Louise Suggs won more than 60 golf tournaments, and as a co-founder of the Ladies Professional Golf Association played a key role in establishing women's golf as a major professional sport.

She was single-minded, practising until her hands were raw as she developed one of the most reliable swings of any golfer, male or female. She had a grim, tight-lipped expression on the course; her manner was blunt, her speech salty. "Fond of her or not," a 1961 Sports Illustrated article noted, "everyone respects her absolutely – personally and as a golfer."

She was the first woman to win all four major tournaments in golf’s so-called career grand slam, and her 11 major titles are the third most of all time, while her 61 tournament wins rank fourth. In her early years of competition, Suggs had fierce rivalries with other pioneers such as Patty Berg, Betsy Rawls and especially Babe Didrikson Zaharias.

“Babe and I didn’t get along,” she said in 2000. “We butted heads. She was so cocky, everybody else was in awe of her. Your typical bar-room brawler. But she couldn’t put anything over on me. I’d look her right in the eye.” Suggs delivered one of her best performances at the 1949 US Women’s Open in Maryland. She led from start to finish, winning by 14 shots, still the largest victory margin in the tournament’s history. Zaharias came second. “Babe was a little upset after that. She said, ‘Are you sure you counted all your strokes?’ Oh, I did.”

She was born in 1923 in Atlanta. Her father was a minor-league baseball pitcher who later operated a nine-hole golf course, and she was proficient by the time she was 10. She won regional tournaments in her teens, and in 1945 was paired in a tournament with Ben Hogan, one of her idols. She beat him even though she playing from the longer men’s tees.

The next day, Hogan wouldn’t speak to her. “Mr Hogan, I don’t think you’re a gentleman,” she told him. “I came here to help you win, and you can’t even be civil.” The two became good friends. In 1961 in Palm Beach she played against 12 leading men, including Sam Snead, and took first place. Afterwards, Snead stormed to his car and raced out of the car park.

Suggs retired in 1962 but continued to teach into her 70s. She wrote instructional books and published an autobiography in 2014. She twice led the women’s tour in earnings, but in 14 years her total winnings amounted to about $190,000. In 2007, when Angela Park won the LPGA’s Louise Suggs Award as rookie of the year, she earned more than $980,000. “I wish like hell I could have played for this kind of money,” Suggs said. “But if not for me, they wouldn’t be playing for it.”

Louise Suggs, golfer: born Atlanta, Georgia 7 September 1923; died Sarasota, Florida 7 August 2015.

© The Washington Post

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