LPGA Tour and U.S Women’s Open legend Betsy Rawls dies at 95

Portrait of American professional golfer Betsy Rawls in 1952.

Betsy Rawls was one of just two golfers to win four U.S. Women's Open titles.

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When Betsy Rawls finished up her studies at the University of Texas, she had a choice.

Would she follow through on her field of study, physics, where she had already landed on the watch lists of faculty members as a freshman and was later inducted to the Phi Beta Kapa honor society?

Or would she pursue golf, a sport she picked up only five years prior, but was already the two-time defending Women’s Texas Amateur champion and had finished second in the 1950 U.S. Women’s Open, while still an amateur?

While Rawls had her intentions, fate had other ideas. Despite wanting to start a promising career in physics, Rawls was asked by Wilson Sports Goods to conduct golf clinics to promote the company and its products.

While she probably couldn’t have made the wrong choice, she definitely made the right one.

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“I became good pretty quickly, got hooked on golf, and won some amateur tournaments,” Rawls told the LPGA. “But I had every intention of being a physicist. I played golf for fun and never considered turning professional. Then I decided it would be more fun to be in golf than physics, and Wilson paid me a salary and all my expenses. They paid my expenses for 20 years. One year, I gave 120 clinics.”

Rawls passed away Saturday at her home in Delaware at the age of 95 as the winner of 55 LPGA Tour titles and one of only two women to ever win four U.S. Women’s Opens.

The Austin, Texas native ended up joining the LPGA the year after her graduation in 1951 and quickly became one of the game’s brightest stars. She won her first national open in her rookie season by five shots over Louise Suggs.

However, Rawls wasn’t just known for her contributions to the LPGA as a player, but also as a leader. In her rookie season, Babe Didrikson Zaharias, who Rawls finished second to at the 1950 U.S. Open and had taken over operations of the LPGA with her husband George, asked a 21-year-old Rawls to help run the Tour.

Rawls was the LPGA Tour’s secretary that season, beginning a long tenure for her in LPGA leadership. She served as the LPGA president from 1961 to 1962 and then after her retirement in 1975 — and a total of eight major championships (Four U.S. Opens, two LPGA Championships, two Western Opens) — she became a tournament director.

From 1987 to 2004, Rawls was the tournament director for the LPGA Championship, now known as the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.

After news of Rawls’ passing broke Saturday night, fellow LPGA great Nancy Lopez was one of the first to offer condolences on Twitter.

“Very sad to hear of the passing of Betsy Rawls,” Lopez, a 48-time LPGA winner said. “She was a great Champion and a supportive player to my career. She was always so kind. Rest in peace Betsy. I hope you are shooting under par up in heaven.”

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