Two Regional Golf Icons Share What Brought Them to the Game
Delaware resident and Golf Hall of Famer Betsy Rawls, and Eagles announcer Merrill Reese share what got them into golfing.
Since 1987, Golf Hall of Famer Betsy Rawls has called Delaware home, splitting time between residences in Wilmington and Lewes. At 92, she still has a hint of her Southern accent and the same sense of joy and excitement about the game she had as a young girl tagging along with her father back in Texas.
Rawls has played with some of the greatest male and female golfers of her era. She’s garnered 55 career victories on the LPGA Tour, including eight major championships, ranking her sixth all time. She’s also one of only two women to win four U.S. Women’s Open titles, along with friend Mickey Wright.
When did you start golfing?
I was born in Texas in 1928 and grew up during the Great Depression and World War II, so that delayed my starting golf until I was 17. My dad was a good player and won a few local tournaments, and we had a little nine-hole course. I loved just being there with him—I loved it from the beginning. There wasn’t an LPGA at that time, but I started playing through college and did quite well, and was lucky enough to win a city championship that my dad saw me win—the only one, since he passed two years later.
Was there a moment that hooked you?
My dad took me to a golf exhibition over in Fort Worth, and I got to see Byron Nelson play. I was just amazed how he hit the ball and how far it went. I remember thinking, “This is it.”
What’s your greatest personal achievement?
My mom had moved back to South Carolina, where she born, and I was playing in my first U.S. Open as a professional outside of Atlanta back in 1951. She was able to come watch me play. I ended up winning unexpectedly, and it was the biggest thrill of my life to have her there to see it.
Besides your father, who influenced your golf career?
One of the greatest blessings of my life was having Harvey Penick as my golf teacher. He was a legend in Texas even then and is now recognized as one of the best ever. For my first lesson, he charged me $3. When I came back, he refused my money and never made me pay for a lesson again. He worked on my grip and positioning, but he didn’t teach all the mechanics they do today. He would say, “Swing the club and let your muscles do the work.” If you were hitting poorly, he’d say, “Swing like your sweeping away a snake.”
How did you end up in Delaware?
Toward the end of my playing career, the LPGA asked me to run their tournaments. In 1987, I became the tournament director for the McDonald’s LPGA Championship at DuPont Country Club in Wilmington for almost 20 years, and we raised over $40 million for charity in that time. This became home. All my friends are here, and I’ve been very happy as a Texas girl in Delaware.
Do you still enjoy playing the game?
I’m lucky at age 92—I can still go out. I thoroughly enjoy it and can’t wait for good weather to start hitting golf balls again. I don’t hit it as far as I used to, but I still enjoy it.
If you could put together your ideal foursome, whom would you play with?
It would be Mickey Wright, the greatest women golfer, and Ben Hogan, the greatest male golfer. I played with them both, watching those great swings. My fourth would be Joyce Withered, the greatest European amateur ever, who was a little before my time. She won so many amateur titles in Britain in the early 1900s, and Bobby Jones admired her game. I would’ve liked to compare her swing to Mickey Wright’s.
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The voice of Eagles games for going on 44 seasons now, Merrill Reese will always be the exclamation point to that magical season that led to a Super Bowl LII win. These days, when he’s not bleeding green Reese is playing on one, as the golf course is where he focuses a good part of his off-season passion.
When did you start golfing?
I didn’t start playing until 25 years ago or so. Growing up, I played every sport, but the one I competed in the most was tennis. I played a lot, played in tournaments. In the early part of my career, I was working for a small radio station, not making a lot of money, so I would even give tennis lessons for seven dollars a half hour. I did the pre-game television show for the Philadelphia Freedom and the Billy Jean King years, I’d get to go down and hit with the pro players. But after all those years playing hard singles, I tore the meniscus in my left knee, then the right one. My doctor said, “Enough of the diving and the hard singles, or you’re going to need a knee replacement. Look for a more social game.”
By then, I was at WIP and doing the Eagles, and would play in the occasional golf scramble or charity event, and I wasn’t very good, but I remember thinking maybe I should play more golf given the doctors advice.
Was there moment that hooked you?
I remember having the conversation with my wife about maybe playing more golf. I suggested to her that new golf clubs
would make a great birthday gift. So I wouldn’t embarrass myself, I decided to take some lessons. After the first few lessons, I was hooked. I found out I had a little bit of skill, and I loved being out on the golf course.
What’s the best part of your golf game?
I have a pretty good short game. I’m good around the green and good out of the sand—
not ready for the Champions Tour by any means. My driving accuracy isn’t bad. Of course, I don’t hit it that far anymore.
What are your current handicap—and the lowest you’ve been?
Lowest probably 10-11, and I’m now playing around a 14.
Who’s the best golfer of any Eagle player or coach you’ve played with?
Mike Quick, for sure—and Doug Pedersen. I haven’t played with him, but we talk golf a lot. Doug is a wonderful player. He can hit it a long way.
Has any feeling in golf ever come close to the Eagles’ first Super Bowl win?
Well, I have had a hole-in-one. But nothing will ever come close to Feb. 4, 2018. It just meant so much to me—not only to the fan that lives within me, but what it meant to the entire region. It meant so much. Nothing in my life—outside of my family joys, of course—meant that much to me.
And your ideal foursome?
I’d want to play with (football broadcasters) Jim Nance (CBS), Joe Buck (FOX) and Al Michaels (NBC). Jim lives in Pebble Beach, Calif., and when they come in to cover games, I get to spend time with them. They’ve all been very kind to me during my career.
—Jim Finnegan. Published as “Why I Golf” in the 2020 Golf Guide.