She is perhaps the greatest all-around female athlete the United States has ever produced. Of course, we’re talking about Mildred Didrikson “Babe” Zaharias. Not only was she an Olympic gold medalist and a champion golfer, she also excelled at basketball, bowling, and roller skating.
Zaharias was born in 1911 in Port Arthur, Texas. She loved to play sports from virtually the time she could walk. Not a strong student, Zaharias dropped out of high school in order to play basketball, where she helped her team with the AAU national championship in 1931. The following year, she represented her company in the AAU’s track and field competition, where she set five world records in various disciplines. In the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles, she captured two gold medals and one silver.
It was in 1935, at the age of 23, that she first played golf. She competed in the 1938 Los Angeles Open, a PGA event, where she met her future husband, professional wrestler George Zaharias. They married 11 months later. Babe kept getting better and better at golf, winning the 1946 US Women’s Amateur and the 1947 British Ladies Amateur. She turned professional later in 1947 and was a founding member of the LPGA Tour.
Colon cancer took its toll on Babe in 1953, after she had already won nine women’s majors. After surgery, she won the 1954 US Women’s Open and four other events that year. The cancer returned in 1955, a year in which she managed her final two victories. She died in 1956 at the age of 45, still considered the top-ranked golfer in the women’s game.