Golf Editorial

20130113 Ranking the Greatest Female Golfers

Introductory Comment

Greatness is a subjective term and is thus not determined solely by tournament or Major wins. If it were determined in that simplistic a manner, there would be very little room for the arguments and debate we all love!

I believe golf greatness among players is earned by the totality of their on-course careers. This includes their: results, demeanour, interaction with spectators & media and overall impact on the playing of golf.

Off-course deeds in such areas as: course design, administration, charity work and broadcasting were therefore not canvassed for these rankings.

Rightly or not, I consider competitive professional women’s golf, with its ever-increasing international element, to have had its genesis in the Suggs, Berg, Zaharias era of the 1940’s leading to the formation of the LPGA Tour in 1950, so for the purposes of this article I’ve only considered golfers active after World War 2.

Women’s Major Winners

The Women’s Majors have, variously consisted of 4 events from among: Kraft-Nabisco, PGA Championship, US Open, British Open, Du Maurier, Titleholders & Western Open.

The first four are the modern Majors of recent years while the latter three are now defunct and a fifth modern Major, The Evian, has been added to the 2013 Ladies Major roster.

Here is a listing of the women with the most Major wins (minimum 4). Players still active are marked with an asterisk in the following tables:

Rank Player Country Winning span Total
1 Patty Berg United States 1937–1958 15
2 Mickey Wright United States 1958–1966 13
3 Louise Suggs United States 1946–1959 11
T4 Annika Sörenstam Sweden 1995–2006 10
T4 Babe Zaharias United States 1940–1954 10
6 Betsy Rawls United States 1951–1969 8
T7 *Juli Inkster United States 1984–2002 7
T7 *Karrie Webb Australia 1999–2006 7
T9 Pat Bradley United States 1980–1986 6
T9 Betsy King United States 1987–1997 6
T9 Patty Sheehan United States 1983–1996 6
T9 Kathy Whitworth United States 1965–1975 6
T13 Amy Alcott United States 1979–1991 5
T13 *Se Ri Pak South Korea 1998–2006 5
T13 *Yani Tseng Taiwan 2008–2011 5
T16 Susie Berning United States 1965–1973 4
T16 Donna Caponi United States 1969–1981 4
T16 *Laura Davies England 1987–1996 4
T16 Sandra Haynie United States 1965–1982 4
T16 Meg Mallon United States 1991–2004 4
T16 Hollis Stacy United States 1977–1984 4

Women’s Tournament Winners

Since the LPGA Tour has always been the number one destination of the world of female professional golf, here is a list of all players who have won 10 or more times in that Tour’s history, with professional tournaments won prior to the LPGA Tour’s formal creation in 1950 included:

