Babe Didrikson Zaharias (June 26, 1911 in Port Arthur, Texas - September 27, 1956) was an American athlete, who excelled in many sports. She achieved her greatest successes in golf and athletics. She was born Mildred Didriksen (her surname was later accidentally changed) in the oil town of Port Arthur, Texas, and acquired her nickname "Babe" (after Babe Ruth) after she hit five home runs in a single baseball game. Both of her parents were immigrants from Norway.
Didrikson's first job was nominally as a secretary, for the Employers Casualty Insurance Co., of Dallas, Texas, in 1930. In fact she was employed almost entirely to play basketball, in one of the "industrial teams", in competitions organised by the Amateur Athletic Union. Despite leading the team to an AAU Basketball Championship in 1931, Didrikson first reached wider attention as an athlete. Representing her company in the 1932 AAU Championship, she entered 8 events, winning 5 outright and tied first for a sixth. In the process, she set 5 world records in a single afternoon. Didrikson's performance was enough to win the team championship, despite being the only member of her team. The AAU Championships were the de facto US Olympic Trials, qualifying Didrikson for the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. She was limited to entering three events there, the javelin throw, the 80 m hurdles and the high jump. She nearly won all three events she entered: she won a gold medal in the javelin and hurdles, and cleared the same height as her compatriot Jean Shiley in the high jump (with whom she had tied in the AAU Championship). The jury, however, disapproved of her style and declared Shiley the Olympic champion. After the Games, Shiley and Didrikson split their medals.
By 1935, she had picked up the sport of golf, the sport by which she would become most famous. Shortly thereafter, she was denied amateur status, and so in January 1938 she competed in the Los Angeles Open, a men's PGA (Professional Golfers' Association) tournament, a feat no other woman would even try until Annika SÃ¶renstam, Suzy Whaley, and Michelle Wie did so almost 6 decades later. In the tournament, she was teamed with George Zaharias, a well-known professional wrestler and sports promoter. They were married eleven months later on December 23, 1938. Babe went on to become America's first female golf celebrity and leading player of the 1940s and early 1950s. After winning back her amateur status in 1942, she won the 1946-47 U.S. Women's Amateur as well as the 1947 British Amateur and three Western Open victories. Formally turning professional in 1947, she dominated the WPGA and later the LPGA (of which she was a founding member) until illness shortened her career in the mid-1950s. She won the 1947 Titleholders Championship and the 1948 U.S. Women's Open for her fourth and fifth major championships.
Zaharias had her greatest year in 1950 when she completed the Grand Slam of the three women's majors of the day, the US Open, the Titleholders Championship, and the Western Open, in addition to leading the money-list. She was the leading money-winner again in 1951 and in 1952 took another major with a Titleholders victory, but illness prevented her from playing a full schedule in 1952-53. After having been diagnosed with cancer in 1953 and undergoing surgery, she made a comeback in 1954 and took the Vare Trophy and her tenth and final major with a U.S. Women's Open championship. Her cancer reappeared in 1955 and limited her schedule to eight events, but she managed two wins which were her final ones in competitive golf. Cancer took its toll, and Zaharias died in 1956 at age 45 while still in the top rank of female American golfers.
On six occasions, she was named Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year and in 1950, she was voted Woman Athlete of the First Half of the 20th Century in an Associated Press poll. She was also the highest ranked woman on ESPN's list of the 50 top athletes of the 20th century.