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Judy Rankin  

Judy Rankin was a golf prodigy who turned into one of the most popular players on the LPGA Tour,

Judy Rankin was a golf prodigy who turned into one of the most popular players on the LPGA Tour, but whose career was cut short - and whose effectiveness even in her best years was minimized - by severe back pain.

Rankin started golfing at age 6. By 1960, she'd already won the Missouri Amateur and finished as low amateur at the U.S. Women's Open. Then she nearly gave up the game.

The World Golf Hall of Fame recounts the story in its profile of Rankin. When she was 16, Rankin lost in the second round of the British Women's Amateur. She was fed up with golf and decided to quit. Two weeks later, an editor at Sports Illustrated called to ask if she'd be playing the coming U.S. Women's Open. The editor explained the magazine wanted to put a photo of Rankin on its cover, but only if she planned to play the Open. Rankin decided to start playing again, and never looked back.

She was only 16 years old in 1962 when she joined the LPGA Tour. Her first victory didn't come until 1968, but from then through 1979 Rankin won 26 times.

As a young up-and-comer, she wasn't well-received on Tour at the start. But by the time her career was over, Rankin was a beloved figure among her fellow pros, someone who epitomized sportsmanship and class.

A strong argument can be made that Rankin was the best player on Tour in the early to mid-70s. She won three times in 1970, four times in 1973 (with 25 Top 10 finishes), six times in 1976 and five more in 1977 (again with 25 Top 10 finishes). Her earnings of $150,734 in 1976 nearly doubled the previous record. She won three Vare Trophies, two money titles and two Player of the Year awards in this time period.

What she didn't win, however, was a major championship, something that would always eluded her. Rankin did win the Colgate Dinah Shore Winner's Circle in 1976 and the Peter Jackson Classic (later renamed the duMaurier) in 1977, two events that would later be elevated to major status, but they are not counted as majors in the years in which Rankin won.

Rankin kept winning through 1979, but her play deteriorated due to the effects of back trouble that was severe and plagued her throughout her best seasons. Her last full year on the LPGA Tour was 1983, when she was 38 years old, and back surgery ended her Tour days in 1985.

Respect and affection for Rankin is immense in the golf community. She served as an LPGA board member and, in 1976-77, Tour president. She was given the Patty Berg Award by the LPGA, the Bob Jones Award by the USGA, and the First Lady of Golf Award by the PGA of America.

In 1987, she was inducted into the Texas Golf Hall of Fame. In 1993 she was inducted into the All-American Hall of Fame; and, in 1996 and 1998, she served as captain of the winning Solheim Cup Team. In 1999 she was inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, received the William Richardson Award from the Golf Writers Association at the Masters tournament, and was named First Lady of Golf by the PGA of America. In 2000, Ms. Rankin was elected to the LPGA Hall of Fame and to the Texas Women's Hall of Fame. The United States Golf Association presented her with the Bob Jones Award in 2002

When her playing days ended, Rankin embarked on a highly successful career as a golf broadcaster, which included being the first woman to work full-time on broadcasts of men's events. She joined ABC Sports' golf broadcast team as an on-course commentator in 1984 for the network's live coverage of the U.S. Women's Open Golf Championship. In 1985, she performed the same role for ABC's coverage of the Men's U.S. Open Championship. She continued as a member of the U.S. Open broadcast team, as well as appearing on the U.S. Women's Open telecasts and ABC's coverage of the PGA Championship, the McDonald's Championship LPGA Tournament and, currently, the British Open and the Nabisco Dinah Shore. In addition, she now covers LPGA golf for ESPN.

She was diagnosed with and treated for breast cancer in 2006, but within several months was back at work as a broadcaster.

In 2010 Rankin received the Old Tom Morris Award from The Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA). The Old Tom Morris Award, GCSAA's most prestigious honor, is presented each year to an individual who "through a continuing lifetime commitment to the game of golf has helped to mold the welfare of the game in a manner and style exemplified by Old Tom Morris." Morris (1821-1908) was greenkeeper and golf professional at the St. Andrews Links Trust Golf Club of St. Andrews, Scotland; a four-time winner of the British Open (1861, '62, '64 and '67); and ranked as one of the top links designers of the 19th century.

Today, Judy Rankin lives in Midland, Texas, with her husband, Yippy.

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