If there was ever an overachiever in sports, that person would be Mildred “Babe” Didrikson Zaharias. She excelled in almost everything she tried, including track and field, golf, basketball, diving, bowling, roller skating and pool. When asked once if there was anything she didn’t play, she replied, “Yeah, dolls.” But she was also an excellent seamstress, making many of her own golf outfits and winning the 1931 Sewing Championship at the Texas State Fair.
Born in Texas to Norwegian immigrants, she was encouraged early to participate in sports. She always claimed she was given the nickname “Babe” because she hit five home runs in one baseball game when she was a teen.
She competed in the 1932 Olympics, winning two gold and one silver medal in track and field events. She also participated on a vaudeville-type basketball team. At age 31, she turned seriously to golf. She became the first woman to make the cut in a regular PGA tournament and was the first female golf “celebrity,” becoming a leading player in the 1940s and early ‘50s. She won 17 straight amateur and pro victories. In 1949, She became one of the founders of the LPGA.
She married pro wrestler George Zaharias, who later became her manager.
Although described by her competitors as flamboyant, cocky and often overbearing, she was overwhelmingly popular with her fans. In 1953, she was diagnosed with colon cancer, and doctors told her it was unlikely that she would ever play golf again. They had not reckoned with her competitive spirit, and within a few weeks of surgery, she was back on the golf course continuing her winning ways. The cancer, however, returned, and Babe Didrikson Zaharias died at age 45 in 1956.