The LPGA Golfer Who Saved a Boy's Life In the Middle of a Round

In 1988, Mary Bea Porter was a one-time LPGA Tour winner who was struggling to hold onto to her tour career. But in one moment, in the middle of a round, she became a hero to who saved a young boy who was struggling to hold onto his life.

Porter (who today goes by her married name, Mary Bea Porter-King) joined the LPGA Tour in 1973 after a college career at Arizona State. She had playing privileges of one level or another through 1996. Her one victory was at the 1975 Golf Inns of America tournament. That year she also had her best showing in a major, 25th place in the LPGA Championship.

Porter finished 37th on the LPGA money list in 1975, but fell outside the Top 100 after 1979. She dropped off the tour after 1980, but tried a comeback beginning in 1987. Porter was only 179th in money after that season.

So in 1988, she was hustling for ways to get back into good status on tour, including playing Monday qualifying to try to make fields. That's what Porter was doing on Wednesday, March 16, 1988 — playing the qualifier to try to get into the field at the next week's LPGA Standard Register Turquoise Classic. (Yes, what we today call a Monday qualifier was, in fact, played on a Wednesday the week before at this event in 1988.) The Standard Register Turquoise Classic was a tournament played for 30ish years in the Phoenix, Arizona area, an event you might better remember as the Standard Register Ping or Safeway International.

Porter Stumbled Across a Drowning Boy

Porter was more than halfway through her round, having completed the 12th hole. She was playing the 13th hole at Moon Valley Country Club, a hole with residential houses backing up to it. She hit her drive off to the side of the fairway by the houses. That's when Porter spotted him: what appeared to be a little boy floating face down in the swimming pool in the backyard of one of those houses.

Then she watched as the father leapt into the pool to retrieve his son. He began shaking the boy and yelling to wife to call for help. He appeared not to know CPR.

"When I saw the father begin to shake the child and yell at his wife, asking if she knew CPR, I knew that we were in trouble," Porter told the Associated Press.

Porter clambered over the 6-foot fence, and started attempting to apply CPR based on what she knew about the procedure — she had never done it before.

"I knew I had to do something," Porter told the AP, "so I threw him on the ground, reached in and cleaned out his mouth, moved his tongue to the side and blew. Finally, I could see his little lungs inflate."

The boy, who was three years old, went limp several times, but Porter continued. When paramedics arrived, Porter had revived the child, who was up and crying. And Porter got the credit for saving him.

"There is no doubt Porter saved his life," a spokesman for the Phoenix Fire Department told the AP.

Said Porter: "I feel like I have won a thousand tournaments."

LPGA Bends Qualifying Rules to Reward Her

And what did Porter do? She climbed back over the fence, went back to her golf ball, and resumed her round. She was trying to make a tournament — trying to revive her career.

Alas, Porter didn't claim one of the qualifying spots available, finishing the round with a 76. The LPGA was playing in Tucson that week, and golfers in the field at the LPGA Tucson Open circulated a petition to get Porter into the field at the Turquoise Classic. And the LPGA Tour, in recognition of her heroism, did give her a spot.

But Porter may have suffered from PTSD over the event. Even though it had a happy ending, it was a highly stressful incident that began with Porter confronted with a child who appeared to be dead.

In the weeks after the incident, Porter said, she frequently had flashbacks, seeing the boy's lifeless face. Hearing sirens triggered anxiety. She felt emotionally and physically spent, and sought the help of a sports psychologist (at a time when doing so was rare in golf). And Porter missed the cut in the LPGA Standard Register Turquoise Classic.

"Every holed I play, people come up and say, 'may I thank you'," Porter told the Associated Press after the Turqoise Classic ended. "It's just hard for me to accept all this (attention). My self-esteem has never been very good. ... I know I need some time for me. I need it badly. I need to get to the ocean and just watch the waves."

The family took photos of the boy after he arrived home from the hospital, healthy and in good spirits, and gave copies of the photos to Porter. "I'll carry them with me wherever I go," she told the AP.

The Rest of Mary Bea Porter-King's Career

Porter continued playing the LPGA Tour off and on through the mid-1990s, although without much success. In 1989, the Metropolitan Golf Writers Associated created the Mary Bea Porter Humanitarian Award to honor a person "who, through a heroic or humanitarian act, saves or betters the lives of others." Of course, Porter was the first recipient.

Porter went on to a long, very successful, highly lauded career in junior golf. She founded the Hawaii State Junior Golf Association; served on the USGA Girls’ Junior Championship committee, USGA Executive Committee and U.S. Junior Amateur Committee; served on the PGA of America National Board of Directors and PGA Rules Committee. She won awards for service from the USGA and the LPGA. She served as a rules official in all of the majors.

In 2019, Porter served as captain of Team USA for the Junior Solheim Cup. And she is a member of the Southern California Golf Association Hall of Fame.

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