American golfing legend Patty Berg has lost her two-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease and passed away at Hope Hospice in Fort Myers, Florida, on Sunday at the age of 88. Tributes have been pouring in to the organisers of the LPGA Tour in recognition of the extraordinary life of one of the pioneers of women’s golf.
“This news is very sad indeed and a real loss for the world of golf,” said Carolyn Bivens, the LPGA Tour Commissioner.
“Patty was a wonderfully talented woman who was totally dedicated to golf. She was a pioneer, an athlete, a mentor, a friend and an entertainer. She had a wonderful sense of humour that sparked a smile in everyone who met her.”
Berg (pictured in her prime) was born in Minneapolis in February 1918 and took up the game in 1931 at the age of 13. Her distinguished amateur career began three years later and she shot to prominence in 1935 by reaching the final of the US Women’s Amateur Championship at the age of 17. Women golfers were still considered second-class citizens when she turned professional in 1940 and, after serving in the US Marines during World War Two, she won the inaugural staging of the US Women’s Open in 1946.
In 1948 she helped to create the LPGA and served as the organisation’s first president. The creation of what is now a worldwide, multi-million dollar sporting institution is the greatest part of her legacy. However, she was as equally influential on the course as she was off it, collecting 60 victories all over the world – including 15 Major titles. She led the LPGA Tour’s Money List in 1954, 1955 and 1957 and was voted Woman Athlete Of The Year by the Associated Press in 1938, 1942 and 1955 – an illustration of her longevity at the top of her sport.
Berg was voted in as one of the six inaugural members of the LPGA Tour Hall Of Fame in 1967, four years after collecting the Bob Jones Award that recognises distinguished sportsmanship in golf. The LPGA honoured her again in 1978 by creating the Patty Berg Award, now awarded each year to the female golfer who has made the biggest contribution to the game over the course of a season.
In 2000 the prestigious US magazine Golf Digest named Berg as one of the top 50 golfers of all time. It was announced in December 2004 that she had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, which she fought against bravely and cheerfully for twenty-one months.