A little-known Philadelphia professional, helped stop Byron Nelson’s 1945 winning streak!

“Did You Know”
A little-known Philadelphia professional, helped stop Byron Nelson’s 1945 winning streak!

George Low, Jr. was born in 1912 next door to the Baltusrol Golf Club in New Jersey where his father George, Sr. was the golf professional. He began golf by putting on the Baltusrol greens when the golfers were not around. George Sr. was one of many pros who had emigrated from Scotland to the United States in the late 1800s. He tied for second in the 1899 U.S. Open and won the Met Open in 1906. He was one of the most respected golf professionals in the country.

In early 1928, feeling that he had made his fortune in America, George Low Sr. decided to leave Baltusrol. He moved back to his homeland of Scotland and settled in St. Andrews, where he planned to live on his American investments. That is when George Jr. was exposed to something that would support him for the rest of his life. For three years he putted for eight to twelve hours a day on the 36-hole putting course at St. Andrews. When the stock market crashed in 1929 George Sr. found that he needed to go back to work. He returned to the states in 1931 as the professional at the Huntingdon Valley Country Club, with young George in tow as his assistant.

George, Jr. became the head professional at Plymouth Country Club in 1936 and the next year he was the assistant at the Manufacturers Golf & CC, but those jobs were probably too much like work for him. He was good enough to be able to make a few dollars playing golf and for the next few years he assisted his father with a driving range in Jenkintown. He qualified for the 1931 PGA Championship and two US Opens.  After that he spent his down time in Clearwater, Florida while playing the PGA Tour off and on.

In August 1945 Byron Nelson arrived at the Memphis Open riding a streak of 11 straight PGA Tour victories. At Memphis his streak would finally end at the hands of two amateurs and a little-known professional, George Low, Jr. Fred Haas, Jr., who was still an amateur, was the winner at 18 under par 270. George, Jr. and amateur Bob Cochran tied for second at 275. Low picked up first money, which was either $2,666 in US War Bonds or $2,000 in cash. (If a player wanted a check, they received 25% less than the War Bond value.) Nelson and Jug McSpaden, who had been the professional at the Philadelphia Country Club for the past three years, tied for fourth at 276. Haas’ prize was a $100 War Bond, which was the acceptable USGA limit for amateurs.   

In late 1945 Ben Hogan and Sam Snead returned from the service and picked up right where they had left off, winning tournaments. It didn’t take long for George Jr. to figure out that there had to be an easier way to make a living than trying to beat the likes of Nelson, Hogan and Snead week in and week out. He knew more about putting than anyone else and could beat everyone on the practice putting green for money. Sometimes he would beat them putting with the side of his shoe. At Aronimink Golf Club in qualifying for the 1938 US Open he had put together a 141, which was low for the day, while putting right-handed with a left-handed putter.

Soon, instead of entering tournaments, George, Jr. was just hanging around the PGA Tour. He would give putting instructions to any golf professional or multimillionaire who would pay for his room, buy him dinner or loan him his car. He had a deal with Ramada that meant he had a free room in any town that had a Ramada Inn. His shoes were courtesy of Foot Joy. Later on he was on retainer with Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino and Frank Stranahan for assistance with their putting whenever it was needed. He designed a line of putters with his name on them that sold very well. Some are selling on the internet today for more than $1,000. Nicklaus and Gary Player won on the PGA Tour with Low’s putters. With the help of golf writer Al Barkow he wrote a book titled “The Master of Putting.” George, Jr. had a way with putters before the technology of today. He could give a recalcitrant putter a little whack on his foot, or bend the shaft a bit on his knee, and improve the putter’s performance.

In a practice round before the 1962 PGA Championship at Aronimink, Nicklaus, on leaving the 11th tee, summoned George who had been resting next to a shade tree. George took Nicklaus’ putter and massaged the shaft on the tree, gave the shaft an eyeball inspection and handed it back to Nicklaus. In the mid 70’s he was quoted as saying that he was spending $50,000 a year of other people’s money.  He said that he didn’t want to be too specific about his income, since the best line of defense with the IRS was a little discretion.

At the Masters he always drove up Magnolia Lane in someone else’s Cadillac with a clubhouse pass. You would see him sitting on the veranda under an umbrella sipping a drink with corporation presidents. Inevitably one of the top players would come and invite him to the putting green for a few tips. The PGA Tour and tournaments like the Masters haven’t been the same since he passed away in 1995. George Low, Jr. was called “America’s Guest” because he would never pick up a check and always found a way to avoid paying for anything. He should be in someone’s hall of fame.  

3 thoughts on “A little-known Philadelphia professional, helped stop Byron Nelson’s 1945 winning streak!

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  1. Thanks Pete. There are several great stories about George. I heard one when I was a young caddy at Old York Road CC in Jenkintown.
    George and Matt Cowell who was an assistant to Leo Diegle at Philmont were having a closest the the pin contest from somewhere near the 18th green on the north course at Philmont CC over the clubhouse to the 18th green on the south course and back over the clubhouse to the 18th green on the north.. George had made an arrangement with the locker room attendant, Pic Austin, To make any adjustments to the the balls that was needed and would then go around the clubhouse to the other green.

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