Betty Jameson, Pioneer of Women's Pro Golf

Betty Jameson was a pioneer of the women's professional golf scene, turning pro at a time when there were probably fewer than a dozen women pro golfers. She won major championships, including a U.S. Women's Open, and was one of the 13 founders of the LPGA Tour. Although her LPGA win total of 13 doesn't stack up to some of her contemporaries, Jameson was one of the most important figures in women's golf in the 1940s and early 1950s.

Full name: Elizabeth May Jameson

Date of birth: May 9, 1919

Place of birth: Norman, Oklahoma

Date and place of death: February 7, 2009 in Boynton Beach, Florida

Nickname: Betty

Jameson's Biggest Wins

Wins in amateur tournaments:
  • 1934 Women's Southern Amateur
  • 1936 Women's Texas Amateur
  • 1937 Women's Texas Amateur
  • 1937 Women's Trans-Mississippi Amateur
  • 1938 Women's Texas Amateur
  • 1939 U.S. Women's Amateur
  • 1939 Women's Texas Amateur
  • 1940 Women's Western Amateur
  • 1940 Women's Trans-Mississippi Amateur
  • 1940 U.S. Women's Amateur
  • 1942 Women's Western Amateur
Wins in pro tournaments:

Jameson won 13 tournaments now counted as LPGA Tour wins, plus a handful of other events. The LPGA wins are noted with an asterisk on the following list; tournaments Jameson won playing as an amateur are followed by (a):

  • 1938 Women's Texas Open (a)
  • 1942 *Women's Western Open (a)
  • 1946 Hardscrabble Open
  • 1947 *U.S. Women's Open
  • 1947 *Women's Texas Open
  • 1948 *Tampa Open
  • 1952 Hardscrabble Open
  • 1952 *Corpus Christi Tournament
  • 1952 *Bakersfield Open (tie with Marlene Hagge, Betsy Rawls, and Babe Zaharias)
  • 1952 *World Championship
  • 1953 *Serbin Miami Beach Open
  • 1954 *Women's Western Open
  • 1955 Virginia Hot Springs 4-Ball (partnered by Mary Lena Faulk)
  • 1955 *Sarasota Open
  • 1955 *Babe Zaharias Open
  • 1955 *White Mountain Open
  • 1955 *Richmond Open
  • 1958 Homestead 4-Ball (partnered by Mary Lena Faulk)

Her U.S. Women's Open Win, Other Major Championships

The U.S. Women's Open was played for the first time in 1946, at a time when the USGA had no role in creating or staging the event. It was the only U.S. Women's Open contested using match play, and Betty Jameson reached the championship match before falling to Patty Berg, 5 and 4.

A year later, though, Jameson won her own U.S. Women's Open title, finishing 15 strokes ahead of ninth-place Berg. In fact, Jameson's winning total of 295 was the first sub-300 score posted by any woman golfer in a 72-hole pro tournament. Jameson led by two entering the final round, shot 70 and won by six strokes over amateurs Polly Riley and Sally Sessions.

The next year, Jameson was third. In the 1952 U.S. Women's Open, she was runner-up (although by seven strokes) to Louise Suggs. Jameson also had top 10 finishes in this tournament in 1948 (third), 1950 (tied 10th), 1953 (fourth), 1955 (tied ninth), 1956 (tied seventh) and 1958 (fifth). She last played the U.S. Women's Open in 1963.

Jameson won two other major championships, the Women's Western Opens of 1942 (which she played as an amateur) and 1954. In 1942, she defeated Phyllis Otto 9-and-7 in the championship match. In 1954, Jameson beat Louise Suggs 5-and-4 in the title match. She reached the finals one other year of the WWO, falling to Betsy Rawls, 1-down, in 1952. Jameson had Top 10 finishes in the WWO in 1959 and 1962.

The other women's major of that era was the Titleholders Championship (and, like the USWO and WWO, its years prior to the 1950 founding of the LPGA are retroactively recognized by the LPGA as official tour events). Jameson had seven Top 10 showings in it, with best finishes of fifth in 1956 and 1961.

More About Betty Jameson

The World Golf Hall of Fame, into which Betty Jameson was inducted in 1998, described Jameson's golf game by quoting a couple of others:
"Her long, graceful swing was much admired. Herbert Warren Wind wrote after watching her that 'all you are conscious of is how perfectly the left hand does what the left hand is supposed to do, and, as she moves into the ball, an acceleration which keeps building so smoothly that it is hardly perceptible.' According to Lawson Little, Jameson had 'the soundest swing, the best pivot and the greatest follow-through of the hips of any woman player except Joyce Wethered.' "
Born in Oklahoma, Jameson's family moved to Dallas when she was young and Jameson was associated with Texas for much of her adult life (she lived for many years in San Antonio). She took up golf when she was 11, playing at a nearby nine-hole course in Dallas.

