The stories were endless and hilarious.
A group of a dozen media members covering the Bank of Hope Founders Cup were invited to a breakfast with LPGA Founders Marilynn Smith and Shirley Spork, and LPGA Girls Golf founder Sandy LaBauve.
Smith and Spork are still so sharp, even at 88 and 90 years old respectively. LaBauve is a major reason why LPGA*USGA Girls Golf has grown leaps and bounds.
As I walked in, Smith gave me her patented fist-pound to say hello and signed her “Have Clubs, Will Travel” book. She wrote “Fore! Bret, your friend in golf Marilynn Smith”.
Spork said hello and handed me her book “From Green to Tee."
Then, we were off.
They explained the beginnings. There were 13 tournaments and they played for a total of $50,000. How times have changed, right? The LPGA is playing 34 times in 2018 for a total purse of over $68 million.
Marilynn told a classic story about the early days and how they used to promote the tournaments. One time, they went to a boxing match in the town they played. Smith is queasy when it comes to blood, but Spork doesn’t mind. So, after the fight, she went into the ring and grabbed the microphone to talk about the U.S. Open that was coming to Prince George’s Golf Course.
Another time, Spork went to a circus and got in a car with midgets in order to spread the word about the LPGA.
“We ran meetings, wrote thank you letters, carried a typewriter and had our own committees to run the tournaments,” explained Smith. “We would go to a pay phone and call the AP and other media outlets and hope would get in the newspaper.”
“We blew our own horn,” said Spork.
Girls weren’t supposed to play sports back then. Smith recalled wanting to be like Stan Musial and pitch for the Cardinals, but she came home one day and her mom threw her glove at the wall.
“I said a four letter word that starts with ‘s’ and my mom marched me back in the lavatory and watched my mouth out with soap,” said Smith. “I can still taste it today.”
So, her parents took her to Wichita Country Club and urged her to play a more “ladylike sport.” That's how her love for golf was born.
There were no ropes back in the day of the founders and Marilynn told a story of walking and talking literally side-by-side with fans and actually walking past her ball because she was distracted.
They had challenges, but there was one thing that was clear when listening this morning. There was no quit.
“We were persistent,” said Smith and then echoed by Spork. “We had hiccups when we lost Babe (Zaharias) and lost sponsors (to the men’s senior tour), but we asked ourselves ‘do we quit or go on?’ and there was only one answer.”
They certainly trucked on. Spork relayed a story of the first television exposure for the LPGA. It was the Tam O’Shanter Open.
“We were dieting because we knew we’d be on television,” said Spork in only the way she can.
The 13 women created the LPGA and this week we celebrate, but neither Smith nor Spork wants the attention on them.
“The girls are very approachable and friendly,” said Smith. “They are truly role models. It is such a pleasure to watch them.”
No Marilynn and Shirley, you two are the true role models.