|Browse by Sport
|Find us on
October 30, 2006
ST. AUGUSTINE, FLORIDA
JANE FADER: Welcome, everybody. Thank you so much for being here with us. Marilynn, thank you so much for spending some more time talking about yourself, which I know you've been doing a lot. My name is Jane Fader, I'm the director of communications for the World Golf Hall of Fame. We are delighted to be here with one of our 2006 Hall of Fame inductees on what is yet again our favorite day of the year here at World Golf Village.
Marilynn Smith has been selected in the Lifetime Achievement category as part of the 2006 class of inductees. She's one of 13 LPGA founders and a co-founders of the LPGA Teaching and Club Professionals' Division. If you want to start off by telling us a little bit about how you're feeling right now.
MARILYNN SMITH: Scared. I'm so nervous about my speech tonight that for three months I've been scared. Everybody says, "Oh, just relax and be yourself." I'm afraid I'm going to forget -- I'm going to have a senior moment or something. Anyway, it's going to be fun.
It means an awful lot to me. It's probably the greatest moment in my life next to knowing I had a baby sister. I'm going to hopefully get that into my talk tonight. I don't know if I'll remember.
This is very meaningful. I feel like this event is not only for me but for the LPGA because I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for the Ladies' PGA and the ladies that came after us and all the people that helped us along the way including the media and these smaller towns that took a chance with us. I'm going to mention those in my talk, little towns like Waco and Rockton, Illinois, and Carrollton, Georgia, where Louise Suggs' father is a head club pro, a nine-hole golf course, and we played that. Those were some of the dearest recollections with people that I met.
Is that all right? Is that enough to start?
Q. Marilynn, when people, especially young kids, go through the Hall of Fame and they see your exhibit and they see your plaque and they read information about you and hear stuff through audiovisual means, what about your career or maybe the career of the ladies who founded the LPGA with you, what would you like them to learn the most or understand the most about what those times were like when you were starting the LPGA?
MARILYNN SMITH: Well, I think it's a good question. The main thing, I think we had great teamwork, and there was very little pettiness among the girls. We all came from different backgrounds, different ages, but we all kind of got together. Fred Corcoran was our first tournament director, and as you know, he was the agent for Ted Williams and for Babe Zaharias. He was very interested in finding a place for Babe to use her talents.
So we were kind of an accident to Babe, so to speak, when we first started because she was the marquee player, she was the Olympic champion and people knew her, and then when they saw her play so well, they noticed Louise Suggs and the Bauer sisters and Betty Jameson and they could play golf, too. It was a struggle in the early days to really get the public aware of the LPGA Tour, so we had a lot of public relations work to do along with trying to play good golf. That was meaningful, too.
One thing that never really has been publicized is the length of our courses. We played 6,250 to 6,950 yards long courses in the '50s, up until the early '60s, so some of these fantastic scores the girls made were on long golf courses.
Some of them weren't in good shape, either. I hate to say Oklahoma at one time had a drought and they had -- what am I trying to say, cracks in the ground, hardpan. I know Betty Dodd hit a drive about 350 yards. So the courses are in better shape now. So a lot of things have changed since the early days.
Am I rambling now?
Q. One thing I wanted to ask you, 1971, Lady Carling Open, you become the first woman in the LPGA to make a double eagle. First of all, what was the course and can you remember the yardage and club selection to this day?
MARILYNN SMITH: Well, I remember I was playing with Carol Mann and she had a hole-in-one on No. 8 and they publicized her hole-in-one more than they did the double eagle because she was from Baltimore. I think it was Pine Valley Country Club, and it was a par 5, not too long a par 5, I think about 485 or something like that. I hit a drive and a 4-wood.
A gentleman was in my gallery when the ball went in the hole, he fell off his shooting stick and fell on the ground. I felt so sorry.
It was fun to see -- very unusual to see a double eagle and a hole-in-one on the same nine holes.
Q. Do you remember what the yardage on the second shot was?
MARILYNN SMITH: Well, I used to hit a 4-wood about 190, 195, so probably about that.
Q. What number hole was that?
MARILYNN SMITH: 1.
Q. It was the first hole?
MARILYNN SMITH: Uh-huh.
Q. So she hit the hole-in-one later on?
MARILYNN SMITH: On No. 8. Don't ask me what I shot that day. I don't know (laughter).
Q. What was the name of the course again?
MARILYNN SMITH: I think it was Pine Valley.
