Golf Hall of Famer Annie Duke dies at 89

This year marks 60 years since Annie Duke, a new wave professional tennis player in golf, recorded her first pro win. Her triumph was the beginning of a long journey that included starting the first of what became golf’s first Black professional golfers. Duke died at age 89 on Sunday, less than a year after suffering a brain hemorrhage that nearly killed her.

Duke, who won the ladies amateur golf championship in 1958 and then the women’s championship in 1959, was the first Black professional golfer to claim a victory on the PGA Tour. She won just two additional events in her career. But her victory on the women’s tour changed the landscape of the game in this country, giving many young African-American athletes the opportunity to take up the sport as a spectator sport.

In 1959, Duke joined the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA), and went on to play a full schedule until she called it quits in 1963. That year, Duke became the first African-American woman golfer to make a Nike commercial.

Less than two years later, Duke won the 1961 U.S. Open Women’s Championship in an 11-stroke upset. Duke’s victory gave the LPGA Tour several new sponsors.

However, the 1971 LPGA Championship – where Duke tied for first with the great Dottie Pepper – and her victory at the American Woman Championship three years later marked what appeared to be her swan song on the LPGA Tour.

Fifty years later, Duke scored a modest victory, making the cut at the Q School in October, 2015. However, Duke never showed up for the subsequent LPGA tournament, so no further money was doled out for the season.

At the same time, Duke was making moves as a key part of the organizing committee in June, 2016 to form the LPGA Founders Cup. The tournament, which will begin on January 6, 2017, is to take place at the Desert Ridge Resort & Spa in Phoenix, Arizona.

The concept behind the Founders Cup was Duke’s idea. Duke used to work on the Presidents Cup in Asia and she considered it to be the “perfect spot” for a women’s tournament in the United States.

The Founders Cup is to have eight players competing who are aged between 24 and 27. They are Yani Tseng, Brooke Henderson, Sung Hyun Park, Eunjung Yi, Tiffany Joh, Brittany Lincicome, Mariah Stackhouse and Azahara Munoz.

“Annie Duke was an inspiration to me, and my entire golf family,” Henderson said. “I can’t say enough about how much of an influence and inspiration she has been for me. Over a six-year period of time she had a majority of us playing together at the same time on the LPGA Tour. She was a huge person in my professional development.”

Her father, James Duke, was a salesman in Kansas City and was active in sports and the community. The Duke family sent Annie to a private school in University City, Missouri.

Annie was a dynamic young woman, and she wanted to be an athlete and succeeded in that as well. Annie Duke’s all-American athletic career began at the University of Missouri, where she played volleyball, basketball and tennis.

After graduating in 1950 with a degree in economics and a minor in history, Annie Duke joined Sears Roebuck & Co. after college. She then became the first African-American woman golfer to compete in the 1954 U.S. Amateur at Oakmont, Pennsylvania.

In 1953, she became a member of Chicago’s Lawn Club, where she then began working with renowned golf coach Fuzzy Zoeller. Duke then moved to Winnetka, Illinois, where she lived until she died.

Annie Duke will be honored and remembered with the presentation of the Annie Duke Golf Foundation Scholarship this Saturday, September 23rd, at the LPGA Tour Champions Rally at the Dream Golf Club in Las Vegas. The tournament, which begins at 3 p.m. Eastern, has been sanctioned by LPGA Tour and PGA Champions and the title sponsor of this event is Adidas.

The entire event will be hosted by Annika Sorenstam and John Rexrode, Golf Channel’s “Geico LPGA Classic” host and executive producer.

The seven-time Women’s PGA Champion, Nancy Lopez, and the first Black golfer to ever qualify for the U.S. Open, Owen Roddy, will also be present.

Leave a Comment