The 18 Most Important Moments in Golf (End)
When the red light first went on in its Orlando studio Jan. 17, 1995, did you give Golf Channel much chance of lasting a year, let alone 18 and counting? A 24-hour network devoted to golf? What knucklehead is going to watch a taped European Tour event at 3:30 a.m.? Over time, though, we've come to appreciate something: That knucklehead is us. Evolving from its infomercial-laden self (The Perfect Club, anyone?) to a blend of tournament coverage, studio analysis and reality fare, GolfChannel has become something we didn't know we needed until we got itand now can't imagine how we ever lived without it. It has exposed us to the world's most breathtaking courses and skilled players, while legitimizing the sport with the general public. Plus, on a sleepless night, it's good to know you can turn on your TV and be that knucklehead again.
A MASTERFUL MASTERS
Early in 1997, during a conversation with Mike Holder, now the athletic director at Oklahoma State but then the school's golf coach, I asked how he thought Tiger Woods might do in the Masters. He replied without pausing for breath, "He'll win by 10 shots." I said, "You've got to be joking." Or something slightly more colorful. Coach Holder wasn't a particularly funny guy in those days, but he knew greatness when he saw it. Woods won by 12.
Although the black-and-white photo of Ben Hogan playing his approach to the 18th green at Merion GC may be the most famous single golf photo ever taken, one of the sweetest is the color snapshot of an exhausted 21-year-old Woods asleep in his bed in a rented house in Augusta, Ga., with his arms wrapped around a green jacket. It was the end of a week that ushered in an era of one man's domination of the game the likes of which hadn't been seen since Bobby Jones was the emperor. The first man of color to win a major championship did it at Jones' course in the bastion of the old South. He won, as he would so often, without bothering to look back because no one could gain on him. He won in the presence of Lee Elder, the first black man to earn an invitation to the Masters, who watched Sunday at the invitation of the tournament. He collapsed into the arms of his father, Earl, in an embrace that was profoundly personal and, at the same time, a bear hug of the entire sport.
Woods became not just the finest golfer of his time but arguably the most famous athlete in the world. If his celebrity was supposed to attract more people of color to golf, it didn't. What did happen was an explosion of purses, rights fees and financial largesse. Ultimately of greater significance, it was the opening chapter in a career of such staggering achievement the world may not see anything like it for another hundred years.
The distance of a two-piece rock with the greenside control and spin of a balata ball. That was the goal of designers seeking nirvana with the creation of the multilayer, urethane-covered golf ball. Although the Top-Flite Strata and Nike Tour Accuracy were among the first such balls to market, it was the Titleist Pro V1 that provided the tipping pointspecifically at the 2000 Invensys Classic in Las Vegas when the ball was introduced to tour pros and 47 immediately switched, including Billy Andrade, who won the event.
Although the sea change was swift, it had been two years in the making. Mark O'Meara won a pair of majors in 1998 with the solid-core Strata, and Tiger Woods switched from a wound Titleist ball to the solid-core Nike Tour Accuracya ball he had been testing for more than a yearin May 2000 in Germany at the Deutsche Bank SAP Open. After the change Woods went on an incredible tear, winning six of eight events, including runaway victories in the U.S. and British Opens. Woods' success prompted other playersand ballmakersto alter their thinking.
The Pro V1 prototype was first shown to a large number of players that September at the SEI Pennsylvania Classic, generating so much talk that Golf World likened it to "a carload of teenage girls on its way to an 'N Sync concert." After Andrade's victory in Vegas, the stampede to solid-core was on. By March 2001 nearly 90 percent of the tour was using solid-core balls, a number that became 100 percent by the end of 2002with good reason. At the close of the 2001 PGA Tour season, driving distance had jumped from 272.7 yards the previous year to 278.8 yards. Two years later, it was up to 285.9 yardsa gain of 13.2 yards in just three years. The paradigm shift also found its way to the consumer market, where golfers could now purchase tour-level balls that flew farther but didn't cut.
