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Patty Berg, 88, key player behind start of LPGA tour

NEW YORK -- Patty Berg, the golf pioneer who won a woman's record 15 major titles and who was one of the 13 founding members of the LPGA tour in 1950, died yesterday. She was 88.

She died at Hope Hospice in Fort Myers, Fla., of complications from Alzheimer's disease, the LPGA Tour said.

Ms. Berg was the LPGA Tour's first president, from 1950 to 1952, and was the tour's money leader in 1954, 1955, and 1957. A winner of 60 tournaments, she is a member of the LPGA Tour and World Golf halls of fame.

``Patty was a wonderfully talented woman who was dedicated to golf, to growing the game, and to making the sport fun for golfers of all ages," LPGA Tour commissioner Carolyn Bivens said. ``She was a pioneer, an athlete, a mentor, a friend, and an entertainer. She had a sense of humor that sparked a smile in all who met her."

Ms. Berg won the 1938 US Women's Amateur and swept the 1937-39 Titleholders as an amateur for her first three major victories. After turning pro, she won the 1946 US Women's Open and four more major titles, and she was a seven-time winner of the Women's Western Open.

``As a founder of the LPGA, Patty took the LPGA to new heights, and it was the work, passion, and dedication that she and her fellow co-founders exhibited that has allowed the LPGA to grow and prosper for so many years," Bivens said. ``I, along with the entire LPGA family, mourn Patty's passing, but we will forever celebrate her legacy."

Ms. Berg was a top all-around athlete before turning to golf in her teens. She even quarterbacked a sandlot football squad called the ``50th Street Tigers" that featured former Oklahoma coach Bud Wilkinson, a neighbor and longtime friend.

Ms. Berg served three years in the US Marine Corps during World War II.

``She was really an original. There will be only one Patty," former LPGA Tour star Sandra Post said yesterday at the Canadian Open. ``She was famous for her clinics and started doing that during the war years. And she didn't just hit shots. She was an entertainer and really funny. Patty was the whole package.

``Think about what she saw, from the war, through the years with the Babe [Zaharias], and all the way into the time when the tour was on TV. She was still playing up until the `80s. She was very active and vibrant until the last couple of years."

Annika Sorenstam, the top women's player in the world today, said women's golf and the LPGA Tour would not be what it is today without Ms. Berg. ``We'll miss her dearly," Sorenstam said, according to the Los Angeles Times, ``but most of all I just want to say thanks for everything she has done."

The LPGA created the Patty Berg Award in 1978 for outstanding contributions to women's golf, an award she won in 1990. The Minnesota native also is a member of the All-American Collegiate Hall of Fame and the University of Minnesota Women's Athletic Department Hall of Fame.

Ms. Berg and the other LPGA founders were honored in 2000 with the Commissioner's Award. In 2002, she was the honorary chair for the 2002 Solheim Cup at her home course, Interlachen Country Club in Edina, Minn.

Golf Magazine selected her its ``Golfer of the Decade" for the period of 1938 to 1947, and Golf Digest named her one of the 50 greatest golfers of all-time.

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