An LPGA first is preserved by memories

1955 victor Beverly Hanson also recalls tour as being vastly different from today's version

Lpga Championship

June 07, 2006|By DON MARKUS | DON MARKUS,SUN REPORTER

For good reason, Beverly Hanson has plenty of memories from the first LPGA Championship.

It doesn't matter to Hanson that the tournament was played in 1955.

"I never forget the ones I won," said Hanson, now 81.

Speaking by telephone from her home in La Quinta, Calif., where she moved a few months after receiving a $1,200 winner's check that represented one of the biggest paydays of her 10-year career, Hanson can recall the week in Fort Wayne, Ind., for more than what she did on the course at Orchard Ridge Country Club.

"The reception was always very warm and friendly wherever we went," said Hanson, who stayed with friends who had moved there from her hometown of Fargo, N.D. "The townspeople were thrilled to be doing something that others hadn't done yet."

Playing a format for the first and only time in the event's history -- 16 players, three rounds of stroke play and a 36-hole match play final between the top two finishers -- Hanson defeated future Hall of Famer Louise Suggs for the title, 4 and 3.

Down three holes in the morning round on the final day, Hanson caught up by lunchtime and stayed even through 25 holes. Known more for being one of the tour's big hitters than for her putting prowess, Hanson had a string of eight holes when she needed only seven putts.

"My putter went completely berserk," recalled Hanson. "Louise Suggs was quoted in the paper that the cup must have looked like a bathtub to me and it looked like an orange juice can to her."

Adding to the victory, Hanson was awarded the trophy and first-place check by pitching great Dizzy Dean. It was one of the highlights of her career, along with the award ceremony at the 1950 U.S. Women's Amateur, where the legendary Bobby Jones presented Hanson the trophy at East Lake outside Atlanta.

"It's a lot more fun getting the trophy from Dizzy Dean and Bobby Jones than some club member who's walking by and says `Give this to her," Hanson said with a laugh.

Hanson had won her first pro event while still an amateur, beating the legendary Patty Berg, 1-up, in the finals of the 1950 Texas Open. By 1955, the LPGA was in its sixth year and much like women's baseball leagues depicted in the movie A League of Their Own.

"There were only 15 or 20 of us out there," said Hanson. "Everyone wanted to win, but there wasn't much pettiness. Quite different than now."

There were four players who stood above the rest: Hall of Famers Berg, Suggs and Mickey Wright, as well as the indomitable Babe Zaharias, the former Olympic champion who became the tour's biggest star before she died of cancer in 1956.

"I think most of us feel quite an allegiance to what Babe did," said Hanson, who was the tour's leading money winner in 1958 with $12,639. "Without Babe's drive, it wouldn't have happened. She was a real driving force behind the whole organization.

"She'd pick up the phone and call people and say, `Guess what? You're going to be able to sponsor a tournament.' All of a sudden there was a tournament. The rest of us didn't have that kind of pizzazz. Of course, George [Zaharias] was back there beating the drum too."

After meeting insurance executive Andy Hanson on a blind date, Hanson got married and later adopted two sons. Her husband died in 1995 after falling asleep at the wheel of their car while driving to Idaho. Hanson still plays and teaches, having recently returned from a monthlong school in Southern Pines, N.C.

Hanson still follows the tour, but isn't thrilled with what she sees.

"There's practically no camaraderie now," said Hanson. "You introduce money and it's a different game. We didn't play for enough money to hate each other."

Hanson respects what Annika Sorenstam has accomplished, but said the superstar's reticence hurts the tour in terms of publicity.

"She'd rather hide in a closet," said Hanson. "Unfortunately the same was true of Mickey Wright."

Many, including Hanson, believe that Wright was the best player of all time, even ahead of Sorenstam or Kathy Whitworth, the tour's all-time winner.

"I tend to think that Mickey was better than Annika, and Babe has to be in there someplace too," said Hanson. "It's kind of a crowded field for best ever."

Hanson won 17 pro events during her career, including three of the four majors played at the time. While she had success in the LPGA Championship, the Titleholders Championship played every year at Augusta Country Club and the Women's Western Open, Hanson never came close in the U.S. Women's Open.

"That was one that just killed me every time I'd get on the first tee and they do the thing with such prim and priority -- `Play away, please,' all of sudden you can't even get the club back," said Hanson.

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