Merchantville, New Jersey’s Al Besselink turned pro in 1949. In late July of 1952 he picked up his first victory on the PGA Tour with a final round 64 at the Sioux City Open in Iowa.
A new event was created for 1953 PGA Tour, the Tournament of Champions. To play in that tournament one had to have won on the PGA Tour during the past calendar year. As the tournament was being played in late April, Besselink’s win at Sioux City made him eligible.
The tournament was held in Las Vegas at the Desert Inn Country Club. Before the tournament began Besselink bet $500 on himself to win at 25 to 1 odds, with a Las Vegas bookie. The tournament itself had a large purse of $35,000. The largest purse at any of the major golf championships that year was $26,000 at the Masters.
With rounds of 72, 68 and 68, Besselink led by one stroke entering the final round. On Sunday he made birdies on the 16th and 17th holes to regain that one stroke edge. On the last green, with 5,000 spectators looking on, he holed a six-foot putt for a par to win by one. First prize was $10,000 and he picked up another $12,500 from the $500 he had bet on himself. The $10,000 was delivered to him in a wheelbarrow filled with 10,000 silver dollars.
One year earlier, Babe Zaharias had asked Besselink to be her partner in the 1952 International Mixed Two Ball Open in Orlando, which they had won. Having recently heard that Zaharias had been diagnosed with cancer, Besselink donated half his first prize, $5,000, to the Damon Runyan Cancer Fund.
Being the gambler that he was, it was said that Besselink left Las Vegas that week with about the same amount of money he had arrived with.