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GOLF DOCTOR

Golf historically attracts other sports pros

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Pitcher Ralph Terry, who won 107 games as a Yankee in the ‘50s and ‘60’s, played five PGA Tour events after retiring from baseball. He then played 96 PGA Senior Tour events without a win.

But one of the most remarkable stories linking baseball with golf is about Sammy Byrd, who played with the Babe Ruth-era New York Yankees, and later came close to winning two Masters titles. Byrd grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, living next to a golf course where he caddied and learned some golf. But he was attracted to baseball more, and while bouncing around the minors he was spotted by a Yankees scout and signed a contract in 1929 as an outfielder.

That same year, Byrd polished his game in spring training with none other than Babe Ruth. Byrd and Ruth roomed together on the road, and both shared the love of golf. In April 1934, Byrd and Ruth were in Atlanta to play an exhibition ball game against the minor league Atlanta Crackers.

While there, the two went to East Lake Golf Club to play a friendly match against Bobby Jones and his friend, Hal Sims. Byrd and Ruth won the match, leading Jones to marvel in awe at Byrd’s prodigious driving length.

Then, in 1934, the Yankees traded Byrd to the Cincinnati Reds, and in 1936, the Reds traded him to the St. Louis Cardinals. It was then, with a banged-up knee, he decided to devote himself to golf.

He took a job at Philadelphia Country Club as an assistant to pro Ed Dudley, while starting to play professional golf, first winning the 1939 Philadelphia Open. That earned him an invitation to the 1940 Masters in Augusta.

It didn’t hurt that Dudley was now the head pro at Augusta National Golf Club, and Jones remembered Byrd from East Lake. Byrd finished third, behind winner Craig Wood and Byron Nelson, but ahead of Ben Hogan and Sam Snead.

In the 1942 Masters, he finished fourth behind winner Nelson, Hogan and Paul Runyan. Maybe his biggest event was the 1945 PGA Championship, where he faced Byron Nelson in a 36-hole final match at Moraine Country Club in Dayton, Ohio. Byrd had Nelson 3 down after 21 holes, but as fate would have it, Nelson ended up beating Byrd 4 and 3.

In all, Byrd won 25 professional tournaments.

Perhaps the greatest multi-sport athlete of all time was the late Babe Didrikson Zaharias (1911 – 1956).

In the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, Zaharias set four world records, winning two gold medals and one silver in track and field events competition. She is the only track and field athlete, male or female, to win individual Olympic medals in running, throwing and jumping events.

In 1935, she got serious about golf. She won the 1946 U.S. Women’s Amateur and the 1947 British Ladies Amateur, as well as three Women’s Western Opens.

Having turned professional in 1947, she dominated the Women’s Professional Golf Association (forerunner of the LPGA) and the later the Ladies Professional Golf Association. She was a founding member of the LPGA in 1950.

In 1938, she married strongman George Zaharias. By the time her golfing career ended, she had won 41 LPGA tournaments, including 10 majors. Now in the World Golf Hall of Fame, her many awards and accolades would fill several pages.

Dr. Charlie Blanchard is a licensed psychologist specializing in sports and leadership. Contact him at docblanchard71@gmail.com.