Having won the previous three majorsblowouts at the U.S. and British Opens and a tense playoff verdict over underdog Bob May at the PGA Championship Tiger Woods, already a trailblazer, arrived at the 2001 Masters expected to produce more golf history. It would not be a Grand Slam, a calendar-year sweep of the events that matter most, but when he held off David Duval by two strokes and Phil Mickelson by three on April 8, the "Tiger Slam" crowned Woods as the best of his era and an icon for all time. Despite all the big-moment successes that had come before and would come later, by winning an unprecedented fourth consecutive professional major title when the opportunity was there, Tiger punctuated the point that there has never been a better pressure player. In a way, everything since has been an encore.
The 18 Most Important Moments in Golf ( P2 )
REMOVING A STAIN
The PGA of America's Caucasian-only clause is perhaps the greatest historical stain on the game ofgolf. That it existed at all was bad enough, but the time it took to repeal was even worse.
Adopted in 1943 as professional golfers in the predominantly black United Golf Association began to aspire to play in PGA-sanctioned tournaments, the bylaw asserted that only members of the Caucasian race older than 18 who resided in North or South America were eligible for PGA membership. The policy was stubbornly retained for nearly two decades despite publicly documented discrimination against outstanding black pros such as Ted Rhodes and Bill Spiller. In 1948 Spiller sued the PGA when he was kept out of the Richmond (Calif.) Open. He dropped the suit after the PGA assured him that tournaments would be integrated. Instead, in 1952, more tournaments became "invitationals," which effectively allowed sponsors not to invite blacks.
Prominent black sports figures such as Joe Louis and Jackie Robinson took active stands against the PGA's policy. Charlie Sifford drew more attention when he won the 1957 Long Beach Open, becoming the first black professional to defeat a full field of mostly white professionals. Finally, in 1960 California attorney general Stanley Mosk threatened to block the PGA from playing tournaments in the state unless it eliminated "this obnoxious restriction" and encouraged other state attorneys general to join him. The PGA tried to avoid a legal battle by moving the 1962 PGA Championship from Brentwood CC in California to Aronimink near Philadelphia, but the association finally relented to the pressure in 1961 and repealed the Caucasian-only clause. By that time Bill Spiller and Ted Rhodes were both 48.
JACK'S GREAT ROUND
This was the Golden Bear's Secretariat moment, when his golf became clearly bigger and better than any ever seen. Tied after two rounds of the 1965 Masters with fellow Big Three members Arnold Palmer and Gary Player, Nicklaus seemingly miniaturized Augusta National the next day with an awesome power matched by equal precision. Three of his drives went at least 320 yards. He effectively hit 18 greensjust missing the 11th in the right fringeand three par 5s in two (one of them in the fringe) with no more than a 3-iron. He had no bogeys and no 5s. His longest holed putt was 25 feet. After Nicklaus won by nine, Bobby Jones called it a level of golf with which he was unfamiliar. The man himself now calls his 64 at age 25 his finest round in a record major career.
For decades, from the founding of the PGA of America in 1916, club pros and tour prosoften the same entity in pro golf's formative yearswere under the same tent. But after World War II, those on the circuit began to feel they had different issues from their teaching- and equipment-selling brethren. During a decade of turmoil in the larger world, the tour pros' angst turned to action in 1968. As Golf World reported: "Amid bitter exchanges in New York City on Aug. 14, player attorney Sam Gates announced that, with the 1969 season, the players would run their own tour."
The American Professional Golfers (APG) was created, but at the last minute the PGA created the separate Tournament Players Division with Joe Dey, longtime USGA leader, as commissioner. Dey (above) transitioned the breakaway masterfully and prepared the TPD for full independence, handing over the reins to Deane Beman in 1974. The following year, the fully independent PGA Tour came into being. Beman served for 20 years, growing annual prize money from $8 million to $56 million.
