Best Golfer from Every State: Minnesota Golf and Patty Berg

27th April 1936: US golfer Patty Berg in action during a game, watched by a group of spectators. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)
27th April 1936: US golfer Patty Berg in action during a game, watched by a group of spectators. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images) /

A Minneapolis native, Patty Berg had the longest sustained period of success of any woman in golf history.

There are few absolutes in the rating of golf’s historical figures, but here’s one: For sustained start-to-finish excellence, Patty Berg had the best career of any woman in the game’s history.

It is possible to make the case that modern stars of the stripe of Annika Sorenstam, Yani Tseng, or Inbee Park shone brighter for short bursts.

Nobody was more dominant for a longer period than Patty Berg.

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Born in Minneapolis in 1918, she rose to national fame while still in her teens, winning the Women’s Amateur in 1938. She continued to do for three decades, winding up with 60 LPGA championships, a record 15 of them majors. As early as 1935, seminal women’s golf star Glenna Collett Vare, asked to rank the rising cohort of women payers, responded “by all means Patty Berg first…in fact quite a distance ahead of the rest.”

Berg’s rivalry with Babe Zaharias was – for intensity and consistency of performance – on a par with any of the great rivalries of the men’s game, including Hagen-Jones, Palmer-Nicklaus, and Nicklaus-Watson. Between 1944 and 1953, they would go head-to-head in 18 women’s major events, one or the other of them winning 12 of those 18.

In concert with Zaharias and a handful of second-tier women’s players, Berg founded the LPGA in the late 1940s. She was the organization’s first president and won the inaugural USGA Women’s Open in 1946. In 1948 she beat Zaharias by one stroke to win the Women’s Western Open.

Only the Babe’s 1955 death to colon cancer ended their joint dominance. Over the course of their careers, Berg and Zaharias had competed in the same fields 22 times, each finishing ahead of the other in 11. Babe won eight of those 22 collisions and Patty seven, leaving only seven for the rest of the women’s golfing world.

Berg, 37 at the time of the Babe’s death, carried on without her great rival. She won that season’s Titleholders and Women’s Western, repeated in 1957, and won her 15th and final women’s major at the 1958 Women’s Western.

That victory also concluded a remarkable string of 13 consecutive seasons – since 1945 – when Berg had won at least one women’s tournament of significance. She had played only sparingly between 1942 and 1944, largely due to her volunteer service in the uniform of the U.S. Marine Corps.

In 1954, 1955 and 1957, Berg was the LPGA Tour’s leading money winner. Associated Press writers three times voted her the nation’s outstanding female athlete, in 1938, 1942 and 1955.

From the late 1950s on, Berg continued to appear in professional tournaments, but her play was often less competitive and more ceremonial. Still, between 1960 and 1962 she earned top-five finishes in five women’s majors, the last coming at the 1962 Women’s Western Open. At the age of 44, she tied for third, just one stroke behind Mickey Wright.

By then the golfing world was showering all manner of honorary awards on the game’s grand lady. She won the USGA’s Bob Jones Award for sportsmanship in 1963, and in 1978 the LPGA established the Patty Berg Award in honor of its founder. It is given annually to an individual for “diplomacy, sportsmanship, goodwill, and contributions.” Berg herself was named a recipient of the award in 1990.

Next. Best Golfers from Every State: Michigan Golf and Leo Diegel. dark

Inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1974, Berg died in 2006. She had a long and outstanding career and takes the honor as the best golfer from Minnesota.