Suggs, (Mae) Louise

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SUGGS, (Mae) Louise

(b. 7 September 1923 in Atlanta, Georgia), one of four players who dominated women's golf in the United States throughout the 1950s and one of the founding members of the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA).

Suggs was a natural athlete for whom sports was a family passion. Her father, John, was a left-handed pitcher for the semiprofessional Atlanta Crackers of the old Southern Association. Her mother, Marguerite, was the daughter of the Crackers team owner. After he retired from baseball, John Suggs managed a golf course in Lithia Springs, Georgia, and taught his daughter to play at an early age. Suggs took to the game and within a few years began winning important tournaments. Renowned for her smooth swing and remarkable club-head speed, she was occasionally called the female Ben Hogan, a view that the entertainer Bob Hope confirmed when he christened her "Miss Sluggs" after a sobering round.

In the 1940s Suggs quickly amassed a string of amateur victories. In 1940, at age sixteen, she won the Georgia State Amateur Championship, and repeated that feat in 1942. She won the Southern Amateur Championship twice (1941, 1947), the North and South Championship three times (1942, 1946, 1948), and the Western Open twice (1946, 1947). In 1946 she won the Titleholders, the women's equivalent of the Masters, played in March at the Augusta Country Club in Georgia. The next year she won the U.S. Amateur title, followed by the British Amateur in 1948. Also in 1948 she accepted an invitation to play on the U.S. Curtis Cup team.

In July 1948, as an amateur champion, Suggs decided to turn professional. She soon took a leading role in founding the LPGA in 1950, and served as its president three times. In the fourteen years she played professional golf (1948–1962), she became universally recognized as a member of the "big four" of women's golf, the others being Babe Didrikson Zaharias, Patricia Berg, and Betty Jameson. As a professional, Suggs compiled a record of fifty LPGA victories, including eight major championship titles. Since a professional women's golf tour on the level of the LPGA did not exist before 1950, the distinction between amateur and professional victories for women of Suggs's generation was neither clear nor, perhaps, even appropriate. This was especially true for major victories; Suggs won nine (combining her amateur and professional years), ranking third behind Berg and Mickey Wright.

After turning professional, Suggs, at five feet, five-anda-half inches, and 120 pounds, won many of the same major tournaments she had won as an amateur. She added two more Western Open victories (1949, 1953) and three more Titleholders wins (1954, 1956, 1959). In her U.S. Open victory in 1949 (she also won in 1952), she shot a 291 total, winning by 14 strokes, an LPGA record until 1986. In 1957 she won the LPGA Championship, becoming the first player to achieve a career Grand Slam of four major championships.

In 1952 she won six tournaments. But her best year was 1953, when she won eight times and was the leading money winner with awards of almost $20,000, an unusually large sum for the women's tour in those days. In 1954 she won five tournaments. In 1958 she won the Babe Zaharias, Gatlinburg, and French Lick Opens and the Triangle Round Robin. In 1959 she won the Saint Petersburg and Dallas Civitan Opens. In 1960 she won the Dallas Civitan, Youngstown Kitchens, and San Antonio Civitan Opens and the Triangle Round Robin, and again was the tour's leading money winner. In 1961, the year before she retired from the tour, Suggs played in seventeen tournaments, won five (Sea Island Invitational, DeSoto Lakes, Dallas Civitan, Kansas City, and San Antonio Civitan Opens), finished second in four others, and tied for second twice. She won $15,339.80, only about $1,500 less than the previous year.

Suggs earned many awards for her career victories. In 1951 she was elected to the Women's Golf Hall of Fame. She won the Vare Trophy as the LPGA player with the lowest scoring average in 1957, and in 1959 she received the Golf Digest Performance Award. When the LPGA Hall of Fame was established in 1967, Suggs was in the first class of four inductees. Decades later, she was inducted into the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame (1989), and became the first woman elected to the Georgia Athletic Hall of Fame (1996). In 2000 she received the Patty Berg Award for her outstanding contributions to women's golf. Betsy Rawls, an LPGA Hall of Famer and a past president of the LPGA, remarked that while Zaharias was a better athlete, Suggs was a better golfer. Herbert Warren Wind, the great golf historian, observed a "modern technique" in Suggs's swing. Her athleticism gave her the ability to develop her club-head speed by delaying her release until the last moment, a technique later used by all male professionals. She was deadly accurate on the short approach with her six, seven, or eight irons, which Wind believed she played better than most of her contemporaries, female or male.

Suggs was not only a great golfer and an energetic promoter of the game; she was a feisty combatant who insisted that women's golf skills were equal to those of the best male players, whose only advantage was that they could hit the ball farther. In 1961 she had the opportunity to prove her point. At a par-three tournament at Palm Beach, Florida, she won in a field that included the men's champion Sam Snead. Along with her overpowering game, Suggs brought a strong personality to the golf course that resisted any attempts at intimidation, even by golfing great Ben Hogan. Teamed with Hogan in a two-day 1945 Victory Tournament in Chicago (which they won), Suggs outplayed him by a stroke for nine holes. When Hogan refused to speak to her on the following day, she called him on his behavior. "Mr. Hogan, I don't think you're a gentleman," she said. "I'm up here helping you win the tournament, and you won't even speak to me." Hogan relented, and it was not long before he was complimenting her game.

After her retirement from the LPGA tour in 1962, Suggs lived in Delray Beach, Florida, and Sea Island, Georgia, where she continued to play competitively through the 1980s and taught golf at the Cloisters Resort. In 2000, the LPGA announced the creation of the Louise Suggs Trophy, to be presented annually to the Rolex Rookie of the Year. In 2001, in keeping with her commitment to support her sport, Suggs donated $500,000 to the LPGA to promote junior golf. As the LPGA celebrated its fiftieth anniversary at the turn of the century, a new generation of golfers learned about Suggs's many contributions to the modern women's game. "She was bound to be a winner," Ben Hogan once noted. "And, she was."

Biographical information about Suggs can be found in Current Biography Yearbook (1962); Len Elliott and Barbara Kelly, Who's Who in Golf (1976); Victoria Sherrow, Encyclopedia of Women and Sports (1996); and Ralph Hickok, A Who's Who of Sports Champions (1995).

Martin Sherwin