Just two years after starting golf, Jameson had her first win: the 1932 Texas Public Links Championship, at the age of 13. At 15, she won the prestigious Southern Amateur. And from 1936-39, Jameson won the Texas Women's Amateur four consecutive years. Her first win in a pro tournament (although she was playing as an amateur) was the Women's Texas Open in 1938.

Not surprisingly, Jameson, in high school, played on the boys golf team (there was no girls team) — the first girl to qualify for a boys team in Texas. She then played intramural golf at the University of Texas (enrolling in 1937), where her golf coach was Harvey Penick.

Her wins in the Women's Trans-Mississippi Amateur in 1937 and 1940 were both over Patty Berg in the championship match. Jameson was building quite a reputation.

And in 1939, Jameson's star burned even brighter with her victory in the U.S. Women's Amateur. She beat Dorothy Kirby 3 and 2 in the title match.

The next year, Jameson made it back-to-back wins in the U.S. Women's Amateur, winning at Pebble Beach, and in the 1941 USWA she was co-medalist with a 76.

Her pre-war (and amateur golf) exploits culminated in 1942, when, for the second time, Jameson won the Women's Western Amateur. Along with it, she claimed her first win in the Women's Western Open, becoming the first to win both Western titles in the same year.

Tournament play ground virtually to a halt during World War II, and when the war ended, Jameson made the decision in 1945 to turn professional. It was a bold move: There were probably fewer than a dozen women golf professionals in the United States (and perhaps none anywhere else), almost no pro tournaments, and very little money to be won.

Like the other women pros of that time, Jameson signed with a sporting goods company (Spalding in her case) and traveled around giving golf clinics. Spalding also put her name on golf clubs.

But when tournament play resumed after the war, Jameson resumed winning. An organization called the Women's Professional Golf Association (WPGA) started, with Jameson among its organizers. It was a precursor to the LPGA, was haphazardly run and didn't last. But Jameson did win some tournaments the WPGA helped organize, including the second U.S. Women's Open in 1947.

And when Jameson won that U.S. Women's Open, she became just the second woman to win both the Open and U.S. Women's Amateur.

When some of her peers began talking about a replacement for the WPGA, what became the LPGA, they knew they needed Jameson on board. In the words of the World Golf Hall of Fame:

"In her prime, Jameson was a tall, stylish woman who was sometimes referred to as golf’s first 'glamour girl.' "
Jameson signed on as one of the 13 founding members of the LPGA, and the LPGA Tour launched in 1950. Because of her popularity with fans, Jameson was called one of the tour's "big four" along with Babe Zaharias, Petty Berg and Louise Suggs, although Jameson never won as much as the other three.

But she did continue to win. The 1955 LPGA season, when Jameson won four times, is often called her best year. But in 1952, Jameson claimed three LPGA titles (including the World Championship at Tam O'Shanter Club in Chicago) and finished runner-up in eight other tournaments. In every one of those eight, it was an LPGA giant who beat her — either Zaharias, Suggs, Berg or Betsy Rawls.

Jameson's final official LPGA win was in 1955, her last runner-up finish was in 1957, and her last pro win of any kind was the 1958 Homestead 4-Ball (not an LPGA tournament).

Jameson continued playing full time through the 1963 LPGA season, and last appeared in a tour event in 1970. She loved the match play of her amateur and early professional era, Jameson explained, and just never felt the same thrill from the stroke play tournaments of the 1950s.

After retiring, Jameson became a painter and also worked as a golf instructor. In 2000, she was given the LPGA Commissioner's Award, given to those who have "contributed uniquely to the LPGA and its members, who has furthered the cause of women's golf, and whose character and standards are of the highest order."

Jameson was 89 years old when she died in 2009. But something she did long ago still comes up every year on the LPGA Tour. Glenna Collett Vare had been a childhood hero of Jameson's. In 1952, Jameson suggested an annual award for the LPGA Tour player with lowest scoring average for the season. She donated the trophy for that award, and named it after her hero: the Vare Trophy.

In addition to the World Golf Hall of Fame, Jameson is also a member of the Texas Golf Hall of Fame. In 1951, the LPGA Hall of Fame was created, and Jameson was one of the four inaugural inductees, along with Zaharias, Berg and Suggs.

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