The 1940 United States Open was hosted by the Canterbury Golf Club near Cleveland OH. The tournament was played on June 6, 7 and 8. 1,181 professionals and amateurs paid the entry fee of $5 for a chance to be in the starting field of 165. For the first time in a U.S. Open the players were paired in threes.
In Thursday’s first round, Sam Snead, who was playing out of Shawnee-on-Delaware, posted a five under par 67. On Friday Snead got caught in a one-hour rain storm and shot a 74, but he still held a tie for the lead at 141, along with Horton Smith and Lawson Little.
On Saturday 36 holes were played to complete the 72-hole tournament. Journeyman Frank Walsh posted a 71 in the morning round to take a one-stroke lead with 18 holes to play. Snead and Little trailed by one stroke.
At that time the USGA, which runs the U.S. Open, did not pair the players by scores for the final rounds on Saturday, and of course the players were not re-paired after the morning round.
When the first players arrived at the tee to begin the final round after their lunch break, there was no official starter at the tee. The sky was blackening from a threatening thunder storm and the scorecards were on the starter’s table. It was about 30 minutes before their designated starting times, but six players, all professionals, picked up their scorecards and teed off.
Soon after they began their rounds they were informed that they were disqualified for starting play before their tee times. They all continued to play and complete their rounds under protest. One of those was Wilmington, Delaware’s Ed “Porky” Oliver who had put together a 70 that morning, which put him at 216, just three strokes off a tie for the lead. The other five were Dutch Harrison, Duke Gibson, Johnny Bulla, Ky Laffoon and Claude Harmon. Harrison stood at 218. The rest were out of contention, even for thirtieth place and the last money prize of $50.
Oliver proceeded to post a 71 for a total of 287. Snead shot an 81 and Walsh took 79 strokes. As Gene Sarazen was completing his first nine in 38, Little finished at 287. Sarazen came home in 34 to tie Little at 287. Oliver and the other five were disqualified. Sarazen and Little prevailed on the rules committee to rescind the disqualification and let Oliver take part in the playoff, but the USGA’s decision was final.
Sarazen, who was 38 years old, told the press “I can beat both of them” but the next day Little won with a 70 against a 73 for Sarazen.