Mariylnn Smith was born in Topeka, Kansas and a Kansas State Amateur tournament three times (1946-1948). She is arguably one of our most decorated players to come out of our program, having won the 1949 NCAA Women’s National Championship, individually for KU.
Smith decided to join the Jayhawks after initially going to Northwestern, but ended up leaving because of the cold weather. She arrived to KU in a time where there was no women’s golf team and not much recognition for women’s athletes in general. It didn’t take long for Smith to get noticed as her two-year career at Kansas was highlighted by a 1949 National Collegiate Individual title. After the championship Smith turned professional and signed a deal with Spalding Sporting Goods. It involved a $5,000 salary, a green Dodge and paid travel expenses and for up to 100 clinics a year, and she eventually had a signature line of golf clubs.
She wanted to continue learning at KU, but realized opportunity only knocks once.
Her proudest moments, however, are her title wins at the 1963 and 1964 Titleholder’s Championship against Mickey Wright, an LPGA tour member and a hall of famer. Smith calls this moment at the famous Augusta Country Club in Georgia, “the proudest moment of her life.”
The last of her 21 victories was the Pabst Ladies Classic in 1972, though Smith remained active as a founder, teacher and endless promoter. She conducted more than 4,000 clinics since signing that Spalding contract in 1949, helping more than 250,000 young golfers in her career. She was recognized during the LPGA’s 50th anniversary as one of its top 50 players and teachers.
She served as a three-time president of the LPGA and remembers how this group of women came together to develop the sport, and in 1973 she became the first woman to work a PGA Tour event as a TV broadcaster. She and 13 other women faced the odds and created modern women’s professional golf with the evolution of the Ladies’ Professional Golf Association (LPGA). The LPGA founders, however, were far more than just players. They promoted, they organized and they drove thousands of miles together to pitch women’s golf and encourage fans to come out to watch them.
Smith loved to give back through her scholarship and her golf invitational, which alternates hosts between Kansas and K-State. As a result of not being able to compete in the 1948 women’s national intercollegiate tournament, Smith started the scholarship in 1999 to provide postgraduate opportunities to female high school seniors who played golf in high school and plan to play at the collegiate level. For the last nine years, she has organized her Pro-Am golf classic in Phoenix that raises money for this scholarships to help female golfers with college expenses. Last year, the charity event provided $5,000 grants for 30 women.
She was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2006 and she cherished her time at Kansas and what she brought to the University as a member of Kappa Alpha Theta sorority and the softball team.