Friday, January 7, 2011

January 7, 1938: Breaking down gender roles

LOS ANGELES - Babe Didrikson had started to become a household name in 1938. After starring in the 1932 Olympics and playing on a touring baseball team, she started to focus her athletic goals on golf. It was the sport she was best at and the sport at which she would make her biggest impact.

One thing that hurt her career in golf, though, was the ruling that she could not play as an amateur, despite her very limited experience playing sports for money. With very few professional golf options available for women at the time, Didrikson did what she had to do: she signed up for a men's tournament.

On January 7, 1938, six decades before Annika Sorenstam became famous for competing in a men's tournament, Didrikson teed off in the first round of the Los Angeles Open. Playing at the Griffith Park course in Los Angeles' large urban park of the same name, Didrikson shot 81-84, missing the cut. It was a disappointing result, but it was groundbreaking nonetheless.

Didrikson eventually regained her amateur status and starting winning women's tournaments all over the country. She turned pro and founded the LPGA, still winning tournaments and majors before illness ended her career and life.

Didrikson was already famous when she teed off in the Los Angeles Open, and the tournament didn't really change her name recognition. But it did lead to a change in her name. Her playing partner for both rounds of the tournament was George Zaharias, and a connection must have been made; 11 months later, they were married, and Babe Didrikson became Babe Didrikson Zaharias.

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