BOB WEST ON GOLF — Babe offers terrific opportunity for Chevron, LPGA

Published 12:06 am Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Aside from the announcement of a somewhat hokey 12-hole “match” between Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau in Las Vegas the day after Thanksgiving, the big news in the golf world last week was an LPGA Tour revelation that could reach all the way to Port Arthur.

The key part of that paragraph is “could reach all the way to Port Arthur.” That’s because your favorite golf writer is the only one who has let his imagination run wild with what should be a realistic possibility. And, as the late, great basketball coach Billy Tubbs once told me, “Your only limitation is your imagination.”

So, here’s the deal. Chevron is jumping head-first into women’s golf by becoming the title sponsor of the LPGA’s long-time opening major – The ANA Inspiration. That event, conceived in 1971 as the Dinah Shore Invitational, has always been played at Mission Hills in Palm Springs, California.

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All indications are that Chevron plans to move the tournament to Houston at a yet unnamed course in 2023, raise the purse from $3.1 to $5 million and schedule it for a late spring date which will be conducive to network television on NBC. It is currently a Golf Channel property.

Within minutes of reading all that last week, I could hear Tubbs whispering in my ear. “That baby could have added cache by calling it the Chevron Babe Zaharias Open.”

Could it ever! Let’s amplify some of the ways.

For openers, Port Arthur’s Babe was one of the founders of the LPGA Tour and, arguably, the main reason it managed to get off the ground. One of its early tournaments, in deference to the person who would later come to be known as the “world’s greatest female athlete”, was the Babe Zaharias Open played from 1953 to 1967 in Beaumont.

Throw in the fact that the Beaumont-Port Arthur area is practically a Houston suburb, and that Chevron has roots in Port Arthur dating back to a Gulf Oil refinery opening here in 1901, and you have what is a marketing natural for both the sponsor and the LPGA.

The only other base that really needs to be covered is a refresher course for those who are somewhat familiar with the name Babe Zaharias but are from generations mostly lacking in knowledge about how unique and off-the-charts amazing she really was.

Even LPGA all-time great Annika Sorenstam was in the dark about Babe as recently as 2002 when she was preparing to try and become the first woman to make the cut in a PGA Tour event since Zaharias in 1945. Asked at the Colonial in Fort Worth what she knew about Babe, Sorenstam replied, “Not much.”

Consequently, we’re going to deliver the Cliff’s Notes version for those in the same boat as Sorenstam was nearly 20 years ago. Or for those who haven’t read Wonder Girl — Don Van Natta’s terrific and insightful book about Babe that is begging to be made into a movie or, more likely, a Netflix limited series.

In fairness to Annika, she was singing a different tune eight months ago as part of a Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony at the White House that included Gary Player and a posthumous presentation to Zaharias. She made the exact point that needed to be made.

“If it hadn’t been for Babe, the LPGA wouldn’t be what it is today,” Sorenstam said. “She opened so many doors for me and other female golfers. She was truly the trailblazer for women in golf. She was such a remarkable athlete”

Zaharias was remarkable to the point that she won two gold medals and one silver in the 1932 Olympics, took up golf late in life and counted 10 majors among 41 LPGA tournament victories, was voted the Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year a record six times and was named the Greatest Female Athlete of the 20th century by the AP, Sports Illustrated and ESPN.

Further underscoring her legacy, Zaharias was stricken with colon cancer not long after the inaugural Babe Zaharias Open in 1953. After undergoing a colostomy, she was told she would never play golf again.

Undaunted, Babe was hoisting the Women’s U.S. Open Championship trophy 15 months later. Wearing a colostomy bag and required to play 36 holes the final day in summer heat, she only won by 12 strokes. A little over two years later, cancer would take her life.

Dwight Eisenhower, then president of the United States, was so impressed at Zaharias’ courage, he opened his press briefing the day after her death by paying tribute. Among many other virtues, Ike was impressed that this Babe, unlike cancer-stricken baseball great Babe Ruth, was willing to talk openly about such a hush-hush subject.

“I would like to take one minute to pay tribute to Mrs. Zaharias, Babe Didrikson,” said Eisenhower. “She was a woman who in her athletic career certainly won the admiration of every person in the United States and all over the world. In her gallant fight against cancer, she inspired us all.”

Chevron and the LPGA would do themselves proud by attaching and making Babe Zaharias the face of their tournament.

CHIP SHOTS: In the Friday Senior 2 ball at Babe Zaharias, the team of James Vercher, Bob Byerly, Jason Ferguson and Larry Foster scored a sweep. They won the front with minus 2 and the back with minus 4. Closest to the pin winners were Charles Leard (No. 2), Dillard Darbonne (No. 7), Bob West (No. 12) and Vercher (No. 15).

The Wednesday Zaharias DogFight was played in an all-points count format. There was a tie for first place with 25 points between the team of Doug LeBlanc, Ceasar Chavez, Darbonne and Roy Martinez and the foursome of Gary Fontenot, Art Turner, Steve Wisenbaker and Dale Carter.

Closes to the pin winners were Keith Marshall (No. 2), Martinez (No. 7), Dwayne Morvant (No. 12) and Richard Menchaca (No. 15).

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