But his research unearthed some facts that make Zaharias’ triumph at Salem CC even more dynamic.
“I didn’t know how truly sick Babe had been during that time,” said Larrabee, a Danvers native who now resides in Wenham. “Even before 1953, when she had major intestinal (colon cancer) surgery, she had been pretty sick. She had good days and weeks, and some bad days and weeks. There was extreme doubt she’d be able to return to golf after her surgery; her surgeon in Texas said she’d never play competitively again.
“A lot has been written about Babe winning the ‘54 Open while wearing a colostomy bag, a remarkable feat. But to find out how she got her game back into condition and not being afraid to come out and make the comeback she did to the point where, lo and behold, a year after the surgery she won the most important tournament in women’s golf for the third time, was remarkable.”
Zaharias not only won the Open, she decimated the field with a 12-stroke victory over other name players such as Louise Suggs, Betsy Rawls, Patty Berg and Jackie Pung. The event, which took place July 1-3 of that year, was her last great triumph, as Zaharias died two years later after her cancer returned.
Clearly the most recognizable name in women’s golf, Zaharias attracted the galleries throughout her conquest of Salem — which she certainly helped put on the American golfing map with her exquisite performance, said Larrabee. “She was a tremendous goodwill ambassador to golf; the Arnold Palmer or Jack Nicklaus of her day,” he said.
Another theme throughout ‘Sensation at Salem’ is Zaharias’ relationship with her husband, former pro wrestler George Zaharias. Larrabee describes it as “an extraordinarily loving but platonic relationship” and recounts how the two forged ahead through golf society.