Featuring 100 Women: Major Success

Iowa Success on the Biggest Stage

In the heart of America, amidst the rolling fields of Iowa, lies a rich tapestry of female golfing talent that has left an unforgettable mark on the prestigious greens of the LPGA Major championships. From the tranquil landscapes of the Hawkeye State emerges a legacy of resilience, skill, and sheer determination embodied by its formidable women golfers. These trailblazers have not only graced the fairways of the LPGA Tour but have etched their names in history, capturing Major championships and showcasing the unwavering spirit of Iowa’s golfing prowess on the sport’s grandest stages.

Originally hailing from Eldridge, Beth Bader embarked on her golfing journey at the early age of 12, a path she pursued with unwavering commitment. Throughout her formative years in Iowa, Bader showcased her exceptional talent, clinching victories at notable events such as the 1991 Iowa Junior Open, 1991 Des Moines Open, and 1992 Waterloo Junior Open, laying the foundation for her remarkable career. Additionally, she left an unforgettable mark on the local golfing scene with triumphs like the 1995 Quad City Women’s Amateur title and a commendable runner-up placement at the Iowa Women’s Amateur in 1992.

Transitioning seamlessly to collegiate golf, Bader excelled as a vital member and later captain of the Iowa State University women’s golf team, earning accolades such as the medalist at the 1993 Northern Illinois Huskie Invitational and the team’s MVP in the 1993-94 season. Notably, her proficiency on the course earned her the distinction of being a two-time All-Big Eight honoree, a feat unmatched by any other ISU player. In recognition of her exceptional contributions, Bader was honored as ISU’s Female Athlete of the Year in 1996, a testament to her permanent impact on the university’s record books. Her collegiate career was characterized by consistency, as evidenced by her remarkable streak of never being out of the starting lineup in 42 consecutive tournaments. Amassing a record-breaking 24 Top 100 finishes, Bader cemented her status as one of ISU’s finest golfers, leaving behind a legacy that remains unmatched.

Post-college, Bader transitioned to the Futures Tour, where she continued to shine, eventually earning her coveted spot on the LPGA Tour in 2000, representing Iowa with pride at the pinnacle of women’s golf. Over her illustrious decade-long tenure on the LPGA Tour, Bader amassed career earnings exceeding $1 million, competing in 26 Major championships and leaving a lasting mark on the sport. Notably, her crowning achievement came with a tie for fourth at the 2007 LPGA Corning Classic, a testament to her skill and tenacity on the grandest stages of women’s golf.

Judy Kimball Simon possessed an innate talent for golf, evident from her earliest days in the sport. Her introduction to competitive golf occurred in 1954 at the Iowa Women’s Amateur held at Sunnyside Country Club in Waterloo, where despite being a newcomer, she demonstrated promise. Although her debut saw her fall short of match play after shooting 99, Kimball Simon persisted. The following year, she narrowly missed out on advancing at the Davenport Country Club but claimed victory in the long-drive contest with an impressive 275-yard drive, showcasing her growing skills. By 1956, at just 18 years old, Kimball Simon reached the semifinals at the Clinton Country Club, making her the oldest contender among the Final Four. Despite her young age, she faced challenging opponents like Sharon Fladoos of Dubuque, who ultimately bested her in the semifinals. The tournament format shifted to medal play in 1957, a change that saw Kimball Simon secure a commendable third-place finish at the Fort Dodge Country Club.

However, it was in 1958 that Kimball Simon clinched her first Iowa Women’s Amateur title at the Cedar Rapids Country Club, showcasing her dominance with a five-shot lead over her closest rivals. That same year, she distinguished herself as the low amateur and secured an impressive 18th place overall at the Waterloo Women’s Open, a notable achievement considering its status as an LPGA Tour stop. Although her victory in 1958 marked her sole triumph in the Iowa Women’s Amateur, Kimball Simon remained an intimidating presence in subsequent tournaments, finishing fourth in 1959 and third in 1960. Despite contemplating a shift towards kinesiology studies at Texas, Kimball Simon’s career trajectory took an unexpected turn when she secured an endorsement deal with Wilson Sporting Goods alongside golf legends Betsy Rawls, Patty Berg, and Mickey Wright. Transitioning to professional status in 1960, Kimball Simon made an immediate impact, becoming the first LPGA rookie in a decade to secure victory at the American Women’s Open in Minneapolis in 1961.

Her breakthrough victory marked the beginning of a stellar professional career, highlighted by historic achievements such as becoming the first and only Iowan to win a women’s major championship at the LPGA Championship in 1962. Her stellar performance at Stardust Country Club in Las Vegas, where she finished four shots ahead of the field, cemented her status as a golfing icon. Kimball Simon’s accomplishments continued to mount, including two team victories and a final individual triumph at the O’Sullivan Ladies Open in 1971. Throughout her illustrious 18-season career, she secured nine runner-up finishes, with two occurring in major championships, underscoring her consistent excellence on the LPGA Tour. Remarkably, she remained within the Top 20 of the LPGA money list every year from 1961 to 1968, achieving a career-best seventh-place finish in 1967.

Winning the Iowa Women’s Amateur is no easy feat. Golfers are tested on every hole, on every shot. Many champions can pinpoint a shot that either shifted momentum in their favor or kept their momentum going. For Pennapa Pulsawath, it was a chip in for birdie on the 16th hole at Bos Landen Golf. Leading by three heading into the final round of the 2008 Iowa Women’s Amateur, all eyes were on Pulsawath. She had posted 74-70 and had the entire field looking up , wondering if they had a chance. Kendra Hanson, however, had different plans. Just a third of the way into the final round, Pulsawath watched as her lead had all but vanished and the two were tied at the top.

Heading into the back nine, the back and forth battle continued with neither willing to surrender the title. Pulsawath, chasing her first Iowa Women’s Amateur, had quite the battle ahead of her as Hanson, the defending champion, was in a familiar position. Entering the final stretch, the pair made their way to the par-3 16th. Pulsawath had a narrow one-shot lead over Hanson and, more importantly, the honor on the tee. A wayward iron from Pulsawath opened the door for Hanson as she calmly stuck her approach to seven feet and a chance to tie the lead. With Hanson thinking there would be a two shot swing in her favor, Pulsawath delivered her championship highlight, chipping in for birdie. Hanson failed to convert on the short birdie putt and the championship was all but finished. Pulsawath cruised through 17 and 18 on the way to her lone Iowa Women’s Amateur victory. Ironically, she later recounted that her putting wasn’t as good in the final round. Good thing her short game remained sharp as ever. Following her graduation from Iowa State, Pulsawath pursued a career in professional golf. She currently holds status on the Ladies Asian Golf Tour.

Next Week on Women’s Wednesday…

Explore the remarkable career of Ann Casey Johnstone and how her family plans to give back to the game’s next generation.

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