views updated

BERG, Patricia Jane ("Patty")

(b. 13 February 1918 in Minneapolis, Minnesota), one of the greatest women golfers of all time and a founding member of the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA).

Berg was the daughter of Herman L. Berg, a semiprofessional baseball player, and Teresa Berg, who died in 1939. A natural athlete, Berg played sandlot football when she was eleven, quarterbacking for the Fiftieth Street Tigers, a team on which her lifelong friend, future football great Bud Wilkinson, played right tackle. Berg plunged into golf at age fourteen with the same unbridled enthusiasm she showed for football. Her father was her first golf teacher, coaching her through her years at Washburn High School in Minneapolis. It was Lester Bolstad, however, her trainer at the University of Minnesota, who honed Berg's skills and remained her coach and mentor for the next forty years.

At sixteen, only three years after taking up the game, she won the 1934 Minneapolis City Championship, the Minnesota State Championship, and was the runner-up in the U.S. Amateur Championship. She repeated as state champion in 1936, and the following year again placed second in the U.S. Amateur. Berg's 1938 golf season was perhaps the most successful, in percentage terms, of any golfer in history, male or female. She won ten out of the thirteen tournaments that she entered, including the Western Amateur, National Amateur, Western Derby, Trans-Mississippi, Helen Lee Doherty, and her third Minnesota State Championship. In all, she won twenty-eight amateur titles.

Before 1948, professional women's golf blurred the distinction between amateur and professional victories. When Berg turned professional in 1940, she was among the first ten women to do so. This did little to improve her financial situation, however. Purses for women golfers at the time were so small that Berg earned most of her income giving exhibitions and clinics for the Wilson Sporting Goods Company, which sponsored her. She became one of the company's most successful touring pros, as charming and enthusiastic as she was skillful. So apparent and superior were her abilities that golfing enthusiasts were anxious to learn from her.

Her first major professional victory was in the Western Open, which she won in 1941 (and again in 1943, 1948, 1951, 1955, 1957, and 1958). She also won the All-American Open five times (1943, 1945, 1953, 1955, and 1957). During her career she amassed eighty-two tournament victories, fifty-one of them as a professional, giving her the record for the most career victories.

Berg joined the U.S. Marines during World War II, where she became a lieutenant and served as a recruiting officer. Fortunately her time away from the professional circuit did not diminish her abilities because she continued to play while in the military. After returning to civilian life in 1946 she won the first U.S. Women's Open.

In 1948 Berg was one of the principal founders and charter members of the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA), which grew out of the Women's Professional Golf Association. The Wilson Golf Company covered the group's administrative costs for the first several years and Fred Corcoran booked its events. Berg served as its first president (from 1950 to 1952) and in 1951 was among the four original inductees into the LPGA Hall of Fame.

Back on the links, Berg won the Eastern Open in 1950, four World Championships (1953, 1954, 1955, and 1957), the American Women's Open (1958 and 1960), and the Titleholders Championship seven times—three as an amateur (1937, 1938, and 1939) and four as a pro (1948, 1953, 1955, and 1957). In 1952 she shot a sixty-four at the Richmond California Open, an LPGA record that she held for twelve years. She won the first Vare Trophy in 1953, with subsequent wins in 1955 and 1956, and was the LPGA's highest-grossing player in 1954, 1955, and 1957. In 1962, at age forty-four, Berg won her last professional victory in the Muskogee (Oklahoma) Civitan Open but continued to play until 1980, when a hip replacement and other health concerns brought her professional playing career to an end.

Berg has been inducted into at least ten halls of fame, including the LPGA and the Professional Golf Association (PGA)/World Golf Hall of Fame. She received the 1963 Bob Jones Award, one of the highest honors bestowed by the United States Golf Association (USGA). In 1976 the Golf Writers Association presented her with the Ben Hogan Award. Her other honors include the Associated Press Woman Athlete of the Year (1938, 1943, and 1955), Los Angeles Times Award (1948 and 1955), Serbin Trophy, Babe Zaharias Trophy, Golf Digest Performance Average Award (1955, 1956, and 1957), William Richardson Award, and the Women's Golf Personality of the Year Award (1959). She was also the first woman admitted to the Minnesota Sports Hall of Fame (1958).

Berg was not only a superb golfer but a tireless advocate of the game, traveling around the world and giving more clinics and exhibitions, according to the Wilson Sporting Goods in 1962, than any man or woman in the history of golf. Her engaging personality, red hair and blue eyes, enthusiasm for golf, and diplomatic style made her one of the sport's most successful ambassadors. Since 1946 she has lived in Fort Meyers, Florida, during the winter. At age seventy-three she made a hole-in-one.

Berg's writings include Golf (1941), with Otis Dypwick, and Golf Illustrated (1950). She is the subject of a biography for young readers by James Hahn and Lynn Hahn entitled Patty! The Sports Career of Patty Berg (1981). An informative brief biography is posted on the LPGA website, <http.//www.lpga.com>.

Martin J. Sherwin

Berg, Patricia Jane ("Patty")

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article