Rank Name Country Wins Majors Winning span
1 Kathy Whitworth United States 88 6 1962–1985
2 Mickey Wright United States 82 13 1956–1973
3 Annika Sörenstam Sweden 72 10 1995–2008
4 Patty Berg United States 60 15 1937–1962
5 Louise Suggs United States 58 11 1946–1962
6 Betsy Rawls United States 55 8 1951–1972
7 Nancy Lopez United States 48 3 1978–1997
8 JoAnne Carner United States 43 2 1969–1985
9 Sandra Haynie United States 42 4 1962–1982
10 Babe Zaharias United States 41 10 1940–1955
T11 Carol Mann United States 38 2 1964–1975
T11 *Karrie Webb Australia 38 7 1995–2011
13 Patty Sheehan United States 35 6 1981–1996
14 Betsy King United States 34 6 1984–2001
15 Beth Daniel United States 33 1 1979–2003
T16 Pat Bradley United States 31 6 1976–1995
T16 *Juli Inkster United States 31 7 1983–2006
18 Amy Alcott United States 29 5 1975–1991
T19 Jane Blalock United States 27 0 1970–1985
T19 Lorena Ochoa Mexico 27 2 2004–2009
T21 Marlene Hagge United States 26 1 1952–1972
T21 Judy Rankin United States 26 0 1968–1979
23 *Se Ri Pak South Korea 25 5 1998–2010
24 Donna Caponi United States 24 4 1969–1981
25 Marilynn Smith United States 21 2 1954–1972
26 *Laura Davies England 20 4 1987–2001
27 Sandra Palmer United States 19 2 1971–1986
T28 Meg Mallon United States 18 4 1991–2004
T28 Hollis Stacy United States 18 4 1977–1991
T30 Beverly Hanson United States 17 3 1950–1960
T30 Ayako Okamoto Japan 17 0 1982–1992
T30 Dottie Pepper United States 17 2 1989–2000
33 Jan Stephenson Australia 16 3 1976–1987
T34 *Cristie Kerr United States 15 2 2002–2012
T34 Sally Little South Africa 15 2 1976–1988
T34 *Yani Tseng Taiwan 15 5 2008–2012
T37 Betty Jameson United States 13 3 1942–1955
T37 Rosie Jones United States 13 0 1987–2003
T37 Liselotte Neumann Sweden 13 1 1988–2004
T40 Susie Berning United States 11 4 1965–1976
T40 Clifford Ann Creed United States 11 0 1964–1967
T40 Fay Crocker Uruguay 11 2 1955–1960
T40 Shirley Englehorn United States 11 1 1962–1970
T40 Jane Geddes United States 11 2 1986–1994
T40 Ruth Jessen United States 11 0 1959–1971
T46 Mary Lena Faulk United States 10 1 1956–1964
T46 *Suzann Pettersen Norway 10 1 2007–2012
T46 *Jiyai Shin South Korea 10 2 2008–2012

Bio’s of some of the Greatest

Here are some notes on the greatest players, in no particular order except that, because I admire her so much, Babe Zaharias comes first!

Note: I’ve included the life spans of these players as I was struck during my research by the longevity of most of the early greats. Maybe there is something in that claim that walking is good for your health!

The other notable factor to emerge from my research was that typing ‘top10, top50 or top100 female golfers’ into Google returned as many lists of ‘hot golfing babes’ and the like as it did genuine attempts to rank females as golfers!

Very disappointing, this objectivisation of women as sex objects, although I did ultimately spend quite some time on pics of: Anna Rawson, Johanna Head, Kirsti Gallacher, Natalie Gulbis, Nikki Garrett, Sandra Gal & Sophie Sandolo.

For your reference, Sophie is assuredly the most risqué, Anna is the sexiest while Sandra Gal is the best combination of golfer & hot bod and the one most likely to star in 2013!

Anyway, back to those player bio’s.

Babe Didrikson (Zaharias) 1911-1956

She added her husband’s surname to her own when she married George Zaharias, a professional wrestler, in 1938.

‘The Babe’ was not only one of the best female golfers but perhaps the most multi-talented female sportsperson who ever lived and one of the greatest athletes, male or female, of all time! A pure tomboy, decades ahead of her time.

A look at the above numbers tell us The Babe had 41 pro tournament wins, including 10 Majors (equal 4th all-time with Annika Sorenstam) from 1940-1955 and won, in all, 82 tournaments. That alone would place her in everybody’s all-time Top10 female golfers.

However, her overall sporting resumé, incorporating Basketball and Track & field in addition to golf, is worthy of mention here.

She achieved athletics fame at the American AAU Championships in 1932, doubling as the Olympic trials, by entering 8 of the 10 available women’s events, winning six and setting four world records in the process!

She went on to the 1932 Olympic Games where she competed in three events (the maximum females were permitted to enter!), won the javelin with an Olympic record on her first throw, won the 80m hurdles in a new world record time and was awarded a controversial silver medal after a tie for gold in the high jump.

Prior to the Games, Babe had already been voted All-American in basketball for three consecutive years! After the Games she forfeited her amateur status in order to cash-in on her name via endorsements and was thus lost to track & field forever.

