Golf News for Friday, December 31, 2004 | People

LPGA pioneer Berg diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease

Dec. 24, 2004 – Patty Berg, who helped start the LPGA Tour and won more major championships than any other woman, has disclosed that she has Alzheimer's disease. Berg, 86, wrote a poignant letter that the LPGA Tour released on its Web site.

"As much as I wish it weren't so, I find myself in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease and, accordingly, am forced to curtail somewhat my participation in LPGA affairs," Berg wrote. "I'll still show up whenever I can, and if possible will attend functions to which I am asked to take part. I'll hold onto my LPGA membership, too, for as long as you'll have me."

Berg was one of 13 women who founded the LPGA Tour in 1950, and she remains one of the most celebrated golfers. She won most of her 60 titles after serving as a lieutenant in the Marine Corps during World War II, and she once played quarterback for the "50th Street Tigers," a sandlot team in Minneapolis that included Bud Wilkinson.

LPGA commissioner Ty Votaw said he learned of Berg's condition earlier this week, and his staff decided the best way to get the word out to players, sponsors and everyone else was to let them read the letter.

"I'm certain you can appreciate how hard it is for a lifelong athlete, even one 86 years of age, to first face and then adapt to diminishing powers, both physical and mental," the letter said. "However, I have no other choice, and as a result ask your indulgence if at times I'm not exactly the Patty Berg you've known all these years."

Berg won 15 majors, including the 1946 U.S. Women's Open. She won the Titleholders Championship -- then played at Augusta Country Club next to Augusta National -- three straight years before turning professional in 1940.

"It was a fantastic letter, one that encapsulated everything classy, special and irrepressible about Patty Berg," Votaw said. "She is somebody who has accepted her lot in life in a lot of ways. Her physical capacities have been reduced for many years, but she still leads such an active life. I saw her at the Hall of Fame ceremony (last month), and she had a twinkle in her eye, as she always does. She has meant a lot to this organization."

Berg was voted Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year in 1938, 1943 and 1955. She was inducted was into the LPGA Hall of Fame, and the tour established the Patty Berg Award in 1978 for outstanding contributions to women's golf. She also was inducted into the U.S. Marine Corps Sports Hall of Fame last year.