Smith established the world’s oldest women’s professional sports organisation alongside 12 other women in 1950, and her passing leaves just Marlene Bauer Hagge and Shirley Spork as the surviving members.
Born in Topeka, Kansas, Smith grew up in Wichita but thought of golf as a “sissy sport” until she started playing at 11.
Her father said he would buy her a bicycle when she broke 40 for nine holes for the first time, which she did when she was 14.
She eventually turned pro in 1949 and won the first of her 21 LPGA victories at the 1954 Fort Wayne Open and the last at the 1972 Pabst Ladies Classic. She also won two major championships – the 1963 Titleholders, when she beat the great Mickey Wright by one stroke in an 18-hole playoff, and she then successfully defended that title in 1964.
As one of the tour’s great spokeswomen, she was president of the LPGA from 1958 to 1960 and in 1973 became the first woman to work a men’s event as a television broadcaster.
She was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2006, and also set up the Marilynn Smith LPGA Charity Pro-Am which for the last 10 years has raised scholarship money to help female golfers with college expenses.
She would have turned 90 on April 13 and was last seen in public greeting finishers behind the 18th green at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup in Phoenix on March 24.
“Marilynn was my Founder, my North Star and most importantly my friend,” said LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan. “In her life, she broke barriers, shattered stereotypes and made others ‘believe.’ I’ll miss her weekly handwritten cards, her daily calls to my office and her love for every LPGA teacher, tour player, and staff member.
“Quite simply, Marilynn left this world better than she found it – and set a standard that will guide us forever.”