Q. Not the Pine Valley in New Jersey?
MARILYNN SMITH: No, maybe I'm wrong then. You'd better check that one.
Q. Were they letting women play back then?
MARILYNN SMITH: I played Pine Valley once. I was lucky and got on.
Maybe I'm wrong. Carol would know the name of that course. I'm sorry, maybe I'm wrong on that.
Q. Do you remember how many people were around the green, do you recall?
MARILYNN SMITH: Not many. I don't know. 25 or 30. I really don't remember that. We did have a pretty good gallery being that Carol was from that area, so they did come out to see her play. It was a good tournament. I don't know why we lost it.
Q. Carol Mann made a hole-in-one and then below that it was Marilynn --
MARILYNN SMITH: On the headline, Carol has hole-in-one and Marilynn Smith had a double eagle. That's okay.
Q. When you watch the LPGA today on television, what surprises or amazes you the most when you think back to what you remember and what you're seeing on TV now?
MARILYNN SMITH: Well, the prodigious drives. Babe Zaharias, our longest hitter, she probably averaged 230, 240 was her average, maybe 230 as average. She sometimes would hit one like 250, 260, but now the girls, most of them are over 250. I think it's the change in the equipment and the golf ball and they're in such good shape. They have these fitness centers that they use their -- what do you call it, get strength.
Our idea of staying in shape was going out and hitting golf balls and practicing. Wiffy Smith, one of our great players who injured her wrist when she was riding a motorcycle at the Title Holders Tournament, she was going to be a fantastic player, her career really ended there when she hurt her wrist. She drove around and she told me -- it wasn't a motor home. What did they call it back in those days? Not a motor home, mini-something. Anyway, she carried a piano in there, and she would practice her tunes, and that was a way to keep her wrist and her fingers stronger. She was a character. We missed her on the Tour.
Q. You wanted to be a baseball player?
MARILYNN SMITH: That was my dream, yeah.
Q. And you wanted to pitch for the St. Louis Cardinals?
MARILYNN SMITH: Yeah, Stan Musial and Ben Hogan were my two idols. In those days we didn't have any women really to look up to, role models, because they weren't playing. Babe was, but -- so Stan Musial and Ben Hogan were my idols.
Q. Did you get to play golf with Stan Musial?
MARILYNN SMITH: Uh-huh, both of them. Ben Hogan and I both had 72s from the same tees in a Pro-Am in Dallas, but he missed five putts this length (indicating three feet) and shorter.
Q. You made him nervous.
MARILYNN SMITH: And Stan Musial, being left-handed, he'd wingding it out there, over that way (indicating right).
Q. How happy were you last Friday night?
MARILYNN SMITH: See, I used to live in Dallas and Pudge Rodriguez played for Texas Rangers, now he's moved to Detroit, so I was kind of neutral. I was kind of pulling for Pudge and Detroit, and of course I always liked St. Louis, so I'm on the fence on that one.
How about you?
Q. I grew up an American league kid up in Washington.
MARILYNN SMITH: You know, one thing I remember doing to help attract fans, several of us would go to major league ball parks like St. Louis and Cincinnati and Washington, and we'd hit balls from home plate out to center field, and then we'd get on the microphone and we'd ask the baseball fans to come out and watch us play at a golf tournament in their hometown.
Then one time, I think I'm going to mention this tonight, you tell me if I should mention this later, this was 1950 or '51, we were playing a U.S. Women's Open at St. Georges, and Shirley Spork, founder of the LPGA, we went to this boxing match, we were going to get up in the ring after the match and talk to the fans. This one fellow was just beating the tar out of this other fellow, so it came time that the fight was over, to go up on the stage, and I was faint. I couldn't do it.
Here Shirley I got up there and she went through the ropes onto the canvas and picked up this microphone and said we wanted the fans to come out and watch us play. We did a lot of things like that. It was fun, but it was hard work. It took a lot of energy to do that and then try to play golf, too, and travel to big distances.
We had tremendous distances to drive. I remember one from Spokane, Washington, to Waterloo, Iowa, 1,600 miles. Then you'd get to a town and you might go to a Kiwanis luncheon and then you'd run to the laundromat or a hair house and get your hair done and maybe a TV appointment and a Pro-Am and a cocktail party where we'd try to get the girls out of a golf outfit into something a little more -- like a business attire or a cocktail dress or something to meet the fans.
