Instead of defending his Philadelphia PGA title, Gene Kunes won the 1936 Canadian Open!

“DID YOU KNOW”
Instead of defending his Philadelphia PGA title, Gene Kunes won the 1936 Canadian Open!

Born in Erie, Pennsylvania in 1909, Gene Kunes arrived in Philadelphia in 1934 as an assistant to Ed Dudley at the Philadelphia Country Club. Kunes had assisted Dudley at Augusta National Golf Club that winter and in April he followed him north to his summer position. Kunes arrived in Philadelphia as a two time winner of the Connecticut PGA Championship. When Jeffersonville Golf Club professional Frank Wood died suddenly in May, Kunes became the professional at Jeffersonville.

That summer Kunes won the Philadelphia PGA Championship, defeating his assistant Bud Lewis in the final. When it came time to defend his Section title in 1935, Kunes had a dilemma. The tournament was the same time as the Canadian Open. He had made the semifinals of the PGA Championship the summer before and had recently tied for 21st in the 1935 US Open. Also, his old employer Ed Dudley was entered in the Canadian Open, so Kunes decided to give it a try.

At Montreal Kunes was on his game, outplaying a strong field which included Walter Hagen, Paul Runyan and Horton Smith. Kunes won by two strokes as he put together rounds of 70-68-74-68 for an even par 280. Vic Ghezzi finished second at 282. Tony Manero and Dudley tied for third with 285 totals.  

In the fall of 1935 Kunes had his gall bladder removed and was not able to defend his Canadian Open title the next summer. That operation was the first of what would be many stomach operations. Due to problems with his health he resigned from Jeffersonville in late 1936, heading south for six months of rest and no golf.

By the summer of 1937 Kunes was back playing in tournaments. Exempt off having been in the top 30 at the 1940 US Open, Kunes, now the professional at Holmesburg GC, was at Ft. Worth, Texas for the 1941 US Open. With the usual 36-hole Saturday windup at that time, he tied for 20th, which qualified him for the 1942 US Open, and flew home to Philadelphia.  

On Monday he teed off at Merion GC in the one-day 36-hole Pennsylvania Open. At the end of the day he and Terl Johnson were tied for the title with 150 totals. On Tuesday morning there was an 18-hole playoff which ended in a tie. Kunes and Johnson were back on the course that afternoon for another 18-hole playoff, which Kunes won. Having played 72 holes in the Texas heat and 72 holes at Merion over a six day period, it appeared that Kunes was back in good health, but it was not to be.

In December 1942 he was in the hospital for an operation on his liver. While he was there, his appendix and spleen were removed. In June 1943, nearly 300 golfers turned out to benefit Kunes with a day of golf at Llanerch CC. After several months in a hospital he was convalescing at the Seaview Hotel & GC., but not in condition to make the trip from the Jersey shore to Llanerch.

In August 1945 there was a seventh operation, this one on his liver again, along with 19 blood transfusions. With all that he was back playing tournament golf by June of 1946. In 1947, as the professional at the Englewood Golf Club in New Jersey, he won the New Jersey Open, New Jersey PGA, Philadelphia Open and Massachusetts Open, all in that one year. If not for poor health that haunted him for years, Kunes might have been someone the world of golf remembers.

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