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Legends, Symetra players unite on Patty Berg’s turf

FORT MYERS, Fla. – Beth Daniel’s first victory on the LPGA came at the 1979 Patty Berg Classic in Maplewood, Minn. She remembers her second shot into the closing par-5 at Keller Golf Course on Saturday like it was yesterday.

“I hit this screaming 3-wood,” said Daniel, “and it was coming toward the green and it was like slow motion.”

A marshal suddenly leaned in and was pummeled by the ball, which split open her forehead. The woman’s injuries would require plastic surgery. Daniel, so upset by the scene, bogeyed the hole.

Berg, who was in the 18th TV tower when it happened, came down and said to Daniel: “You know, if that woman hadn’t gotten in the way, that would’ve been right in the middle of the green … that was a two-shot swing.”

Perhaps that was the no-nonsense military side of Berg, a First Lieutenant who was inducted into the U.S. Marine Corps Sports Hall of Fame in 2003.

The storytelling at Cypress Lake Country Club this week should be endless. The inaugural Chico’s Patty Berg Memorial features players from the Symetra and Legends Tours competing side by side for the first time. Players will compete for separate $150,000 purses. While Symetra players began their four-day competition on Thursday, the Legends (45 and over) will play a two-day event over the weekend. The majority of groups will feature two Symetra Tour players and one Legend.

Cypress Lake was home to Berg, a local treasure and creature of habit who drove to the course each day in her golf cart.

“I know Patty would just be overwhelmed at having us walking in her footprints,” said Legends player and Cypress Lake member Terry-Jo Myers. “Literally in her footprints, on her golf course and being able to pass it on to the next generation.”

Berg, an LPGA Founder who holds the tour record with 15 major victories, was born in Minnesota and became a longtime resident of Fort Myers. When she died in 2006 at age 88, three Catholic Bishops attended her funeral. Every Saturday Berg had gathered with local priests to watch Notre Dame football.

“No matter what, when you were around her, she lifted your spirits,” said fellow freckly-faced touring pro Meg Mallon. “You were ready to go out and charge.

“She embraced life like nobody you’ve ever seen.”

For many Symetra Tour players, this week’s event will be an introduction to Berg, along with many other LPGA Hall of Fame players. The 30 Legends Tour players account for 410 victories on the LPGA and 46 major titles.

Hopefully they take time to enjoy the memorabilia in the Patty Berg Trophy Room that’s just inside the clubhouse doors. There are terrific photos of Berg with fellow legends such as Babe Zaharias, Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer.

They can study the trophies, the Hall of Fame keepsakes and her keys to many cities. There’s a gold shovel for the ground-breaking of the Columbia Patty Berg Cancer Center and the Ultra 3 she used to ace the 13th hole in 1991 at her beloved Cypress Lake.

JoAnne Carner, still spry at 76, estimates she went to 30 of Berg’s legendary golf clinics over the years.

“I knew what she was going to say,” said Carner. “I knew all the jokes, all the mannerisms. If she was giving one and I was close by, I would go.”

Carner was still in grade school when she followed Berg during an exhibition and learned how to hit a bunker shot.

“I went back and worked on it, and to this day I still hit it the same way,” said Carner, who won 43 times on tour.

Daniel called Carner the best bunker player she’s ever seen.

Myers played countless rounds with Berg growing up in Fort Myers. She’d often sit on the range in the cart with Berg, who had her 9-iron close by, and soak up everything she could.

“This country club was her home,” said Myers. “The members here knew her better than anyone in the world. This is where she was all day long. This was her family.”

When Berg died nine years ago, a reception was held at the club and several Legends Tour players attended. They gathered then to share stories and celebrate a real showman, a player who, as the LPGA’s first president and winner of the inaugural U.S. Women’s Open in 1946, understood more than most how to grow the game.

There are three 18-year-olds competing in the field this week alongside Carner, who didn’t turn pro until age 30. It’s a fascinating mix of players from the LPGA’s Golden Era – Nancy Lopez, Betsy King, Pat Bradley – and golf’s future.

In a perfect world, the youngsters will leave Cypress Lake with stories to share about Berg and a host of other trailblazers as well as a greater appreciation and respect for those who built the LPGA. Not to mention invaluable advice.

“If you don’t pass it on,” said Myers, “how would they know?”

And they should know. A dynamite like Berg must not be forgotten.

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