By Rhonda Glenn, USGA
Edina, Minn. - Patty Berg is everywhere at Interlachen Country Club. Berg died a few years ago, giving up this life for greener grass of a higher sort, but her spirit wafts through this great old club as a benevolent presence felt by many of the people here.
Berg grew up at Interlachen. She learned the game here, competed here and conquered here. Photos of Patty are everywhere. A room in the clubhouse features photos of her childhood. The "Catch the Spirit" tent for juniors is decked with large posters celebrating her life and career. A special supplement of The Minneapolis Tribune tells her story in words and pictures. In 1935 here, Berg, then 17, played Glenna Collett Vare in the final of the Women’s Amateur and 10,000 spectators were on hand.
In 1988, I first visited Interlachen with Berg. I was playing in the United States Women’s Amateur at Minikahda, and struggling with my swing. I had assisted Berg with a speech she was writing, and now she offered to help me with my golf swing. We drove to Interlachen with Judy Bell, a member of the executive committee of the United States Golf Association, and Barbara McIntire, two-time Women’s Amateur champion.
|Patty Berg meets with a young fan during a clinic. (USGA Museum)
McIntire was struggling with her game and had told me she felt so badly she was prepared to quit playing golf. "She can’t quit!" Berg said. "Anyone who’s won two U.S. Women’s Amateur, the British Amateur and been runner-up in the Women’s Open can’t quit!" It was startling, not because Berg was so adamant, but because she knew as much about McIntire, an amateur, as an historian.
For two hours, the four of us worked the Interlachen practice tee, Bell, McIntire and I hitting balls under Berg’s watchful eye.
"Drive with those legs! Hold tight with that right hand! Drive with those legs," she shouted. It was steamy hot and one of us would periodically pause to slurp from cups of iced tea. Not Berg. She marched up and down the tee like a drill sergeant, a stocky little figure, shouting and mopping her face with a towel. It was the golf lesson of my life.
Berg, on the other hand, rather liked the polish I had added to her speech and she later telephoned me.
"It’s Patty Berg," she said, as if I could not identify the clipped staccato power of her voice. "I have to give a lot of speeches and I was wondering if I could get you to help me write them. I’ll pay you, of course."
Delighted at the honor, I agreed, but refused to take payment. Who needs money for helping one of the all-time great speakers write speeches? But she insisted. "Call Bill Harvey," she said. Bill was Patty’s devoted friend and advisor, a respected accountant in Fort Myers, Fla., whom Berg regarded almost as a son.
"She insists that she pay you," Bill said. "No. She insists."
I finally agreed to charge her twenty-five dollar a speech. "That’s not very much," Bill said. "But more than enough for the privilege," I said.
I flew to Fort Myers to look over Patty’s stash of speech material. Piles of speeches and hundreds of jokes were stacked haphazardly around her living room recliner. We sorted through them, many I took to copy for my home office. She’d telephone once or twice a week and we’d discuss an upcoming speech. There were speeches for charities, golf tournaments, outings. She practiced for each of them, standing in front of a mirror, using her jewelry box as a podium, waving an arm, telling a joke, hitting her marks.
The greatest speech Patty Berg gave was, "What It Takes to Become a Champion." I encouraged her to use it as often as possible. She’d struggle up the stairs to the stage, and with some assistance would approach the podium. It always got a laugh because her head barely topped the speakers stand. Then she hit you, right where you lived, talking about those qualities that she had determined could make you a winner: desire, determination, dedication, the will to win and not the wish to win, concentration, using your mind and faith in God. The speech was brilliant, and it was all hers. The delivery, however, sold it. Like a great singer who understands the nuance of every lyric, Patty caressed a phrase here, challenged at another turn. I heard that speech a dozen times and never failed to be inspired.
Berg’s sense of humor, however, made her stand out. Once we dined at her club in Fort Myers. We strolled through the lobby, where cases of her memorabilia and trophies lined the walls. Patty walked a few paces ahead of me and as we neared the end of one hallway where a large oil painting of Patty, a smiling portrayal of her youth, hung on the wall. "Hello, Dynamite!" I heard her mutter as we passed the painting.
She loved to tell jokes and in her later years ended her speeches with her favorite story about longevity. "…but I expect to live a long life," she’d say. "Longevity runs in my family. My grandmother, for example, began walking two miles a day on her 90th birthday. (Pause.) She’s 96 now, (pause) and we don’t know where she is!"
On Tuesday, I was moderator of the annual Patty Berg Swing Parade at the Women’s Open. The clinic was founded by Patty in the 1950s to promote the LPGA tour. Patty was always the emcee, and various players would hit balls while Patty joshed them and gave solid golf knowledge, and it was a way to lure more spectators to sparsely-attended events. The USGA re-instated the Swing Parade at the 1995 Women’s Open, the 50th anniversary of the championship, and it was a huge hit. They’ve done it every year since. I began my spiel, "Welcome to the 2008 Patty Berg Swing Parade, which is conducted by the USGA every year to honor Miss Patty Berg." I was prepared to go on, but had to stop. Some 500 people sitting on the hillside burst into applause. Sure, they were happy to see Peggy Kirk Bell, Patty Sheehan and Kathy Whitworth there to entertain them. More than that, however, they were applauding Patty Berg – the winner of 15 major championships, more than anyone in women’s golf.
The winner of the 1946 Women’s Open, its first championship. The woman who took golf to every corner of the country, entertaining hundreds of thousands of people with her great shots, sense of humor and love for golf.
Rhonda Glenn is a Manager of Communications for the USGA. E-mail her with a question or comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.