President Donald J. Trump awarded Thursday the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously to Babe Zaharias. The President also presented the award to previously announced recipients Annika Sorenstam and Gary J. Player. This prestigious award is the Nation’s highest civilian honor, which is awarded by the President to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.
Zaharias grew up in poverty in Beaumont, Texas. She quickly became an athletic renaissance woman. As a child she hit five home runs in a single baseball game and was nicknamed “Babe” after Babe Ruth. It was a name that she carried for the rest of her life. In high school, Babe competed in every sport offered. She bowled a 200 average, came close to breaking world records in swimming, and won all-city and all-state awards in basketball. She went on to play for the Golden Cyclones basketball team. She became an All-American three years in a row and scored a record 100 points in a single game. She pitched exhibition games for men’s major leagues teams and was an all-star softball player.
At the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, Babe set world records in the hurdles, javelin throw, and high jump. She won two gold medals and one silver. After the Olympics, Babe announced that she was entering the national golf tournament for women. Her perseverance paid off and she quickly started to win international recognition.
In 1953, she was diagnosed with cancer and underwent surgery. The doctors said she would never play professional golf again. A year after her surgery, Babe won the women’s U.S. Open by a record 12 shots. Over the course of her golf career, she won 10 major championships, 82 pro and amateur golf tournaments, and 17 tournaments in a row. She helped found the L.P.G.A. and became the first woman to play against men in a PGA Tour event. Babe was voted Female Athlete of the Year six times by the Associated Press, and has been ranked as one of the 10 best golfers of all time by Bobby Jones.
Babe passed away from cancer at just 45 years old. When she died, she was still ranked number 1 in the world in golf. Babe Zaharias is one of the greatest women athletes of all time and did more than anyone else of her generation to promote women’s golf. Her towering legacy will shine forever in the history of American athletics.