Marilynn Smith, one of the 13 original founders of the LPGA in 1950 and a World Golf Hall of Famer, has passed away. She was 89 years old.
Last seen in public at the LPGA’s Bank of Hope Founders Cup on March 24, Smith has been involved in the organization in a variety of capacities since its founding. After attending the University of Kansas and winning the 1949 national individual intercollegiate championship, she turned pro before she joined with 12 others to form the LPGA.
Along with Smith, Alice Bauer, Patty Berg, Bettye Danoff, Helen Dettweiler, Marlene Bauer Hagge, Helen Hicks, Opal Hill, Betty Jameson, Sally Sessions, Shirley Spork, Louise Suggs and Babe Zaharias founded the LPGA. With Smith’s passing four days before her 90th birthday, Hagge and Spork are the surviving LPGA founders.
Smith won 21 LPGA titles from 1954 to 1972, including two major titles, the 1963 and 1964 Titleholders championships. She was President of the LPGA from 1958-1960, and she broke barriers by becoming the first women to commentate on a telecast of a men’s golf event in 1973. The World Golf Hall of Fame inducted Smith in 2006.
Even to her last days, Smith continued to pave the way for future generations. In 2009, she created the Marilynn Smith LPGA Charity Pro-Am which has raised scholarship money to help female golfers with college expenses. The 2018 edition raised $150,000, doled out in $5,000 scholarships to 30 female golfers, with tens of current players contributing to the fund or playing in the pro-am themselves.
Growing up in Topeka, Kan., Smith found golf boring at first, running a boys’ baseball team on her own. When she came home from one game, Smith used a four-letter word to describe her performance. Her mom, a golfer, washed her mouth out with soap, and her father, who also played, took her to Wichita Country Club to learn the game. She broke 40 for nine holes three years into play the game, and the rest is history.
The loss is overwhelming and felt by so many connected to the LPGA, past and present. It was through the Founders Cup’s formation and subsequent playing starting in 2011 that the current crop of LPGA stars formed relationships with Smith. She was a hugger, warmly greeting so many players behind the 18th green.
LPGA commissioner Mike Whan summed up his feelings on the legend.
“Marilynn was my Founder, my North Star and most importantly my friend,” said Whan. “In her life, she broke barriers, shattered stereotypes and made others ‘believe.’ I’ll miss her weekly handwritten cards, her daily calls to my office and her love for every LPGA teacher, tour player, and staff member. Quite simply, Marilynn left this world better than she found it — and set a standard that will guide us forever.”