Patricia Jane "Patty" Berg came from a most unlikely region of the United States to become a great golfer, but that was the way of the Minnesota native. She was not daunted by any obstacles thrown in her way.
Born in 1918, Berg began her athletic career as a speed skater, competing in national events. When she was 13, she began swinging a golf club in her backyard.
Noting her interest in this game, Berg's father, a member of the Interlachen C.C. (where Bobby Jones won one of his Grand Slam victories, the 1930 U.S. Open), sent his youngest daughter for instruction with the club pro.
Not long after, she started taking lessons from Lester Bolstad, the golf coach who would work with Berg for the next 40 years.
At 15, Berg entered the Minneapolis City Ladies championship and shot a 122 in the qualifying round. The next year in the same event, she won the qualifying medal and the tournament.
With that, her father began entering Patty in important national amateur tournaments and taking the family to Florida for at least a month every winter. In 1935, Patty reached the finals of the U.S. Women's Amateur championship.
She would win that title in 1938, and in all would capture 28 amateur championships over a period of seven years. She played on two U.S. Curtis Cup teams, in 1936 and 1938.
In 1939, on her way to defending one of her amateur titles, Berg met with the first of a number of serious physical problems.
She had an emergency appendectomy that hospitalized her for a month and essentially ended her competitive season.
In 1941, while driving from Texas to Tennessee to play an exhibition to raise funds for British War Relief, the car in which she was driving with fellow pro Helen Dettweiler was hit.
Berg's left knee was broken in three places, and she ended up with 75 percent use of the leg in terms of bending it.
After taking therapy with a prizefighter named Tommy Littleton, she returned to the golfing wars.
Berg turned professional in 1940. She wasn't the first woman golf pro, but she was among the first 10. At the time, women professionals usually did not give lessons and were relegated to administrative jobs. What's more, there were very few tournaments for women pros.
When Berg became a pro, there were only a handful of tournaments in which she could play, with total purse money around $500.
But in the face of such a dismal situation, Berg persisted. She earned most of her income giving exhibitions and clinics for the Wilson Sporting Goods Company, with whom she signed a contract upon turning pro.
In her lifetime, the short, stocky Berg would give some 10,000 clinics all over the country, all of them with characteristic high spirits and enthusiasm. She was one of women's golf's most energetic and effective ambassadors.
Patty also did something about the competitive circumstances for women pros. After serving in the Marine Corps during World War II (Lieutenant Berg worked as a recruitment officer), she embarked on creating a pro tournament circuit for women on which she would become one of its early stars.
Berg was instrumental in reorganizing the Women's Professional Golf Association. "Women's" was changed to "Ladies" (LPGA), Fred Corcoran was hired to book events and promote them, and the Wilson Company was prompted to put up administrative costs for the first six years.
Berg was the LPGA's first president. With the foundation of the circuit set, Berg went out and played.
Berg had won six times before the LPGA was formed, and from 1948-62 she captured 44 more titles with a game that featured brilliant shot-making with fairway woods and outstanding putting.
Her victories included the first U.S. Women's Open, in 1946, which was then played at match play; six Western Opens; and four Titleholders Championships. Her last professional victory came in the Muskogee Civitan Open in 1962, when she was 44 years old.
Berg was forced by a hip replacement to end her professional playing career in 1980, but as always she continued giving exhibitions and clinics with her usual zest until she was well into her 70s -- and that despite cancer surgery in 1971, major hip surgery in 1980, and back surgery in 1989.
Nothing, it seemed, could keep Patty Berg down.
Of course, Berg had numerous awards to honor her long work in and for golf. She was inducted into at least 10 Halls of Fame. She was one of the first four inductees to the LPGA's Hall and one of the first two women inducted into the PGA/World Golf Hall of Fame.
She also won the 1963 Bob Jones Award, one of the USGA's highest honors. And just to remind everyone that she was as much a player as a teacher and promoter of golf, in 1991, at the age of 73, she made a hole-in-one.
For more information about golf, see:
- The Best Golfers of All Time
- How Golf Clubs Work