Marilynn Smith, one of 13 founders of the LPGA, was known as Miss Personality, a moniker to which she lived up until she died on Tuesday, four days before her 90th birthday.
LPGA players loved her and she loved them, and the evidence was on display every year at the tour’s Bank of Hope Founders Cup, as it was one last time at the Phoenix event only a few weeks ago.
“For the LPGA family, Marilynn was special in every way,” LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan said in a statement announcing her death. “She was our founder, our north star and most importantly, our friend. In her life, she broke barriers, shattered stereotypes and made others ‘believe.’
“I'll miss her weekly handwritten cards, her daily calls to the office and her love for every LPGA teacher, player and staff member. Quite simply, Marilynn left this world better than she found it - and set a standard that will guide us forever.”
Smith was a Kansas native, who at 12 was introduced to the game by her father, who as punishment for a tantrum she threw following a bad day of softball took her out to Wichita Country Club.
The rest, as they say, is history.
She was 17 when she won the Kansas Women’s Amateur for the first of three times in 1946. She attended the University of Kansas and won the women’s NCAA Championship in 1949, then turned professional. in 1949, joining the failing Women’s Professional Golf Association.
The following year, Smith joined 12 other women and founded the LPGA. She would go on to win 21 times on the LPGA, including two major championships, the Titleholders Championship (then a major) in 1963 and ’64.
She was a pioneer in another way, too, becoming the first female commentator on men’s golf telecasts, working the U.S. Open and the Colonial National Invitational in 1973.
Smith was the president of the LPGA from 1958 to 1960 and was one of its greatest ambassadors for the rest of her life.
In June of 2006, Smith was inducted in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Several LPGA players, past and present, and others from around the golf world acknowledged her via Twitter on Tuesday morning.