After that it was mostly golf. She won the first tournament she entered (in 1934), became the first woman to ever win both US & British Amateurs (1946 & 1947) and even played in three tournaments against the men – decades before people thought Sorenstam & Wie were special for doing so. In two of those three Mens tournaments she had to qualify, did so and subsequently made the cut in all three with a best finish of 42nd!

Along with her husband and Manager, George, she co-founded the LPGA with, among others, Patty Berg who was its first President and who was also one of the great female golfers. The Babe was the LPGA’s 2nd President up to her untimely death from colon cancer in 1956 at the age of just 45.

Patty Berg (1918 – 2006)

After Babe, Patty Berg was the next most dominant player of the immediate post-war era with 29 Amateur titles & 63 professional wins spanning 25 years, including 15 Majors – still the most by any woman. She also finished 2nd nine times in Majors.

However, 14 of her Majors were evenly split between the Titleholders and Western Open, tour tournaments long since defunct and, rightly in my opinion, regarded less highly than, say, a US Open.

As mentioned above, she was one of the driving forces in the creation of the LPGA, and its first president.

Annika Sorenstam (1970 – )

Like only The Babe before her, Annika was a true trailblazer for women’s golf.

She was the first foreigner to dominate the LPGA Tour. She led women’s golf into the modern era of big purses. She was the first to fully embrace the necessity of a golf pro’s dedication to gym & fitness. She is the only female to have shot a 59 in tournament play. While at college in the USA she became the first non-American and first freshman to win the individual NCAA National Championship. She was the first since The Babe to tee it up with the men. And so on!

Like The Babe, she was a multi-talented sporting youngster. She was nationally ranked in Sweden in tennis, played football well and was identified by the national skiing coach as a hot junior prospect.

In the modern professional era, against deeper fields than those encountered by her dominant predecessors: Zaharias, Berg, Suggs, Rawls, Wright, Whitworth, Carner & Lopez, Sorenstam won 72 times (3rd all-time), including 10 Majors (4th all-time)!

Many, including me, believe she announced her retirement too young at the age of just 37 in 2008, but the arrival of her first child, in 2009, made her retirement logic somewhat irrefutable!

Nancy Lopez (1957 – )

After a solid amateur career, Nancy burst onto the LPGA Tour in 1978 like a tsunami! She won 9 times that year, including 5 consecutive tournaments, and instantly became a household name. She then won 8 times the following year to cement her fame and went on to win 52 times altogether in a relatively short career at the top.

For Lopez though, it wasn’t all about golf and records. At the height of her career she took more than 6 months off three times (1983/84, 1986 & 1990/91) for childbirths and she never travelled to play the British Open.

Her Majors record (just 3 wins, all in the LPGA Championship) pales by comparison with the greats and just like Sam Snead she, agonisingly, never won a US Open despite 4 second placings.

Her personality, effervescence and style brought spectators to womens tournaments and stepped the popularity of televised women’s golf to a new high.

Louise Suggs (1923 – )

Louise was, along with The Babe & Patty Berg, a dominant immediate post-war player and a founding member of the LPGA Tour. She was known as ‘Miss Sluggs’ because of how hard and far she hit the ball.

After a stellar amateur career that included wins in both the US & British Amateurs and two Western amateurs (designated a Major when the LPGA was founded), she turned pro in 1948 and went on to record 60 wins.

She stands 5th all-time in LPGA titles with 58 wins and 3rd all-time in Major wins with 11 – one ahead of The Babe & Annika.

Mickey Wright (1935 – )

Mickey turned pro in 1955 and carried the Babe/Suggs/Berg status and performance level through the 1960’s. In a too-brief career she recorded a dominating 90 wins. Her 82 LPGA wins included 13 Majors, both 2nd all-time, before her relatively youthful (34) retirement in 1969 owing to foot problems.

Some have claimed she lacked the quality of opposition in the 1960’s that pertained in the preceding and subsequent decades, but I believe this is a weak argument and that she deserves to be very highly ranked among the greatest female golfers.

