The PGA selected two wartime Ryder Cup teams!

The PGA selected two wartime Ryder Cup teams!

Even with the Ryder Cup matches canceled in 1939 due to war in Europe, the PGA of America selected a team. Walter Hagen was the non-playing captain. Now the PGA had a team with nothing to do. Ideas were presented. One was to host a team of professionals from Argentina. With the threat of a world war, the United States was doing everything possible to maintain friendly alliances in South America.

Gene Sarazen, who had been left off the Ryder Cup team for the first time since the inception of the matches in 1927, voiced his displeasure with the makeup of the team. He said it was not about him, but he could field a better team. He went on to announce his team which had three players; Tommy Armour, Harry Cooper and Jimmy Thomson, who had not been born in the United States and not eligible for a Ryder Cup team.

Nothing materialized that year but in 1940 Oakland Hills Country Club, near Detroit, came up with a proposal. They would host a match for charity between Hagen’s Ryder Cup team and Sarazen’s Challengers. Hagen had been the professional at Oakland Hills in 1919 and Detroit was his adopted home town. Sarazen said that they should play for the Cup itself, which the US was holding, having won in England two years before. Hagen said that he was the captain of the Ryder Cup team and he would make the rules.

When the match was played on July 16-17, Sarazen was there with his three players who were not citizens. All ten members of the Ryder Cup team were there. The players on both teams were reimbursed for their travel expenses. The format was 4 foursomes (alternate shots) the first day and 8 singles the second day, with all matches 36 holes. Hagen and Sarazen had a side bet of $1,000, with the money going to the Red Cross. The first day Sarazen sat himself out as Hagen’s team won three matches. Ben Hogan and Jimmy Demaret defeated Shawnee CC’s Sam Snead and Ralph Guldahl 1-up for the Challengers’ only point. On day two the points were divided even (4-4), even though Sarazen lost to Hershey CC’s Henry Picard 8&7. That made it a 7 to 5 victory for the Cup team. $18,500 was raised for the Red Cross.

With the city of Detroit behind the challenge match, a second one was played at the Detroit Golf Club in August 1941. Bobby Jones, who was no longer an amateur, was the Challengers playing captain. Jones had made a golf instruction film, written books on golf and had a product line of Spalding Robert T. Jones Golf Clubs on the market. When Jones retired from competitive golf in 1930 the PGA had made him an honorary member. All Cup team members were on hand. Sarazen was on Jones’s team. All matches were 36 holes. The first day Nelson and Jug McSpaden beat Jones and Sarazen 8&6 as Hagen’s Cuppers led 3 to 2. The Haig declared victory, but the second day was a different story. Jones came back from being four down to Picard after nine holes to win 2&1. Hogan beat Nelson 2-down and the other Challengers won four and tied one of the matches. The final count was 8-1/2 for the Challengers against 6-1/2 for the Cup Team. (Hogan was now the professional at Hershey CC, as Picard had bought a farm in Oklahoma). $18,221 was raised for the Red Cross.

A third challenge match was back at Oakland Hills in August 1942. In late 1941 the PGA had selected another wartime Ryder Cup team. Sarazen was back on the team along with newcomers Hogan and Demaret. Harold “Jug” McSpaden, who was now the professional at the Philadelphia CC, was on the team again. For the first time since the first match in 1927, Hagen was not the captain. The captain was Craig Wood. Hagen was now the captain of the Challengers. Hagen invited Jones to play on his team, but Jones was in the Army and could not arrange leave. Snead was in the Navy so Ed Dudley, who was a veteran of three Ryder Cup teams and president of the PGA, subbed for Snead. The Cup team won all five foursome matches and split the second day singles for a 10-5 victory. $25,000 was raised for the Red Cross.

Plum Hollow Country Club in Detroit hosted a fourth challenge match in August 1943. Wood captained the Cup team and Hagen captained the Challengers. Hogan, Snead and Horton Smith were in the service and unavailable. For local interest two Detroit professionals filled in. The Cup team won 8-1/2 to 3-1/2.

With many of the leading professionals now in the service, a 1944 challenge came down to a winner-take-all match between Craig Wood and Sam Byrd for $2,500 in War Bonds. The match was played at Plum Hollow, where Byrd, who had been an assistant at Philadelphia CC and Merion GC, was now the head professional. Byrd routed Wood by eight strokes in the 36-hole match. 

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