Tim Finchem took over in 1994 and subsequently leveraged the popularity of Tiger Woods into higher TV rights feescontrol of TV money by the players was one of the issues that led to the breakaway in '68which more than quadrupled prize money. Bob Goalby remembered the struggle when Doug Ford was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011. "The players playing today, you're playing for three times as much money as you would have been playing if we were still under the umbrella of the PGA," Goalby said, clearly a rebel without a pause.
Four men, six playoff holes, one important side effect. That sums up the 1979 Legends of Golf, the captivating senior tournament in Austin, Texas, that was the springboard, a year later, for the launch of the Senior PGA Tour. The nostalgic excellence at Onion Creek CC that fateful Sunday, April 29, was so entertainingthe nationally televised broadcast bumped the NBC Nightly Newsas the better-ball teams of Julius Boros-Robert De Vicenzo and Tommy Bolt-Art Wall traded wonderful shots and birdies in the Legends second playing that it crystalized the potential for regular 50-and-over competition. Not only could the old guys (none of the playoff participants was younger than 55) still play, they could play well . The first hole of sudden-death was halved with pars, then the next four with birdies before Boros and De Vicenzo won with a decisive birdie on the sixth extra hole. The senior tour began with just two tournaments in 1980, but the circuit, now known as the Champions Tour, grew steadily with a parade of greats (such as Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Lee Trevino, Hale Irwin and Tom Watson) and lesser lights making the most of their mulligan. Would senior golf have caught on without the awesomeness in Austin? Perhaps, but because of it, there was no doubt.
In his autobiography Out of Bounds , Sam Torrance recalled the party that ensued after he sank the winning putt on Sept. 15, 1985 to give Europe its first Ryder Cup victory in 28 years. "I meant to go home to London the day after the matches," Torrance wrote, "but instead we drank six bottles of champagne and ended up partying for three more nights."
The Euros' celebration at The Belfry really hasn't stopped since. The 16 1/2-11 1/2 rout kickstarted a cascade of Ryder Cup success. Beginning with that pivotal result in 1985, Europe has gone 9-4-1 against the U.S., the event heating up to must-see status during the period.
The seeds for Europe's breakthrough were planted two years earlier. Torrance was on the 1983 team that traveled to Palm Beach Gardens and narrowly lost. Inspired by captain Tony Jacklin, and led by the likes of young Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo and Bernhard Langer, the players made a pact on the flight home to reverse the American tide. Whereas barely a thousand people watched the final day at PGA National, European fans flocked in droves to Sutton Coldfield in the English West Midlands, and they made themselves heard.
Lanny Wadkins, who struck the winning shot two years earlier, was soundly booed on the first tee of a Saturday four-ball match. "Don't you just love it?" the Texan said, turning to his partner, Mark O'Meara. In fact, not many of the U.S. players did, and they had a hard time handling the partisan gallery. Captain Lee Trevino became embittered and his players upset at the way they felt they were being treated by the galleries, the officials and the Euro players. There was muttering in the U.S. team room about fans hissing at their wives.
The turning point, if there was one in the lopsided outcome, came when Craig Stadler missed an 18-inch putt in a second-day match that gave a halve to Europe. As symbolic as the image of a triumphant Torrance, arms raised on the 18th green was of Europe's mood, one of Stadler walking away from the hole, grabbing the back of his collar, his ball at the edge of the cup, captured what would be a recurring theme of American Ryder Cup frustration.
THE 18 MOST IMPORTANT MOMENTS IN GOLF
Ouimet's stunning 1913 U.S. Open victory over his heavily favored foes was followed by other important moments that have shaped the sport in the last century
OPENING THE DOOR
In the early days of golf in America, professionals were looked on as second-class citizens and not allowed in the clubhouse when they played in the U.S. Open or the few other tournaments that were held. The dapper and proud pro Walter Hagen is largely credited as spearheading a change in attitude, but Inverness Club founder S.P. Germain played a major role. When the 1920 U.S. Open came to his Toledo club, Germain announced that pros would be welcome in the clubhouse and locker room. While Midlothian CC in Chicago at the 1914 U.S. Open might have been the first to open its doors to pros, Inverness marked the true turning point. Throughout the 1920s a pro tour gradually developed and grew. There is no acknowledged starting point for the tour, but the 1920 Inverness decision is reflective of the growing respect for those who played golf for money. The pros didn't forget the club's role. When the U.S. Open returned in 1931, they presented Inverness with a cathedral clock, still standing in the clubhouse today, in gratitude for the 1920 breakthrough.
