I'm not usually sentimental, but I couldn't help feeling nostalgic last Friday when I had lunch with friends at Colonial Country Club. I've lived a mile and a half from Colonial for 50 years, and my golf career is indelibly linked to the club and to two greats who made it famous, Ben Hogan and Babe Zaharias.
It was on a Saturday morning in May 1939, when I was 12, that I hit the first shot of my life, a blooper off Colonial's 1st tee. Pretty soon I was shooting in the 90s, and not long after that I was the top girl in town. That's why, five months after my first shot, I was invited back to Colonial to play a practice round with the Babe, who was in town for the Women's Texas Open. Babe called me Kid that day, and continued to do so throughout our friendship.
I never turned pro, but I played LPGA events as an amateur, and Babe and I often practiced together. Babe's bold demeanor and huge game scared most players, so she had 'em whipped on the 1st tee. But I thought she was fun, which may explain why I was the only player who had her number. I was 3-2 against Babe in our five head-to-head matches. My biggest victory was in the 36-hole final of the '48 Texas Open (held picture above, Zaharias on right, Riley on left, with her trophy). Playing in front of 5,000 fans, I was outdriven by 40 yards on every hole, but I stuck to my game and won 10 and 9, giving Babe the worst thumping of her career.
Not long after that, Hogan told me, "That was a great win." I met Ben at the '41 U.S. Open at Colonial, and we later became close. After his 1949 car crash Ben came to my club, River Crest, so he could practice in relative peace, and we spent many mornings chipping and putting together. The most valuable thing I learned about golf came from Ben, the ultimate perfectionist. He told me, "The secret is not hitting every shot perfect. The secret is getting the most out of the shots you don't hit perfect."