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The metamorphosis in Babe's appearance was considerable, but there seemed no solution to the problem of making a living from sport. With only two tournaments open to her, Babe had no choice but to go on the road. In the summer of 1935 she toured with Gene Sarazen. They played 18-hole exhibitions, Babe receiving $150 for each, a solid sum in those Depression times, when many teachers got less than $1,300 a year. Sarazen, now 73, remembers, "She was still a big draw because of the Olympics. One odd thing, she always wanted to be paid in one-dollar bills. I'd go to write her a check and she'd say, 'No, Squire, make it in ones.' Then she'd stack them up and mail them to her bank in Beaumont."
In 1938 Babe married George Zaharias, then a prosperous wrestler who made as much as $15,000 a night, and for a considerable time that ended her financial concerns. By 1940 she felt able to publicly renounce professional golf, and she settled down to the prescribed three-year purification period that would enable her to regain her amateur status. On Jan. 21,1943 she celebrated becoming an amateur by winning the California state championship.
There was not a great deal of golf in wartime; many tournaments were canceled and travel was difficult, with gas rationing and troop movements on trains. In June 1945 Babe did manage to get to Indianapolis to play in the Western Open, but no sooner had the tournament begun than she received a phone call from George saying her mother had suffered a heart attack in Los Angeles and probably would not live. Babe tried to get on a plane to California, but even a personal emergency priority did not turn up a seat for her. So she continued to play, winning her way into the final. That night her mother died. With no hope of getting to California, Babe invited golfers Peggy Kirk Bell and Marge Row to dinner. "We went to her room and Babe just sat there and played her harmonica," remembers Peggy. "We didn't really know her and didn't know what to say. She played for hours. She didn't speak, she just played on and on. The next day she went out and beat Dorothy Germain 4 and 2."
Babe dominated amateur golf as no woman ever has, winning 17 significant tournaments in a row during 1946 and 1947. Among them was the U.S. Women's Amateur (the final of which she won by a record 11 and 9), the All-American at Tam O'Shanter and the Titleholders, a mini-Masters, in which she overcame a 10-stroke deficit to win by five.
But her most notable victory was in the 1947 British amateur at Gullane, Scotland. No American had ever won this championship. Though it was Babe's first trip to Europe, she could not have been more at home. Each day she strolled the cobbled streets of Gullane on her way to the course, nodding and hollering Texas howdies. Gullane was a rough and lively links, lashed by wind and inhabited by sheep. When Babe played her practice rounds, the club arranged for a man to accompany her and sweep the greens of sheep droppings before she putted. She was her usual exuberant self, on one occasion doing a highland fling on the clubhouse lawn.
Babe's flamboyance and ungirdled power caught the imagination of Great Britain. She had won her six matches with ease, and The Manchester Guardian enthused: "Surely no woman golfer has accomplished in a championship what Mrs. Zaharias has achieved in this one.... She has combined in a remarkable way immense length with accuracy, reaching with a number-five iron holes at which others are content to be short with a wood. She is a crushing and heartbreaking opponent."
Babe came home a heroine. A month later she won the Broadmoor invitational—her 17th straight. Then, in August, she once again decided to become a professional, signing a contract with Fred Corcoran, who had promoted the men's professional tour for 11 years.
There was not much money to be made from pro golf then; Babe earned most of her income playing exhibitions. By now she was receiving $600 for an appearance, while Ben Hogan and Sam Snead were getting $500. Corcoran also booked her into baseball parks—for $500—where she would hit trick golf shots and play third base during batting practice.
It was not enough for Babe. In the winter of 1948 she and George met with Corcoran and Patty Berg to found the Ladies Professional Golf Association. L.B. Icely, the president of Wilson Sporting Goods (which paid Babe $8,000 a year to promote its products), put up the money to start the tour in 1949. The original LPGA had six members, with Patty Berg as president. Total prize money the first year was about $15,000; Babe earned the most, $4,300, and she played in eight of the nine events. The following year she won six tournaments to finish No. 1 on the money list again, with $13,450.
As the tour grew richer, an intense rivalry developed between Babe and Louise Suggs. Suggs was stoical, very serious, colorless, humorless. She was a good golfer and her record in the early '50s almost equaled Babe's. Yet Suggs never got the kind of coverage Babe did. When Suggs won, the headlines were as likely to read BABE LOSES as LOUISE WINS. When Babe celebrated her last birthday in 1956 in a Galveston hospital, every member of the LPGA sent her flowers except Louise. "I didn't because I'm not going to be a hypocrite," she explained.