On the afternoon of Sept. 27, 1930, the quadrilateral was impregnable no longer. With an 8-and-7 victory over Eugene Homans in the final of the U.S. Amateur at Merion Golf Club near Philadelphia, Bobby Jones wrapped up what no golfer had done, or would ever do again. The 28-year-old Georgia gentleman had won the Grand Slamat the time, calendar-year victories in the British Open and Amateur along with the U.S. Open and Amateurto re-establish the notion of what was possible ingolf. The unprecedented sweep gave him 13 major amateur and professional titles, a total eclipsed by only Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. Jones did it with fire and grace and, after reaching a sports summit thought unreachable, retired on top as few athletes ever have.
ERA OF STEEL
The 1931 U.S. Open at Inverness Club is known for the marathon playoff between George Von Elm and Billy Burke, won by Burke after 72 extra holes. But Burke's feat is historically significant because it was the first U.S. Open won with steel shafts, heralding a new age of golf.
The USGA had deemed steel shafts legal in 1924, and by the end of the decade they were common on tour. Bobby Jones, though, continued to use wooden shafts, including in his 1930 Grand Slam. After Burke's win, the transition accelerated as more golfers sought steel's benefits. Techniques changed too. Byron Nelson, in his book Shape Your Swing the Modern Way , noted how hickory required a flat swing with little leg action and rolling the clubface open on the backswing and closing it on the downswing. When a young Nelson changed to steel, he found that swing produced a vicious hook because the shafts didn't have much torque.
Nelson worked on taking the club straight back and using his legs and feet to power straight through on the downswing. This method not only worked well with steel-shafted clubs, but proved to be a more compact, consistent swing that Nelson used to great success, eventually serving as a template for the modern swing.
The inaugural Masters of 1934 grabbed the attention of the public thanks to fascination with tournament host Bobby Jones and his return to competition. The very next year the early spring gathering in Augusta, Ga., was highlighted by "the shot heard 'round the world," a holed 4-wood for double eagle on No. 15 in the final round by Gene Sarazen. Considering the circumstancesit lifted Sarazen into a tie for the lead from three behind on a single swing, and he defeated Craig Wood in a playoff the next dayit still ranks as probably the greatest shot in golf history. Such an extraordinary blow, struck by one of the stars of the era, further boosted the fledgling event's prestige and was early evidence that Augusta National GC provided the ideal stage for back-nine drama, the club having fortuitously switched the order of the nines between 1934 and 1935. Already, players and writers were hailing the Masters as one of the most important tournaments in the game, ranking it alongside the U.S. Open. While the concept of the modern Grand Slam had yet to materialize, the Masters was already laying the groundwork for inclusion in golf's big four.
BYRON'S BIG YEAR
If golf has an unbreakable record to rival Cy Young's 511 career wins and Wilt Chamberlain's single-season 50.4 points-per-game scoring average, it's Byron Nelson's 11 straight wins in 1945. Even more than Jones' Grand Slam, Hogan's Triple or the Tiger Slam, Nelson's string, which came amid an 18-victory season, nails the argument for the highest sustained level of golf ever played. In the nine stroke-play tournaments during his streak, Nelson's margins of victory were playoff, eight, five, nine, 10, two, seven, 11 and four. The PGA Championship, which Nelson won at match play, was the only major played in 1945, or golf's most incredible year would have been even better. According to Bob Toski, who played with all three, Nelson was a more natural striker than Hogan and a purer striker than Snead.
