Female golf pioneer and LPGA founder dies at age 94

Shirley Spork, the trailblazing professional golfer who helped found the Ladies Professional Golf Association, passed away Tuesday at the age of 94, CNN reported.

Spork died in Palm Springs, California, where she had been coaching for almost 70 years.

While she never won an LPGA major championship — her best finish was second at the Women’s PGA Championship in 1962 — she was twice named LPGA Teacher of the Year and remained one of the most respected members of the sport.

Spork was born in Detroit in 1927. From a young age, she was interested in golf.

Spork would collect errant balls on golf courses to wash and resell, using the money to buy her own clubs at 13.

She was soon playing competitively. At one tournament, the 14-year-old Spork set the best nine-hole score, although she fell into a tie for fifth after shooting a 54 on the back nine.

Nevertheless, the Detroit Free Press said Spork “appears to be one of the future stars of Detroit.”

She attended Michigan State Normal College, now Eastern Michigan University, where she was an avid golf player. She graduated in 1949 and turned professional in 1950, all while working in the physical education department at Bowling Green State University in Kentucky.

Along with 12 other women, she started the LPGA in 1950. Then, in 1959, she was one of the co-founders of the LPGA Teaching Division, now the LPGA Teaching and Club Professional Membership, which now has over 1,800 members.

She was the Teacher of the Year in 1959 and again in 1984. In 2019, she was inducted into the PGA of America Hall of Fame.

“The game would not be where it is today without the trailblazing spirit of LPGA founder Shirley Spork,” the U.S. Golf Association said in a tweet. “Her leadership, friendship and love of the game will be greatly missed.”

And, in the coming months, she was also set to be enshrined in the LPGA Hall of Fame with the other eight founders who weren’t already in there.

“Getting into the LPGA Hall of Fame is the highest honor ever in our profession, so I’ve climbed the whole ladder and gotten to the top,” Spork said.

“I hope I can sit up on that ladder for a few more years and enjoy it.”

Even if she didn’t, Spork expressed gratitude that she got to see what the LPGA became,.

“It’s like a plant; we are the seeds. We had a little pot, we put some seeds in the pot, poured a little water in it, got some support systems. And this plant grows to a big, huge plant. And that’s where we are today,” she said.

“I got to see where [the LPGA] went, where it is, and where it’s going. I feel like we’re at a sound base with our support group of sponsors. We have nowhere to go but to grow, grow, grow. So that little plant where we planted the seeds is growing and it’s getting bigger. We’ve got to get a bigger pot to put it in.”

That pot is still a lot bigger than the one Spork originally planted the seeds in, however: “In 2022, LPGA Tour members will play across 34 official events for prize purses totalling $85.7 million, while the T&CP’s membership exceeds 1,700 across 25 different countries,” CNN noted.