Susie Maxwell Berning, LPGA Major Champ

Susie Maxwell Berning was an LPGA Tour golfer whose best years were from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s. After coming out of Oklahoma and first playing under her maiden name, Susie Maxwell, Berning went on to a Hall of Fame career despite the fact that she played only a handful of full (20-plus starts) seasons.

But she had a knack for winning the big ones: Four of her 11 career wins were major championships. And three of those four major wins were in the U.S. Women's Open.

Date of birth: July 22, 1941

Place of birth: Pasadena, California

Nickname: Her college coach nicknamed her "Sam"

Susie Berning's LPGA Wins

The LPGA Tour credits Berning with 11 victories in official tour events: Berning also won the Lady Keystone Open in 1975, its first year of existence, but in that year the tournament was not an official LPGA event.

In the Majors

Berning won four majors overall, the first of which is a tournament that no longer exists: the 1965 Women's Western Open. That was Berning's second win of the year and the second win of her career.

More importantly, Berning is one of six women to win the U.S. Women's Open three or more times, along with Mickey Wright and Betsy Rawls (four each), plus Annika Sorenstam, Babe Zaharias and Hollis Stacy, each of whom, like Berning, won three.

Those USWO wins are:

  • 1968 U.S. Women's Open: One year after finishing second, Berning claimed her first USWO title in wire-to-wire fashion. Even though she bogeyed the final three holes, Berning's winning margin was three shots over Mickey Wright.

  • 1972 U.S. Women's Open: Berning trailed Pam Barnett by one as she played the 17th hole, a 200-yard, par-3 (a long par-3 in the women's game at the time — Berning used a driver to get the ball back into the green). Berning's tee shot stopped 20 feet from the pin, then she sank the putt for a two. When leader Barnett reached the 17th 30 minutes later, her tee shot was short of the green, and she left her chip shot well short of hole. Barnett 2-putted for bogey, propelling Berning, in the clubhouse, into the lead and to the win. Berning hit 65 of 72 greens in regulation for the tournament. She won despite shooting 79 in the first round, and is the last U.S. Open (women's or men's) winner to win after shooting a 79.

  • 1973 U.S. Women's Open: At the time of her win here, Berning was just the third golfer to earn three USWO titles, and also just the third to win two in a row. The final round took place on her 32nd birthday. She used a putter that her husband had bought for $5 in a pawn shop three months earlier. She hit every fairway during the final round, but also hit into seven greenside bunkers. No problem, she got up-and-down six times using using a Wilson sand wedge made in 1935.

Berning had an outstanding record in the USWO in addition to her three wins. There was the runner-up in 1967, and in the 12 Opens she played from 1965 to 1979, she finished in the Top 11 in nine of them.

She also finished runner-up in the 1969 Women's PGA Championship.

More About Susie Maxwell Berning

Berning was eventually elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame despite only 11 victories. Why? We've already seen one reason: She won some very big tournaments. But there's also the fact that those 11 wins came despite her schedule, which she limited much more so than her peers on the LPGA in the 1960s and '70s.

In only four years of her career did she play in at least 20 tournaments. Twice in her prime years (1968, 1970) she played fewer than 10 events, following the births of her two daughters. From 1970 to 1997, she played more than 15 tournaments only seven times, and several of those seasons were in the 1990s, when she was well past her prime.

Something else unusual about Berning was her path into the sport, which involved a runaway horse. Equestrian was her first love, growing up in Oklahoma.

In 1956, at age 15, Susie Maxwell's horse got away from her and she didn't catch up to it until the horse had damaged some greens at Lincoln Park Golf Course in Oklahoma City. The course's pro, U.C. Ferguson, made Berning a deal: teach his kids to ride horses, and he'd forgive the damage to his course.

Ferguson wound up introducing young Susie Maxwell to golf and becoming her teacher, a role he played through much of her future career. (She also worked with instructor Jim Flick.)

And the future Susie Maxwell Berning was a quick study: She caught on to the game fast enough to win three Oklahoma high school championships and three Oklahoma City Women's Amateur titles. Then she was the first woman to receive a golf scholarship to Oklahoma City University. But when OCU was unable to field a women's golf team, Berning instead played for the men's team. In 1963, Berning won the Oklahoma Women's Amateur.

Berning turned pro in 1964, had a best finished of tied for third, and finished 19th on the money list. She won the LPGA's Rookie of the Year Award.

In 1965 her career took off with her first victory plus her first win in a major at the Women's Western Open. She improved to eighth on the money list.

She also finished eight on the money list in 1967, and a career-best seventh in 1969. (In 1968, year of her first USWO victory, Berning played in only nine tournaments.) Her second and third USWO titles followed in 1972-73, years in which she finished 20th and 12th, respectively, on the money list.

Berning was still posting the occasional Top 10 finish into the late 1980s, and she continued making LPGA Tour starts until 1997. In the 1980s and 1990s, her daughter Robin often caddied for her.

Susie and Robin also have the distinction of being the first mother and daughter to play in the same LPGA Tour event. That happened at the 1989 Konica San Jose Classic.

After she retired from tournament golf, Berning became a respected golf instructor.

In 2018, Berning visited the site of her first U.S. Women's Open win, Moselem Springs Golf Club in Fleetwood, Pennsylvania, for a 50th anniversary event. She brought back with her something that belonged to the club: The putter she used to win the tournament.

She wasn't putting well the week leading up to the tournament in 1968, so a few days before the USWO started she visited the club's pro shop. There she found a Bullseye putter, used it in a practice round, and liked so. So she put it in the bag for the tournament, and never returned it to the pro shop. Until 2018, that is. "It was theirs anyway," she said after returning it.

Berning is a member of the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame and the National Golf Coaches Association Hall of Fame. In 2020, it was announced she was chosen for induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2021.

Photo credit: Susie Maxwell Berning/Courtesy World Golf Hall of Fame

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