Juli Inkster (1960 – )

Juli is an ageless and fiercely competitive phenomenon, regularly posting Top10’s in the best company into her 50’s and in 2011, emphasising her longevity, she became the oldest ever Solheim Cup player.

Sadly, an elbow injury in 2011 interrupted her career and in just three tournaments since surgery she has been well below her best; that elbow seems to have brought down the win curtain on a wonderful career.

Before turning pro in 1983 Juli, in Tiger Woods fashion, won three consecutive US Women’s Amateurs.

In a strong professional era boasting such great competitors as: Carner, Bradley, Daniels, King, Sheehan, Sorenstam & Webb, Juli won 39 times with 31 of those on the LPGA Tour and, significantly, including 7 Majors – 7th on the all-time list.

Betsy Rawls (1928 – )

Another long-lived female golfer and breast cancer (1999) survivor.

Rawls was perhaps lower profile than her great contemporaries, but in a 25-year pro career nonetheless compiled one of the great resumés in the annals of womens golf: 58 wins, 55 on the LPGA Tour and 8 Majors – 6th all-time.

She did so competing against many of the players discussed above and, notably, won 4xUS Opens.

When the LPGA Hall of Fame was created in 1967, Betsy was one of 6 inaugural inductees. The other five were: Patty Berg, Betty Jameson, Louise Suggs, Babe Zaharias & Mickey Wright.

Sandra Haynie (1943 – )

World Golf Hall of Fame member Sandra Haynie is just about worthy of consideration in this company with her 42xLPGA wins including 4xMajors. She turned pro at age 18 in 1961 and played on tour until 1989!

Karrie Webb (1974 – )

But for the presence of the fabulous Sorenstam, who knows how much Karrie might have achieved? Nonetheless, her 52 global wins, 38 of them on the LPGA, and 7 Majors place her up with the best.

She holds a career grand slam, having won all five Majors that carried that status during her playing career (the 4 current ones plus the du Maurier). She also won the British Open twice (’95 & ’97) before it replaced the du Maurier as a Major.

Although Karrie remains competitive at age 38, she has won just one Major since 2002 (the ’06 Kraft-Nabisco) and just 3 LPGA tournaments since 2006. Her best days are clearly behind her but who could rule out one final Major run, perhaps a windy British Open?

Joanne Carner (1939 – )

The larger-than-life, cigarette-smoking, ‘Big Mama’ was big in every sense of the word. She was a young prodigy, like Tiger Woods, and just went on with it throughout a stellar golfing career right up to 2004 when, aged 65, she became the oldest player to make the cut in an LPGA event – and likely to hold that record forever!

Along with Tiger, she is the only person, male or female, to have won the USGA Boys/Girls, Junior, Amateur & Open titles.

She remained an amateur until the ripe old age of 30 and during her amateur days won 5xUS Amateurs along with 2 runner-ups. Until the arrival of Lydia Ko in 2012, Big Mama was the only amateur to have won an LPGA tournament.

After turning pro in 1970, she won 49 more times, 43 on the LPGA Tour (8th all-time) but won only two Majors – both US Opens. She came close to more Majors with 22 other Top5’s but, like Laura Davies or Carol Mann, should have won a lot more!

Se Ri Pak (1977 – )

History just might judge Se Ri Pak to have been the most influential player in the history of women’s golf! It’s no accident that 40-50 LPGA players today are Korean nor that Korean TV rights are the LPGA’s largest single income source!

History will certainly judge her so if the number of quality Asian, and especially fellow Korean, players continues to proliferate at the current rate! Almost every recent top asian player from Mi-Hyun Kim & Hee-Won Han to Na-Yeon Choi & Yani Tseng attribute their inspiration to Se Ri.

She literally exploded onto the LPGA scene as a 20-y-o in 1998, having already won 6 pro tournaments in Korea. What she then did changed the golfing destiny of a nation forever. She won 4 tournaments that year, including the final two Majors, one of which was a dramatic US Open via a nail-biting 20-hole playoff, beamed live into Korea.

