LEWES, Del. (AP) — Betsy Rawls trained to be a physicist and instead devoted her life to golf, first as a four-time U.S. Women’s Open champion and later as a tournament administrator, a remarkable career that landed her in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Rawls, who won eight majors in her 55 LPGA Tour titles, died Saturday at her beach home in Delaware, the LPGA Tour confirmed. She was 95.
“There are simply not many careers that can compare to Betsy’s,” said Mike Whan, the CEO of the USGA and former LPGA Tour commissioner.
He cited her 55 wins and eight majors — Rawls ranks sixth on both lists — along with her induction into the LPGA and World Golf Hall of Fame, the Bob Jones Award and her 17 years as tournament director of what was then the LPGA Championship.
“She was a legend in the game who would have been successful in anything she pursued, so we are all lucky she made golf her passion,”Whan said.
The intention was always in the field of physics. That’s what Rawls was studying at the University of Texas when she connected with fabled swing coach Harvey Penick. She won the Texas Women’s Amateur in 1949 and 1950, and she finished runner-up to Babe Zaharias in the 1950 U.S. Women’s Open.
“I had every intention of being a physicist,” Rawls said in a story posted on the LPGA’s website. “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.”
She won the U.S. Women’s Open by five shots over Louise Suggs in 1951, the first of four titles in the biggest event in women’s golf. Only the late Mickey Wright won as many Opens.
Wright once said, “Betsy has always been committed to work and dedicated to the game. I can think of only two women who have achieved as much, not only as players but for their lifetime contributions, and that’s Betsy and Patty Berg.”
Rawls was born May 4, 1928, in Spartanburg, South Carolina, though she moved to Texas in 1940 and grew up mostly in Arlington.
She won at least once a year from 1951 through 1965. She won the last of her eight majors at age 41 in the 1969 LPGA Championship by four shots.
Rawls led the LPGA Tour money list in 1952 and 1959. She won the Vare Trophy for the lowest scoring average in 1959 and led the LPGA in victories three times.
She was part of the inaugural class for the LPGA Hall of Fame in 1967 and in 1996 received the Bob Jones Award, the highest honor by the USGA. She became the first woman to work the men’s U.S. Open as a rules official in 1980.
She also was the LPGA president in 1961 and 1962, and after retiring from full-time competition in 1975, she worked a tournament director and later ran the LPGA Championship.
“Anyone who can make a living in golf is lucky,” Rawls once said. “Then to receive all the benefits accorded to me in the process … well, that makes me feel fortunate. It’s more than I could possibly deserve.”
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