Babe Didrikson, the female athletic phenomenon of the century, was the child of Norwegian immigrants. Reared in poverty in South Texas, she began her extraordinarily versatile athletic career in high school basketball. She soon found that few sports opportunities were open to women. In fact, in the 1920s the trend was toward the elimination of interscholastic competition for girls, because of its “undue stress” and “morbid social influences.” In many high schools all but intramural sports disappeared, and not until the 1970s would girls’ high school competition be restored.
After Babe switched to track and field and collected gold medals at the 1932 Olympics, her fame enabled her to barnstorm the country with a team called “Babe Didrikson’s All Americans.” She excelled at every sport she tried, but she combined her natural talent with hard work. When she first took up golf she hit over a thousand balls a day, eight to ten hours a day. Drives of two hundred and fifty yards were not unusual for her.
She began to win the major ladies’ golf tournaments but was quickly ruled a pro and disqualified. There was then no pro golf tour for women. Only after 1938, when she met and married George Zaharias, a professional wrestler, could she afford to refuse endorsements and reestablish amateur status. Babe went on to sweep the major ladies’ titles. In 1949 she became one of the founding members of the Ladies’ Professional Golf Association. A fierce competitor with a free-wheeling style, she closed her career with a courageous, losing battle against cancer.