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Obituaries

Patty Berg, 88; LPGA Tour Co-Founder, Hall of Famer

September 11, 2006|Peter Yoon | Times Staff Writer

Patty Berg, a pioneer in women's golf and the winner of a record 15 Ladies Professional Golf Assn. major championships, died Sunday of complications from Alzheimer's disease at a hospice in Fort Myers, Fla. She was 88.

Berg, one of 13 women who founded the LPGA Tour in 1950, won 60 times in her LPGA career, which lasted from 1950 to 1980. She ranks fourth on the all-time LPGA victory list.

"Patty was a wonderfully talented woman who was dedicated to golf, to growing the game and to making the sport fun for golfers of all ages," said LPGA Commissioner Carolyn Bivens. "She was a pioneer, an athlete, a mentor, a friend and an entertainer."

Born Feb. 13, 1918, in Minneapolis, Berg started playing golf at 13. A gifted athlete, she also played quarterback on a youth football team known as the 50th Street Tigers. Former University of Oklahoma Coach Bud Wilkinson, Berg's longtime neighbor and friend, played on that team.

A talented amateur player, Berg won 28 amateur titles from 1934 to 1940, including the 1938 U.S. Amateur championship.

She turned professional in 1940, but a car accident in 1941 knocked her out of action for 18 months. When she regained her health, she joined the Marine Corps during World War II, while continuing to play golf.

She was the Associated Press Athlete of the Year in 1938, 1943 and 1955. From 1948 to 1962, she won 44 titles, including nine major championships.

In 1950, she and 12 other top women golfers banded together and signed the LPGA's first articles of incorporation. Berg was elected the tour's first president

"As a founder of the LPGA, Patty took the LPGA to new heights, and it was the work, passion and dedication that she and her fellow co-founders exhibited that has allowed the LPGA to grow and prosper for so many years," Bivens said.

In 1978, the LPGA established the Patty Berg Award, which is given annually to a person who makes outstanding contributions to golf.

Berg has been honored with membership in more than a dozen athletic halls of fame, including the LPGA and World Golf.

"She was an incredible ambassador for golf," said Amy Alcott, a 21-year LPGA Tour veteran. "She paved the way for others, and inspired me to try to do the same in my career."

Annika Sorenstam, the top player in the world today, said women's golf and the LPGA Tour would not be what it is today without Berg.

Berg "has done a lot for golf and especially for women's golf," Sorenstam said. "I think we'll miss her dearly ... but most of all I just want to say thanks for everything she has done."

Christie Kerr, who won the LPGA tournament Sunday, said she wouldn't have been interested in golf if not for Berg.

"Her contribution to the game will be forever commendable," Kerr said. "There's a lot of things that she did do that you can't put your finger on. Those founders of the LPGA, all of the players, including myself, we do not begin to thank them enough every day for what they've done for us and the game of golf."

Berg became known for the golf clinics she conducted. A keen sense of humor and sharp wit helped her entertain crowds with clinics that included jokes, gags and trick shots, and provided valuable instruction.

"No one gave a clinic like Patty Berg," Alcott said. "It was one of the most amazing things you'd ever see."

In 1971, Berg had surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from her stomach. In 1980, she had major hip surgery, and had back surgery in 1989.

She remained active in the golf community, regularly attending tournaments and award functions, and continued her clinics well into her 80s.

In 2004, she announced that she had Alzheimer's disease and her public appearances became fewer, but she never missed a World Golf Hall of Fame induction ceremony. This year's is Oct. 30.

"I was just thinking about her the other day, wondering if she was going to be well enough that I'd see her at the ceremony," Alcott said. "She was always there."

Golf magazine selected Berg as its Golfer of the Decade for the period from 1938 to 1947, and Golf Digest named her one of the 50 greatest golfers of all time. In 1995, Berg was the first woman to receive the PGA of America's Distinguished Service Award.

In 1976, she became the first woman to receive the Humanitarian Sports Award from the United Cerebral Palsy Foundation, and, in 1987, she received the Female Contributor to Sports Award from the United States Sports Academy.

In 1993, the Patty Berg Cancer Center at Southwest Florida Regional Medical Center was named in her honor.

"She was somebody who gave far more than she took away," Alcott said.

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peter.yoon@latimes.com

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