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 )