We had a fine system. We couldn't enforce this, but if a person didn't go to the cocktail party we'd try to give them a fine of $5 but that didn't work. You couldn't do that, fine someone for not going to a party. That didn't make sense. But we did do a lot of those things to try to create interest and get the fans' support.
In my time when I was a kid, see, we weren't encouraged to play any sport. Girls were supposed to be married in the kitchen and cooking and raising a family.
I almost did that, but then I got the chance to go with Spalding and I had 27 one-year contracts with them like Walter Austin did with the Dodgers.
Q. When you're up there tonight, will you be thinking about Mickey Wright at all? I don't know whether you knew her well enough to call her up or communicate with her in any way, but will you have any thoughts about Mickey?
MARILYNN SMITH: Mickey wrote me a very nice congratulatory letter -- not a letter but a card and a note, which meant a lot to me because I've always admired her a lot. She's basically a very shy person, a lot like Ben Hogan, but I've always admired her. I thought she probably had in my opinion the best golf swing that I've ever seen on a woman.
You know, there's so many great players, it's hard to say that Mickey is the all-time great because look at the record of Kathy Whitworth and Patty Berg had all the shots in the bag. She was a very creative golfer. Well, Annika, got to put her in there as one of the top two or three of all-time.
Q. What would be a scouting report on your game? At your peak what did you do well?
MARILYNN SMITH: I was just under Babe as far as length was concerned. Beverly Hanson Sweeney and I probably averaged 220 maybe, something like that.
My putting was the worst part of my game. I was the first woman pro to try the left hand below the right. I was playing a mixed tournament with Johnny Mott and he was doing it. So I tried it, and everybody would come up and say, "Gosh, you look funny putting that way." In the '60s you did not want to look funny, so I didn't want to look funny so I went back to this and I never putted well after that. So putting was -- aiming on these little putts, I had a tendency to aim to the left, and I missed a lot of little putts, just aiming problems more than anything.
But when I teach now, teach golf, I always put the left hand below the right, especially a young person, and then they push-pull with the left hand. A lot of the men are doing that, Karrie Webb putts that way, Jim Furyk, and that steadies it down and you don't have to worry about flipping the wrist.
Q. What do you think of the claw?
MARILYNN SMITH: I don't know, what do you think of it?
Q. That looks kind of ugly.
MARILYNN SMITH: I don't know I'd try that. It really would look funny.
Someone said, "What about your pearls?" Well, my folks gave me some pearls and I always wore pearls and a skirt, and that was kind of a -- and a rabbit's foot. Louise Suggs said something about my rabbit's foot.
When I became president of the LPGA in 1958 I thought the LPGA doesn't look very good with a rabbit's foot hanging out of her shirt, so I never wore it again. I lost it. I was going to put it in the exhibit, but I can't find it.
Q. Do you still teach golf now?
MARILYNN SMITH: I teach a little, not much. I do a lot of dog sitting in my house, and then I work on a charity golf tournament in Dallas called the Marilynn Smith Dallas EWGA Golf Classic, and we raise money for my Marilynn Smith Golf Scholarship, which is managed by the LPGA Foundation and the LPGA USGA girls' golf program, and Mary Lou Crocker is here, and she runs that in Dallas. That's where our money goes from my tournament. We have it every fall, and I think we raised about $26,000 this year for the two charities. So that keeps me busy.
I don't have a computer so I do a lot of handwriting. My mother always said write a thank-you letter, so when I got some congratulatory notes from people, I've been writing by hand. It's kind of good to get here to get away from doing that.
Q. When you were teaching in your clinics, do you remember what you focused on in teaching? Did you follow like a lesson plan when you taught a clinic, or did you follow something or did you just take the group as it was and just teach them? The second of that is what did you notice about the women golfers that you were teaching? What kinds of flaws did they have?
MARILYNN SMITH: Well, I can tell you the flaw I had. I had two big ears. I listened to a lot of people (laughter). So I tried the upright swing, the flat swing, early wrist set, late wrist set, and after I was on Tour for a while.
So I was fortunate that I had some good lessons from Harry Pressler, one of Mickey Wright's teacher, and he talked about the forefinger and thumb of the right hand. He said, "I don't care what you do here, you can twirl your club at the top, but if you come down the slot and your forefinger and thumb go to the target, you're going to go straight." When I got my one half brain working on that, I played my best golf.
