Dodd, Elizabeth Hobart [Betty] (1931–1993)


By: Brandon Render and Katherine Kuehler Walters

Type: Biography

Published: March 30, 2022

Updated: May 11, 2022


Elizabeth “Betty” Dodd, professional golfer, was born to Brig. Gen. Francis T. and Margaret (Wolf) Dodd in Portland, Oregon, on April 11, 1931. Due to her father’s military career, her family moved often. During World War II they lived at Fort Sill in Oklahoma and Fort Bragg in North Carolina, but she and her sister, Margaret, made frequent trips to visit their grandparents in San Antonio, Texas, and Tallahassee, Florida. Dodd played her first nine holes of golf at age of eleven and won her first golf tournament at the age of fourteen. After World War II, Dodd’s father was stationed in Germany for a year, then became deputy chief of staff at Fort Sam Houston, so the family moved to San Antonio, where Dodd started her amateur golf career while finishing her secondary education. She competed and won several amateur tournaments in the San Antonio area in 1948 and 1949. During those years she also played in the Women’s Texas Golf Association’s state tournament against Kay Pearson Keating and Bettye Mims Danoff (also played under the name Bettye Mims White). Dodd graduated from Incarnate Word High School in 1949, then enrolled at San Antonio College.

In January 1950, however, Dodd left college to pursue a professional golf career. As an amateur, she became known for her ability to drive the ball farther than many of her opponents and was often compared to Betty Jameson. That month, at the Helen Lee Doherty Amateur Tournament in Miami, Florida, Dodd met women’s golf legend and Ladies’ Professional Golf Association (LPGA) co-founder Babe Didrikson Zaharias, who saw Dodd's potential and offered to become her coach. This mentor-mentee relationship quickly evolved into a close friendship. Labeled Zaharias's protégé in the press, Dodd lived with Zaharias and her husband, George, for long periods and traveled with Babe to tournaments. According to historian Susan Cayleff, however, Dodd remarked years later that Zaharias, then unhappily married, desired companionship more than coaching students.

During the next two years Dodd continued to compete in amateur tournaments with mixed success. In 1950 and 1951 she claimed victory in the San Antonio women’s golf championship over San Antonian and future professional golfer Lesbia Lobo. In September 1950, in the Women’s National Amateur Championship in Atlanta, Georgia, Dodd was defeated in the third round by Betsy Rawls, the 1949 and 1950 Texas Women’s Amateur Golf champion from Austin. In May 1951 she finished as runner-up to Polly Riley of Fort Worth in the Texas Women’s Amateur Golf Championship. In August she entered the Women’s National Amateur golf tournament in St. Paul, Minnesota, and advanced as far as the third round.

Dodd continued to play in tournaments as an amateur until January 1952 when she surprised her parents and announced that she was turning pro. Her first Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) tournament was the Jacksonville Women’s Open, which began the day after she became the twentieth member of the LPGA and signed an endorsement contract with golf club manufacturer Hillerich and Bradsby Company. She spent her first year on the LGPA Tour in Zaharias’s shadow and at times distracted by family issues. In May 1952, while Dodd, Zaharias, and golfer Patty Berg drove from the Fresno Women’s Open in California to the third round of the Weathervane Tournament in Seattle, Dodd learned that her father had been captured and held hostage by North Korean and Chinese prisoners-of-war who rioted at a United Nations Command camp on Koje-do (later Geojedo) Island.

Dodd started her second professional year strong; however, in April 1953 she missed the Phoenix leg of the Weathervane tournament to be with Zaharias, who had been diagnosed with colon cancer. Over the next three years Dodd rarely left Zaharias’s side. She slept in a cot in Zaharias’s room and helped with nursing care. Both played LPGA tournaments intermittently and made public appearances at several charity events. In October 1953 the two appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, where Dodd played guitar and Zaharias played harmonica, something they did often while on tour. In February 1956 Dodd helped organize and played in the Babe Zaharias Cancer Fund Open, a charity tournament, at the Bobby Jones Golf Course in Sarasota, Florida. On September 27, 1956, Babe Zaharias passed away from carcinoma. Less than a month later, Dodd won her first major tournament as a professional at the 1956 Lawton Open at the Lawton Municipal Golf Course in Lawton, Oklahoma. Thereafter, she regularly finished in the top three. Her second LPGA tournament win came in August 1957 at the Colonial Open in Jackson, Mississippi. In 1958 she finished second—her best finish in a LPGA major championship—in the Titleholder’s Championship in Augusta, Georgia.

In May 1959 Dodd suffered a knee injury that made playing on the LPGA Tour difficult. Then, in December she broke her ankle after she stepped in a hole at Oak Hills Country Club in San Antonio. She did not return to the tour after surgery and retired from the LPGA tour in 1960. She continued her career in golf as an instructor in San Antonio. In 1967, after experiencing other health problems, friends convinced her to enter the Dallas Civitan Open, where she performed well. That year she also played in the last Babe Zaharias Open. After a brief move to Chicago from 1968 to 1973, she became the head teaching pro at the Fort Sam Houston golf course, and her students included LPGA professional Shirley Furlong. She also served as president of the LPGA’s central section teaching division and was selected as the LPGA 1980 Teacher of the Year. Dodd spent her remaining years in San Antonio.

Betty Dodd died on July 8, 1993, at Nix Hospital. She was interred at Sunset Memorial Park Cemetery in San Antonio. She was posthumously admitted into the San Antonio Sports Hall of Fame in 2004.

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Beaumont Journal, April 11, 1953; May 17, 1967. Susan E. Cayleff, Babe: The Life and Legend of Babe Didrikson Zaharias (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1996). Dallas Morning News, January 29, 1964. Des Moines Register, August 28, 1959. Fresno Bee, May 4, 1952. Bill McWilliams, On Hallowed Ground: The Last Battle for Pork Chop Hill(Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2003). Miami News, July 11, 1953. Orlando Sentinel, January 4, 1952. San Antonio Express, July 25, 1945; May 27, 1951; August 23, 1951; January 4, 1952. San Antonio Express-News, July 9, 1993. San Antonio Light, August 27, 1940; January 7, 10, 1950; September 13, 1950; December 24, 1959; May 8, 11, 1960; May 13, 1967; July 16, 1978; January 18, 1981. Tallahassee Democrat, March 23, 1941; August 4, 1942; July 13, 1944. Tampa Bay Times, December 24, 1952; September 9, 1953; February 7, 1961. Vancouver Sun, May 9, 1952. Babe Didrikson Zaharias, This Life I’ve Led: My Autobiography (New York: A.S. Barnes and Co., 1955).

Categories:
  • Education
  • Sports and Recreation
  • Sports (Golf)
  • Women
  • LGBT
  • Coaches
Time Periods:
  • World War II
  • Texas Post World War II
Places:
  • Central Texas
  • San Antonio

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Brandon Render and Katherine Kuehler Walters, “Dodd, Elizabeth Hobart [Betty],” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 28, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/dodd-elizabeth-hobart-betty.

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March 30, 2022
May 11, 2022

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