Her 33 wins in all, 25 on the LPGA with 5 Majors, is just so-so in the context of the history of women’s golf, but her legacy seems likely to survive longer than her. And, as with Karrie Webb whose last big win was also in 2006, who could legitimately claim there isn’t one more Major left in that beautiful little body?

Ayako Okamoto (1951 – )

Although Chako Higuchi preceded Okamoto offshore, and won a Major (which Okamoto never did), Ayako was the international trailblazer of Japanese womens golf and almost as much of an inspiration to a generation of Japanese golfing ladies as Se Ri Pak was to Koreans. Okamoto actually went overseas and played a foreign tour for 12 years. Only a few Japanese, all men (eg Isao Aoki), were supposed to be able to do that!

Even today, most good Japanese golfers struggle offshore to reproduce their domestic quality as they battle cultural, culinary and language barriers. To a seemingly far greater extent than other nationalities, being away from their homeland is perhaps more of an impediment for Japanese than for: Koreans, Italians or Argentinians, for example.

Thus Okamoto’s achievements, viewed in their cultural context, become transcendent. She was a true champion who won 62 tournaments in all: 44 at home, one in Europe and 17 on the LPGA Tour.

A multi-skilled sportsperson, like The Babe & Annika, she was the star pitcher for the national champion softball team in 1971 and didn’t even play golf until she was a 21-y-o in 1972. Incredibly, she turned pro in 1975 and won her 1st tournament in 1976! She joined the LPGA Tour in 1981 and went on to record those 17 wins before returning to play in Japan from 1993.

Sadly, there were no Majors (despite 6 runner-ups) and that denies her true greatness, despite a legacy that probably bequeathed us the likes of Ai Miyazato.

Kathy Whitworth (1939 – )

Whitworth was one the most enduring competitors who ever swung a club. Despite not taking up golf until age 15, she was good enough to turn pro by age 19, in 1958. She went on to win an almost unbelievable 98 tournaments – including the all-time record 88 on the LPGA Tour, from her 1st in 1962 to her last in 1985!

Bear in mind, too, that it could easily have been 100 wins as she lost 20 of 28 LPGA Tour playoffs! Perhaps this failure to perform under pressure helps to explain only 6 Major wins in such a long and successful career? Only 6 Majors? What am I saying? I guess I’m saying she should have won more Majors, so I could rank her #1. Sorry, Kathy.

Among many golfing achievements she captained the USA in the inaugural Solheim Cup (1990) and recorded at least one victory in each of 17 consecutive years! I don’t think anybody will ever challenge that record!

She played her final pro event, a Ladies Seniors tournament, in 2005! Longevity indeed!

Laura Davies (1963 – )

Laura has been a true globetrotter since turning pro in 1985 and has won 82 tournaments worldwide to date! She’s won 45 on the LET (and the money title a record 7 times) as well as 20 LPGA tournaments, 6 in Japan, 7 in Australasia, 2 in Asia, etc. Globetrotter!

On her first visit to the USA, in 1987, she won the US Open, in a playoff over Joanne Carner & Ayako Okamoto, yet never won it again. Laura has 4xMajor wins in total with, perhaps surprisingly, a best finish of only 8th in British Opens! As I said earlier, I believe she should have won a lot more Majors. She has finished Top4 in another 9.

My Rankings – Top Ten Female Golfers of All Time

  1. Annika Sorenstam
  2. Babe Didrikson Zaharias
  3. Mickey Wright
  4. Kathy Whitworth
  5. Karrie Webb
  6. Betsy Rawls
  7. Louise Suggs
  8. Se Ri Pak
  9. Patty Berg
  10. Nancy Lopez

Just missed, in order: Joanne Carner, Patty Sheehan, Pat Bradley, Amy Alcott, Juli Inkster, Betsy King, Beth Daniel & Sandra Haynie. Yani Tseng closing fast on the Top20?

Cheers, and good luck with your golf betting in 2013, Mike.


Copyright MJ Miller (Mike) 13 January 2013