Former LPGA star, UM coach Patti Rizzo was a Title IX pioneer

Former University of Miami golfer and LPGA star Patty Rizzo, who recently retired as the Hurricanes’ women’s golf coach, is shown in 2004 when she coached at Barry University.

Herald File Photo, 2004

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50 years after Title IX: How UM started a revolution

A little-known fact as Title IX celebrates its 50th anniversary: The University of Miami in 1973 became the first university in the nation to offer women’s athletic scholarships. We look back on it all here:

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Title IX, the 1972 federal law mandating gender equity at educational institutions, commemorates its 50th anniversary Thursday.

Patti Rizzo, 62, recently retired after 12 seasons as the University of Miami women’s golf coach. An All-American UM golfer in the early 1980s, Rizzo was Golf Digest’s top-ranked amateur in 1980 and Golf Magazine’s top-ranked collegiate player in 1981. She played 20 years on the LPGA Tour, earning LPGA Rookie of the Year in 1982 and winning four tournaments during her career. She was ranked as high as No. 9 in the world in 1989. Before UM, she coached women’s golf at Barry University. Rizzo has a son, Seve, 27; and a daughter, Gabriella, 25. Rizzo is in the UM Sports Hall of Fame as an athlete.

Long before Patti Rizzo fathomed she might one day be a star on the LPGA Tour, she was showing up her older brother in every sport that kids played on her Pembroke Pines street and in parks before she moved to Miami-Dade County at age 12.

“My brother was two years older and he had asthma,’’ Rizzo said, “so he wasn’t a big athlete because he couldn’t run. He used to get so pissed off because all the boys in the neighborhood, whether they were playing street football or flag football or tackle football or basketball or kickball or soccer, they’d come knocking at my door, saying, ‘Can Patti come play?’ No one ever asked for him.

“I was the cool kid of the neighborhood. All the boys respected me.’’

So did the local Little League coach, who let little Patti practice with her older brother’s team, despite Little League being a few years (1974) from allowing girls to play.

One day, at age “10 or 11,’’ Rizzo was at bat while her brother played right field.

“I ripped one right over his head,’’ she said. “My brother turns around, goes to pick up the ball and another coach who happened to be walking through the back of the outfield says to my brother, “Who is that kid? I want him on my team next year.’’

“That’s not a boy,’’ Rizzo’s brother replied. “That’s a girl. She’s my sister.’’

“Oh shoot!” the coach said. “Girls can’t play in Little League.”

Before turning pro in 1982, you played three years of golf at UM and had a full athletic scholarship, including room and board. Did you realize how fortunate you were as one of the pioneers of Title IX?

“No, I kind of took it for granted. In high school [Dade Christian, Hialeah Miami Lakes and finally American High] I played volleyball, basketball, softball, track and field, tennis and golf. Honestly, I didn’t hear much about Title IX, even when it was new. I was 12 in 1972 and it didn’t matter much to me. Back in our day girls didn’t play on boys’ teams and you just accepted it. You didn’t feel like it was an option.’’

Any frustrations related to Title IX?

“I’ve always struggled with how Title IX affects the men who don’t play football because, for example, we can’t have a men’s golf team because we have too many scholarships [85] in men’s football. There’s no men’s soccer, no men’s swimming, no men’s volleyball. My struggle is there’s no comparable women’s sports to football, so football shouldn’t be in the Title IX equation. Football should be its own entity and all the other sports should be equal. Men’s golf, women’s golf; women’s soccer, men’s soccer; women’s softball, men’s baseball; and so on. Why are we counting 85 scholarships against the men? It’s not fair to the men who play other sports.”

What’s one way you’ve seen your UM women benefit from Title IX over the years?

“Facilities, better budgets, equipment, everything. For the younger generation it’s all about aesthetics. How pretty is it? How fancy? I used to get like two pairs of pants, four golf shirts and a pair of golf shoes. Now the golfers get two big-sized suitcases full of clothing and shoes — four pairs of sneakers, three pairs of golf shoes, winter and summer golf wear, beanies, hand warmers, gloves, socks, turtlenecks, sweatshirts, workout clothes, travel unis. Not one thing you can think of that they don’t get. Of course they take it for granted, but the University of Miami always gave me everything I needed to be successful.’’

This story was originally published June 22, 2022 8:30 AM.

Miami Herald sports writer Susan Miller Degnan has been the Miami Hurricanes football beat writer since 2000, the season before the Canes won it all. She has won several APSE national writing awards and has covered everything from Canes baseball to the College Football Playoff to major marathons to the Olympics.