Babe Zaharaias, Annika Sorenstam, Gary Player to receive Presidential Medal of Freedom

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A trio of Hall of Fame golfers—Annika Sorenstam, Babe Didrikson Zaharias and Gary Player—will receive the United States’ highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, on Thursday from President Donald Trump.

W.L. Pate Jr., president of the Babe Zaharias Foundation, is expected to accept the medal in honor of Zaharias, who died in 1956.

The medal is described as a recognition of “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.” Only four other golfers have received it: Arnold Palmer (2004), Jack Nicklaus (2005), Charlie Sifford (2014) and Tiger Woods (2019). Trump awarded Woods with the medal shortly after he won the 2019 Masters.

The White House announced in March that Sorenstam and Player would receive the honor, but Zaharias is a new addition.

Sorenstam, 50, dominated women’s golf from the mid-1990s through the mid-2000s. The Swede amassed 72 official LPGA Tour wins, including 10 majors, and was named player of the year a record eight times. She stepped away from playing full-time professional golf in 2008 and has since focused on philanthropic and business pursuits.

Zaharias is widely considered one of the finest athletes ever, having won gold medals in the 80-meter hurdles and javelin throw at the 1932 Olympics—all before she took up golf in 1935, at the age of 24, then became perhaps the greatest woman’s golfer in history. Like Sorenstam, she won 10 major championships and completed the Grand Slam in 1950, winning all three women’s majors at the time. She holds the distinction as the only woman ever to make a cut in a PGA Tour event, which she did three times.

Known as the “Black Knight” for his penchant for wearing all black, Player was one-third of golf’s “Big Three” alongside Nicklaus and Palmer. The South African is one of five players ever to complete the career Grand Slam by winning all four men’s majors, and he is the only non-American to have done so. He won 160 tournaments worldwide, including nine majors, and since his retirement he has remained an active presence in the game. He has designed over 400 golf courses worldwide and is the founder of the Player Foundation, which seeks to provide underprivileged children with access to education.

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