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BOB WEST ON GOLF — Babe Zaharias Open has added meaning after Pate’s death

Many important matters tied into the Babe Zaharias Foundation are in limbo due to last week’s untimely death of its long-time president W.L. Pate Jr. Pate was a wheeler dealer of the first magnitude when it came to all things Zaharias.

There is no way to gloss over the gaping leadership void he left.

One major asset requiring immediate attention is the Second Annual Babe Zaharias Open, scheduled for July 26-30 at Beaumont Country Club. The tournament, bringing the Women’s All-Pro Tour to Southeast Texas, was near and near to Pate’s heart and fortunately was far enough along in planning to go on as scheduled.

Austin Williams of 5 Under Golf Center, a member of the Zaharias Foundation board, will step up as the point man on the project. He’ll work with WAPT head Gary DeSerrano in hopes of delivering a tournament week that would have made Pate proud.

Beaumont Emergency Hospital had already signed on in the key role of title sponsor for the event. Also in the fold is a Pro-Am sponsor. Still needed are sponsors in several other areas and Williams is fielding calls at 409 291-9988 from anyone who would like to participate.

“Nobody can take W.L. Pate’s place but all of us who appreciate the things he did for this community, and for Babe Zaharias, need to step up and do their part on the tournament,” said Williams. “We had a terrific first year and we need to build on it.

“Babe Didrikson Zaharias brought women’s golf and the Ladies Professional Golf Association to new heights in winning 82 times, including 14 in a row. She has left a legacy that inspires all women athletes, particularly in golf. We believe that partnering with the WAPT will expand opportunities for young women golfers.

“We are happy to play a role in that process.”

Indeed, year one of the BDZ Open proved to be a terrific success, right down to former Lamar University golfer Julie Aime winning by one shot. DiSerrano was effusive in his praise for Pate, the Zaharias Foundation and Beaumont Country Club.

Word has it, in fact, that powers that be in women’s professional golf were so impressed a Symetra Tour tournament will be coming to Beaumont next year. The Symetra Tour is the LPGA’s equivalent of the men’s Korn Ferry Tour and is gaining traction at a rapid pace.

Pate wanted to bring a women’s professional event back to the area to rekindle the fires of the original LPGA Babe Zaharias Open played at Beaumont Country Club (1953-1964) and at Bayou Din (1965-67). Typical of his relentlessness, he wouldn’t let a pandemic shut down the tournament’s return.

Initially set for last June, it was rescheduled for mid-September because of COVID 19 closures. The delayed event went off with only minor hitches and Pate put his and the Babe’s stamp on by busing players to the Zaharias Museum to educate them on why they were playing golf in Beaumont.

Anybody who understood what made Pate tick understands how much he would want things to move forward in his absence. His long-range goal was to start with a Women’s APT Babe Zaharias Open, move up to a Zaharias Symetra Tournament and, ultimately, see the LPGA staging a reborn Babe Zaharias Open on its tour.

While the LPGA part seems like a long shot, Pate was the type of guy to never say never. There would have been no LPGA without Zaharias and people in high places need to be reminded of that. W.L. was the perfect person to do it but now somebody else is going to have to carry the ball.

Helping the cause could be what Don Van Natta, author of Zaharias biography Wonder Girl, revealed last week when talking about Pate. He said WL had taken a couple of independent Hollywood producers through the museum recently and they were thinking in terms of pitching a limited biopic series along the lines of Queen’s Gambit to Netflix or Amazon Prime.

If that project gets done, and Van Natta believes it will, it could well be a catalyst for the LPGA to get back to its Zaharias roots. With Babe already popping up in Olympic promos, you can’t convince me there aren’t big time sponsors who would love to be associated with a Babe Zaharias Open.

Bob West can be reached at rdwest@usa.net.