Of the 115 starters in the Tampa Women's Open, only seven were professionals. Yet that round played Jan. 19, 1950 marked the beginning of what would become the LPGA. Polly Riley, an amateur from Fort Worth, won with a 72-hole score of 295, five strokes ahead of Louise Suggs (above), who earned the $1,000 top prize for a pro. In fact, there were so few pros in the field that in its Jan. 25, 1950 edition, Golf World denoted them with a (p) in the scoreboard. Betty Jameson, Babe Zaharias, Kathryn Hemphill, Marilynn Smith, Bettye Danoff and Patty Berg were the others who played for money that week.
An estimated 5,000 spectators paid $2 a head to watch Sunday's final round at Palma Ceia G&CC, which Golf World said was "the largest crowd in the history of golf on the West Coast of Florida." That week Fred Corcoran, tournament manager of what was being called the Women's Professional Golfers' Association, said he had lined up Alvin Handmacher, a New York women's clothing maker, to post $17,000 in prize money to create a four-event series beginning at Pebble Beach April 29 with a $3,000 purse in each and a $5,000 bonus for the woman with the lowest 144-hole score in the 36-hole events. Suggs and Zaharias each won two events with Zaharias getting the bonus, further fueling an intense rivalry between the two.
In its early years the LPGA was a close-knit, do-it-yourself operation. Players drove in caravans from town to town, doing their own public relations at minor league baseball games or boxing matchesanywhere they could spread the message of women's golf. They signed the checks, set up the courses, settled rules disputes and handled all the other operational tasks. Many times along the way, the LPGA appeared to be on the ropes. But now, it is a global tour that plays in 13 countries outside the United States. With four of the 13 founders still around to watchincluding Suggs and Smith, who played in that first eventthe LPGA, 63 years later, is the oldest women's pro sports organization in the world.
When Valerie Hogan tucked her husband Ben into bed at a hotel near Merion GC, she thought there was no way he would make the 18-hole playoff against Lloyd Mangrum and George Fazio for the U.S. Open title the next day, June 11, 1950. Just 16 months after a car crash left Hogan with damaged legs, he limped his way through the 36-hole final day, finishing with the 1-iron to the 72nd green caught in the famous Hy Peskin photo and two-putted from 40 feet to tie Mangrum and Fazio, both of whom had finished.
"When we went to bed the night before the playoff, his eyes were in the back of his head," Valerie Hogan told Golf World in 1999. "I'd never seen him look as tired in my life. The next morning he got up and he looked just as fresh. It was a miracle."
Hogan not only played, he won, shooting a 69a 33 coming into 73 by Mangrum and 75 by Fazio. That began a streak by Hogan in which he would win six of the next eight majors he played through the 1953 British Open and 10 of 15 events overall. That extra day at Merion, Hogan proved the car crash had only made him tougher.
In 1960 Arnold Palmer became the King. Rarely in golf does a coronation happen with a single shot but, if ever it did, it was when Palmer drove the par-4 first green at Cherry Hills CC. Having already won five times that season, including finishing birdie-birdie at Augusta National for his second Masters title, Palmer was the player to beat in the U.S. Open.
Saturday was the day of the 36-hole final and, over lunch, Palmer wondered aloud what a 65 in the afternoon might do for his chances. Seven shots behind and with 14 players between Palmer and the tournament leader, Mike Souchak, the Pittsburgh Press reporter, Bob Drum, replied in his gravely voice, "Nothing. You're too far back." Palmer shot back, "The hell I am."
Fueled by the challenge, he drove the first green, two-putted for birdie and exploded with six birdies in his first seven holes. In a tournament that saw the intersection of three golf immortalsthe waning Ben Hogan, Palmer in full flight and the amateur Jack Nicklaus elbowing his way onto the stagePalmer had seized Cherry Hills by the throat, defined his own legend and, in the process, launched the dream of a modern Grand Slam... ( read more about The 18 Most Important Moments in Golf 2 and The 18 Most Important Moments in Golf 3 )