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The Philadelphia Electric Co.’s Golf Pro Was Struck By Lightning Qualifying For the US Open!

It was 1939 and the Philadelphia Country Club was hosting the United States Open in the second week of June. There were 1,201 entries for a starting field of 170. 29 players were exempt and the other 149 starters had to pass a 36-hole qualifying test at one of 32 sites in the USA. There was such a large entry in the Philadelphia region, that for the first time in U.S. Open history two courses were needed.

Qualifying in Philadelphia was held on the fourth Monday of May at St. Davids Golf Club and Overbrook Golf Club, which was then located near Philadelphia’s City Line Avenue. There were 171 players competing for 19 spots. One of those was 46-year old Walter Hagen, a two-time winner of the U.S. Open, who was trying for one more shot at his country’s championship. Half of the entries played St. Davids in the morning, and Overbrook in the afternoon, while the other half did the opposite.

The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Fred Byrod wrote in the next day’s newspaper “A late afternoon storm brought torrents of rain and terrifying thunderbolts-thrusts of lightning.” Overbrook got the rain but St. Davids got the lightning. Philmont Country Club amateur Dick Allman was playing the 16th hole at SDGC when the storm hit. Allman had just played an iron shot to the green when he was struck by a lightning bolt. His hand was black and blue for several hours after that, but he finished and he qualified.

At that same time Max Cross was on the 18th hole at SDGC. As he was playing his second shot to the green with an iron, he was also struck by lightning. Cross was carried into the clubhouse unconscious. He was revived and returned to the 18th green where he had an eight-foot putt for a birdie. If he made the birdie putt he would qualify, and if he two-putted he would be in a playoff for the last four spots, but he took three putts. Ironically he was the professional at the Philadelphia Electric Company’s McCall Field Golf Course.

Pine Valley Golf Club’s playing professional Ted Turner finished just before the storm arrived with rounds of 72 at SDGC and 69 at Overbrook. He was medalist by three strokes. Hagen who was paired with Lawson Little failed to qualify. Little missed qualifying also, but one year later he won the U.S. Open.

Because of what happened at St. Davids with the lightning, the USGA had a fire truck stationed at the Philadelphia Country Club for the U.S. Open. The truck’s siren was used to warn the golfers of approaching thunder storms.

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Peter C. "Pete" Trenham
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