I passed that along to my students, and tempo and hold your finish, swing to finish and hold; proper grip, you know, the fundamentals that were taught as a young person. Whenever we start the grip is very important, and posture, you don't want to slump.
And then confidence, building a person's confidence, that's the main thing. If you can get them to really not give up because -- never say negative stuff like, well, don't do this, do this and you'll see results. Now I'm getting long-winded.
Q. Can you share with us the economic challenges of being on the Tour back in the '50s versus what we see now with all of us TV people seeing endorsements and appearance money? Would it be fair to say that most of the women on the Tour at that time were on their own financially without any help from endorsements and so forth?
MARILYNN SMITH: Well, there were a few of us that were very fortunate to have endorsements like Patty Berg and Babe Zaharias with Wilson and Louise Suggs and Beverly Hanson with MacGregor and Betty Jameson and I were with Spalding. When I turned pro they put my name on a golf club and gave me a $5,000 salary and an unlimited expense account and a green Dodge that had a white stripe down the center.
So anyway, we didn't have many tournaments, so I drove from town to town and the Spalding salesman would set up the clinics. It was much cheaper. Of course a hotel room was like $8 a night. I don't know what the gas was, but it was much cheaper, but we didn't make money. Our tournaments were $3,000 total prize money. If we had 18 people, what are they going to win, you know?
And in Waterloo it was kind of fun, we had 19 players and 18 prizes, so what the Waterloo people did was they passed the hat and got $100 and gave it to the last place player. That's what was fun about those smaller towns is they did everything they could to help us get ahead and prosper.
The thing about it, we had some women that helped us, but mostly the men helped us. We had Helen Einfeld (phon.) from California, and she got three or four tournaments in California for us. But Alvin Hahnmacher (phon.), Hahnmacher (phon.) Clothing, they had four tournaments, cross-country tournaments, in the '50s, and that was great. But most of these people were civic organizations that sponsored the tournament in Dallas. These were men. So there were a lot of men that were for ladies' golf. It's come a long way.
Q. A lot was written about Patty Berg recently and her affiliation with Wilson. I was just curious, were Wilson and Spalding competitive and did that drive anything more among the players representing those respective companies?
MARILYNN SMITH: Well, I think we had a lot of respect for each other. You know, she gave her clinics for Wilson and that helped the Tour because she was very comical and she did a great job as a showman and as a shot maker.
I don't know how she felt about me giving clinics, but I was the first person to win the Patty Berg Award. At that time that was next to being in the Hall of Fame. That was the big premier award. She said she nominated me, so I felt -- is this what the question was?
Q. I was just curious with Wilson being a big sponsor of women's golf and then of course Spalding and MacGregor, just curious if the sponsorships and their support of you guys enabling you to move around the country like you did in a time when it wasn't so easy, did that spark any more of the rivalry between you guys just as players?
MARILYNN SMITH: I didn't look at it that way. I can't speak for the rest of them. We were just struggling from day-to-day to make ends meet, to go from one town to another and hope that we kept the tournament we had and move on to get another tournament next year.
One year we lost four tournaments. One of the reasons was they couldn't raise the purse from $3,000 to $5,000. So in the name of progress, we had to drop that tournament, and that was the Texas Open. The Women's Western Open kept on, and I forget the other one. That doesn't sound like much, but that was step by step that we grew.
I don't think there -- see, the three companies that paid at the beginning, they withdrew their support after how many years. You probably know that, three or four years. So we didn't get support from the manufacturers then.
We put 10 percent of our prize money, such as it was, in the Treasury. So if I won $100, $10 of it went into the Treasury. Then we gave a clinic. Patty Berg was the emcee most of the time and then I would be the backup for her when she didn't do it. We got $300 for giving a clinic, and all the girls -- maybe we had 15 girls and one of them would hit the wedge and one would hit the 9.
And I remember Wiffy Smith, it came time for her to hit a 2-iron in Jacksonville, and I was the emcee, and I said, "Wiffy Smith will now hit a 2-iron," and she didn't show up. I said, "Wiffy Smith will now hit a 2-iron." She came racing in on a quarter horse, hit two 2-irons about 180 yards down the way, jumped back on her horse and rode off into the sunset.
So we had some characters out there, which was fun.
JANE FADER: Thank you, Marilynn, for spending some time with us.
Q. What was the course in Jacksonville, Hyde Park?
MARILYNN SMITH: I think it was. It went down. Didn't it go down for a while? Hyde Park sounds like it.
End of FastScripts