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Louise Suggs dies at 91; LPGA co-founder and influential pro golfer

 Louise Suggs dies at 91; LPGA co-founder and influential pro golfer
Louise Suggs, above at the Royal Lytham St. Annes Golf Course in England in 1998, served as LPGA president three times and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame and the LPGA Teaching and Club Professional Hall of Fame. (Barry Greenwood / Associated Press)

Louise Suggs, an LPGA founder and one of the best female professional golfers, died Friday. She was 91.

The LPGA Tour said she died in a hospice in Sarasota, Fla.

Suggs was perhaps the most influential player in LPGA history. Along with being one of its 13 founders in 1950, she served as LPGA president three times and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame and the LPGA Teaching and Club Professional Hall of Fame.

"I feel like the LPGA lost a parent," Commissioner Mike Whan said. "But I'm extremely confident that her vision, her competitiveness and, most importantly, her spirit will be with this organization forever."

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The LPGA Tour rookie of the year award is named for Suggs. She won every season of her professional career and was the first to capture the career grand slam at the 1957 LPGA Championship. She won 61 professional tournaments, including 11 major championships.

Suggs was known not only for her golfing skills but also for her sharp tongue.

At the LPGA awards dinner in 2007, she expressed delight — and envy — over Angela Park, the Louise Suggs Rolex rookie of the year award winner — taking home $983,922.

"I wish like hell I could have played for this kind of money," said Suggs, whose career earnings were $190,251. "But if not for me, they wouldn't be playing for it, either."

Suggs could also be wistful.

"Golf is like a love affair," she once said. "If you don't take it seriously, it's no fun — but if you do, it breaks your heart."

Her efficient, powerful swing marked her for greatness as a teenager in Georgia. She began to earn national acclaim when she won the 1947 U.S. Women's Amateur, the 1948 Women's British Amateur and the 1949 U.S. Women's Open, beating fierce rival Babe Zaharias by 14 shots.

Ben Hogan once said after watching Suggs that her swing "combines all the desirable elements of efficiency, timing and coordination."

"It appears to be completely effortless," Hogan said. "Yet despite her slight build, she is consistently as long off the tee and through the fairway as any of her feminine contemporaries in competitive golf."

Bob Hope once nicknamed her "Miss Sluggs" for how far she could hit the ball.

Born in Atlanta on Sept. 7, 1923, she began playing golf on the Lithia Springs golf course that her father managed. She won the Georgia Women's Amateur twice, the North and South three times and the Women's Western Amateur twice.

She was a contemporary of the great Bobby Jones, her idol in Georgia. And long before Annika Sorenstam made headlines for playing on the PGA Tour, Suggs had her own famous competition against the men.

In 1961, she took part in a 72-hole exhibition, the Royal Poinciana Invitational in West Palm Beach, Fla., featuring the likes of Suggs and Patty Berg, Sam Snead and Dow Finsterwald.

Playing 36 holes a day, Suggs won — to the chagrin of Snead, who was irritated that he had finished behind a woman, Suggs told the Associated Press in 2003.

"I finally said: 'I don't know what the hell you're bitching about. You weren't even second,'" Suggs said.

She said Snead stormed off and peeled out of the parking lot.

"It was the most perfect squelch I ever heard. He burned a quarter-inch of rubber," Suggs said.

Suggs' autobiography was published last year. She called it "And That's That!"

Doug Ferguson is a golf writer for the Associated Press.

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