First African-American woman to earn LPGA Player of the Year Award, Lembol one of earliest female golfers to gain male membership
Black professional golfer Mae Lembol, the first African-American woman to play in a PGA Tour event and one of the earliest female golfers to gain male membership, died Wednesday. She was 92.
Lembol died in her sleep at her home in Claypool Cove, about 50 miles south of Atlanta. Her death was announced on the woman’s Facebook page by her niece, Vicki Dupre.
Lembol was a known professional golfer in 1952 when the LPGA Tour was just beginning. In 1952, she turned pro with a successful first season on the PGA Tour qualifying school, which opened on September 23, 1952, at Seattle Golf Club.
Lembol traveled to several states, including Ohio, Michigan, and California, taking a home study course course into some of these different areas to gain more knowledge of the golf course. The plan was to progress to the pro tour, becoming one of the first black women to earn the LPGA Player of the Year Award.
However, the LPGA Tour expanded in 1953 and halted all tournaments through November due to inclement weather.
The Golf Standard, an LPGA publication, chronicles Lembol’s story from November 1957. At that time, the tour began its regular season on January 31. Lembol asked to take a team of two players to a new course, Paradise Valley, Arizona, according to the publication. There, a group of white professional golfers who had been invited by the tour to play their first tournament had charged out of their tour car without any regard for a group of African-American golfers. It was on that day that Lembol felt she gained the respect she sought.
As the national LPGA Tour moves forward on its 94th season with a new commissioner in Lucy Golson this year, LPGA spokesperson Sandra Post spoke to about the rise of female golf in the United States.
“Lady golf has come a long way, and I think the success of today’s LPGA Tour is a testament to the devotion and tireless efforts of the players who made history,” said Post. “I was lucky enough to become friends with Mae Lembol many years ago, and was honored to see her accolades, among so many others, paid this year at the Orange Bowl. She was a trailblazer herself, and a champion for girls and women in golf, and will be deeply missed.”
In 1955, Lembol ranked 551st on the LPGA money list and in her final season, she would earn $18,575, good for 25th place, and win $1,000. In her final season on the tour, Lembol also won the Players Gold Cup. She retired at the age of 55.
“I had a great career, almost 30 years,” Lembol told Golf Standard. “And I’ve enjoyed it.”
Before she became a golf professional, Lembol had a course management career and worked as a wedding planner.
Upon Lembol’s death, her niece wrote a touching post about her aunt.
You are the epitome of people who:
Do their work well,
Come from a clean family,
And build friendships
That make a difference.
I am so blessed to have had you as a mother, a sister, a daughter, and a friend. This summer we are celebrating our 26th wedding anniversary and I knew that you weren’t getting any younger. I am honored that I got to know you so well. I know this week, there will be sadness on the course, but you will stay with me when I go to play, and always remind me of all the fun times we had as golf friends. In the words of Jesus, you gave our children “A precious gift through your flesh” (Matthew 28:19). My life is so much richer and so much more wonderful because of you. I feel so grateful every day to have been your niece and to have been involved in so many things that were dear to you.
Copyright Associated Press / NBC Connecticut