A Candle Whose Light Will Burn Always


So Patty Berg has Alzheimers disease.
Patty is perhaps the most loved figure in womens sports. Bad fortune tried to claim her in 1971, when she was operated on for a cancerous tumor. She recovered and quickly regained her life, giving hundreds of exhibitions afterwards and appearing again almost as regularly as she was asked.
And theres no doubt that she will do the same with Alzheimers ' the good Lord willing, of course. She is 86, but Patty never felt that she was elderly. If a person is only as old as they feel, then Patty must be about 30.
Patty Berg has always been the face of womens golf. She wasnt the most prolific winner. She wasnt the top money-earner. But she has always been the woman most respected.
Born in Minneapolis of an upper-income family, she played all sports as a child ' speed skating, track, and even played on a kids football team. She was the quarterback, of course, running behind another sports celebrity, longtime Oklahoma University football coach Bud Wilkinson. Yeah, the 50th Street Tigers were a fiercesome bunch.
Such a rough-and-tumble existence never exactly prepared her for debutante status. She passed right over the Miss Priss stage, never quite developing into the shy wallflower woman. Instead, she has lived a wonderfully boisterous life, doing exactly what she wanted, when she wanted.
Her golfing titles are legendary, both as an amateur where she would win 29 titles, then as a professional, where she won 15 major championships and 57 victories over-all. But that is all stuff that will make nice statistics at the base of a statue somewhere. Patty Berg, you see, is much more than wins and losses, dollars and cents.
Patty has forever been a friend of womens golf. She has cheerfully gone across the country giving her clinics and delivering her speeches. She is adored by all, and that includes the champions of another era ' Mickey Wright and Kathy Whitworth; another generation ' Nancy Lopez, Beth Daniel; and the modern lineup of great players ' Annika Sorenstam, Juli Inkster, et al.
As you might expect, she has had a difficult time coming to grips with this scurrilous disease. She wrote a letter to the LPGA which began, Once you read it, Im sure you can appreciate how difficult it is for me to write this letter. Believe me, it was 10 times more difficult for Patty Berg to write it because she is the original sunshine girl, completely full of life, vim and vigor.
As much as I wish it werent so, I find myself in the early stages of Alzheimers disease, and, accordingly, am forced to curtail somewhat my participation in LPGA affairs, Patty wrote. Ill still show up whenever I can, and if possible will attend functions to which I am asked to take part.
Patty knows exactly what may be in store for her. She wrote to the LPGA that, Im 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. However, I have no other choice and as a result I ask your indulgence if at times Im not exactly the Patty Berg youve known all these years.
She asked for no sympathies. All she wants is understanding ' understanding during those moments when the effects of Alzheimers manifest itself. She will be forgetful, sure. She will be unaware at times, of course.
But she will never be forgotten, regardless of what her condition is. She will always be Patty Berg, the most adored woman in the history of womens golf.
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