A League Of Their Own
Louise Suggs helped found the LPGA
If New York Yankees Manager Miller Huggins had chosen to keep Johnny Suggs instead of Herb Pennock in 1923, Mae Louise Suggs might have become a New York Yankee baseball fan instead of one of the world’s greatest women golfers.
But Mr. Suggs was sent back to Atlanta where he could have pitched for several years. He was a fair left hander but more important his father-in-law, Rell Spiller owned the baseball club (the Atlanta Crackers) and Spiller Park, now Ponce de Leon Park.
Lucky for Louise, her dad left the game to build a golf course and to get his daughter started on her remarkable career. And what a career it was – 50 tournament victories and 11 professional major championships: the U.S. Women’s Open (1949, 1952), the Western Open (1946, ’47, ’49, ’53), the LPGA Championship (’57), the Titleholders (’46, ’54, ’56, ’59) and two amateur crowns, the U.S. Women’s Amateur (’47) and the British Women’s Amateur (’48).
Today, Louise is 84 years old. She lives in a retirement community at the World Golf Village in St. Augustine, Fla. No, she no longer plays golf. Her last tournament was in 1962 and she was competitive for the next 10 years.
She has had a knee replacement and therapy on both shoulders and hasn’t played since 1974. “I walk with a cane,” she says. “I enjoy being a loafer. I enjoy peace and quiet and I enjoy playing with my dog.”
Her dad’s golf course was at Lithia Springs. Her mother, Marguerite, ran the pro shop. Louise started hitting balls at age 10 and entered her first tournament (amateur) at age 14. Also at 14, she qualified for the championship flight of the Georgia State Amateur.
She had her heroes. First and foremost was Bobby Jones. And then there was Tommy Barnes, Charlie and Dan Yates and Gordon and Jim Clay.
“We grew up together but I always looked up to them,” she says.
What was her most memorable game?
“Winning the Women’s British Amateur. It gave me a sweep of all the major championships.
Then it was time to go pro. “I was 24 years old when McGregor Sporting Goods made me an offer I could not refuse.”
The toughest obstacle she has ever faced, she says, was working to start the Ladies Professional Golf Association. “The men fought us all the way,” she says. “Civic clubs put on tournaments for us and that is what got us started. The Dallas (Texas) Civitan and the Sea Island Company were our biggest boosters.”
One of her friendly competitors was, like Louise, a native Atlantan. Her name was Dot Kirby and she had won the National Amateur, among a host of other tournaments. “I was scared to death the first time I played her,” Suggs says. “I had to work hard to put her out of my mind and concentrate on my game. In seven matches, I won six. I always looked up to Dot.
“I played a lot on dad’s course at Lithia Springs. Nine holes cost 25 cents, 18 holes 50 cents and 18 holes on the weekend 75 cents,” says Louise, who went from collecting pennies per putt to becoming the LPGA Tour money leader in 1953 and 1960.
She’s a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame and the LPGA Teaching and Club Professional Hall of Fame. She’s a past winner of the LPGA Tour Vare Trophy and a former member of the U.S. Curtis Cup team.
She was the first player to win an LPGA Tour three straight years, taking the Dallas Civitan Open 1959-1961. She was the first to complete the LPGA Career Grand Slam by winning all four majors during her career.
Lousie won the 1949 U.S. Women’s Open by 14 strokes. Only Tiger Woods (15 strokes) at the 2000 U.S. Open has won by more in any men’s or women’s major.
After helping found the LPGA, Louise went on to serve three terms as president. She was among the charter class of inductees into the LPGA Hall of Fame. She’s a member of the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame.
Today, the LPGA Tour’s Rookie of the year receives the Louise Suggs trophy.