Forever a champion: Betsy Rawls
March 18, 2009
Kristin Walla, Texas Media Relations
The years never seemed to catch up with Betsy Rawls. She didn't even start playing golf until she was 17, but that didn't stop her from becoming one of the most respected and decorated golfers of all time.
Rawls won 55 tournaments - exceeded only by the likes of Kathy Whitworth and Annika Sorenstam - and her eight major championships rank her sixth all time. Her career in golf has spanned 60 years, but Rawls got her start right here at the University of Texas.
At the time, there was no women's collegiate golf, but Rawls was a successful amateur player while studying math and physics at UT. She won the Texas Amateur twice, and was runner-up at the 1950 U.S. Women's Open.
In 1951, Rawls graduated from UT, joined the LPGA Tour and claimed that year's U.S. Women's Open for her first professional victory. Rawls eventually won four U.S. Open titles, tied with Mickey Wright for the most victories in that esteemed event.
"I was successful on the tour, right off the bat," Rawls said. "I wasn't a very polished golfer, but I concentrated well because I was used to hitting the books and concentrating on my studies in college."
This weekend, UT plays host to the Betsy Rawls Longhorn Invitational, now one of the most prestigious and long-standing events in college golf. While annually drawing an elite tournament field, it also pays tribute to the legendary namesake.
In 1977, UT head coach Pat Weis immortalized the Betsy Rawls legacy by naming the school-hosted event in Rawls' honor. Despite never representing the Longhorns in competition, Rawls said she will be forever touched by the honor.
And Women's Golf coach Martha Richards is proud that Rawls' mark will forever be stamped on her program.
"One word I have always associated with Betsy Rawls is class. She was classy in the way that she won, and in the way that she always gave back to golf programs," Richards said. "College golf and the professional circuit have all benefited from Betsy Rawls. She carried herself like a true champion on and off the course."
The Rawls name gives every tournament competitor a professional pedigree to aspire to. She started her LPGA career with 15 straight seasons with at least one victory, and Rawls won at least one event in 18 of her 24 years on tour.
"I think because I won early on, it took some pressure off and I was able to keep winning," Rawls said. "We didn't make a whole lot of money in the early days, but I took great pride in winning tournaments. There's a lot of satisfaction in winning, because you do it all yourself."
Since the tour began rankings in 1957, Rawls finished among the top 10 on the money list nine times, including a No. 1 ranking in 1959. That year she won 10 times, including a victory at the LPGA Championship and the Western Open. Her 1959 winnings of $27,000 shattered the single-season earnings record by more than $6,000.
The greatest joy for Rawls, however, came from the longevity of her career. After playing for more than two decades, she spent 35 more years as a tournament director working for the LPGA. In 1967, Rawls was one of the six inaugural inductees in the LPGA Tour's Hall of Fame.
"I'm very proud of my record in golf. The whole career has been very satisfying to me," she said. "But because I've been able to stay in golf for so many years, I feel like I'm one of the luckiest people in the world. Golf was the best career I could have had."