The golfer who won Olympic golds in track & field and a major while fighting cancer

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Babe Zaharias is one of the most remarkable golfers ever to play the game

On July 3 1954, the great Babe Zaharias won her 10th and final career major by 12 shots at the US Women’s Open, in spite of an ongoing battle against colon cancer.

Born in Texas on June 26, 1911, Zaharias would become one of the greatest athletes of all time. Never strong academically, she dropped out of college to play basketball, reaching All-American status.

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At the 1932 Olympics, Zaharias won two gold medals and one silver, setting four world records along the way and becoming the only track and field athlete – male or female – to win individual Olympics medals in a running, throwing and jumping event – the 80-metre hurdles, javelin and high jump. Her silver in high jump would have been gold, but officials objected to her technique of diving headfirst over the bar and demoted her to second.

Zaharias took up golf in 1935, a latecomer to the sport. Denied amateur status due to her athletic achievements, she became the first woman ever to enter a PGA Tour event in 1938. No other female competed against men in a PGA Tour event until almost six decades later. Zaharias missed the cut in her first events, but made two PGA Tour cuts in 1945 and remains the only woman to make a PGA Tour cut.

From 1940 to 1954, she won a total of 10 major championships, placing her tied-fourth in the list of all-time LPGA major winners, alongside Annika Sörenstam.

Babe Zaharias won 10 major championships.

Zaharias amassed a total of 82 career victories. “Except perhaps Arnold Palmer, no golfer has ever been more beloved by the gallery,” said the New York Times.

Her final major victory was arguably the most impressive, not just due to the dominant 12-shot winning margin, but the fact it came less than a year after surgery for intestinal cancer.

During her final years, Zaharias used her athletic fame to raise awareness and funds for the fight against cancer, at a time when many Americans refused to seek diagnosis or treatment. Her work was honoured by President Eisenhower.

Despite her playing opportunities greatly limited by illness, Zaharias emerged victorious in her final two professional events, before dying in September 1956.