Once upon a time the USGA let the air out of the golf ball!

Once Upon a Time the USGA Let the Air Out of the Golf Ball! 

Ever since 1902 when Laurie Aucterlonie became the first to win a U.S. Open with four rounds in the 70s the USGA has been concerned with the distance a well struck golf ball can travel. Aucterlonie had won the tournament playing the new Haskel wound rubber golf ball which was much longer than the gutta percha ball. Until 1920 a golf ball could be any size and weight, but that year the USGA announced that the golf ball could be no less than 1.62 inches in diameter and not more than 1.62 ounces in weight.

In spite of the standardization of the ball the manufacturers continued to find ways to make a golf ball go farther. In 1924 the USGA invited some good players like the U.S. Amateur champion Max Marston to test various golf ball designs at Jekyll Island, Georgia. (Jekyll Island was also where secret meetings were held in 1910 that created the Federal Reserve System.)

It took seven years but the USGA was ready with mandatory changes in the golf ball for 1931. The new regulations called for a larger and lighter ball. The golf ball now had to be at least 1.68 inches in diameter and no more than 1.55 ounces.

3-Dudley, Ed 4 TTTEd Dudley, who was in his third year as the professional at the Concord Country Club must have liked the new ball. He had a great year, winning the Los Angeles Open and the Western Open along with having the lowest scoring average on the PGA Tour. The ladies liked it because of being lighter it sat up better on the turf which made it easier to play with fairway woods but most golfers didn’t like the ball. The lighter ball was difficult to control in the wind. Also at times the ball would not stay in place on the greens when it was windy. Some frustrated golfers referred to it as the “Balloon Ball”.

On September 15 of that same year the USGA pulled the plug on those ball specifications. New standards were put in place. The 1.68 inch size stayed but the ball could now weigh up to 1.62 ounces. The golf ball manufacturers are still required to go by those regulations today.

The origin of the trophy for the first Philadelphia PGA Championship!

The Origin of the Trophy for the First Philadelphia PGA Championship!

In June of 1922 the Evening Public Ledger newspaper donated a perpetual trophy for the newly formed Philadelphia PGA’s first Section Championship. Percy Sanderson who wrote golf for the newspaper under the byline of “Sandy McNiblick” and his boss Robert Maxwell, who was the newspaper’s sports editor were responsible for the gift of the trophy to the Section.

SandersonFourteen days after that first Philadelphia PGA Championship was played Sanderson and Maxwell were critically injured in an automobile accident west of Norristown near Betzwood. Early on a Sunday morning they had come upon a car stalled in the road. Maxwell was driving. Fearing a holdup he swerved around the car and ran head-on into a truck loaded with boy scouts heading back to Valley Forge Park from a dance. Three other passengers in the car were also injured. Maxwell had seven fractured ribs and a dislocated hip. Sanderson who was in the back seat with his wife and another lady was injured the worst with a fractured skull and concussion. Everyone suffered injuries of some sort. Sanderson’s wife was a duchess who he had married while in Europe during World War I. All five occupants of the car were taken to the Montgomery County Hospital in Norristown.

Within a few days Maxwell had contracted pneumonia and lost consciousness. He died on Friday June 30. He was 38 years old. Sanderson survived and eventually returned to work. Jim Barnes and three other golf professionals played an exhibition in October, 1922 to help Sanderson, an honorary member of the Philadelphia PGA, pay his hospital bills.

This is the same Robert “Tiny” Maxwell that the Maxwell Club was created for in 1937. Maxwell had been an All-American football player at the University of Chicago and Swarthmore College. As well as being a sports editor he was a leading college football official at the time of his death. Each year trophies are awarded by the Maxwell Club to the best football players and coaches from all levels of football. In 1974 Maxwell was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame.

Johnny McDermott gambled to double his prize!

Johnny McDermott gambled to double his prize!

Most people know that Philadelphia’s Johnny McDermott won the 1911 U.S. Open in a three-way playoff at the Chicago Golf Club. On Saturday, June 24, McDermott finished the 72 holes in a tie with Mike Brady and George Simpson for the title, with a total of 307.  Because of the “Blue Laws” the playoff was not held until Monday. It is well known that McDermott won the playoff, becoming the first American born golfer to win the U.S. Open, and also the youngest, but here is the rest of the story.

1911 Colonel golf ball-Aug (AmG)Before the playoff began, a representative from the St. Mungo Mfg. Co. told the three players that the company would match the $300 first place prize if the winner was playing one of their Colonel golf balls.  McDermott agreed to change from the Rawlings Black Circle ball to a Colonel ball.  On the first hole McDermott’s first two tee shots were out-of-bounds. With his third tee shot he made a birdie four for a score of six. The out-of-bounds penalty at that time was loss of distance only.  McDermott also made a bogey on the third hole, but when he holed a short putt for a birdie four on the last hole, he was the United States Open champion and $600 to the better.

The state of PA erected a historical marker for 2-time US Open winner Johnny McDermott!

The state of PA erected a historical marker for Johnny McDermott, a two time US Open winner!

On Thursday October 9, 2014 the state of Pennsylvania erected a historical marker in memory of John J. “Johnny” McDermott. The marker was placed at 1201 South 51st Street, in front of the Kingsessing Library, the neighborhood where McDermott grew up. McDermott is the first golfer in Pennsylvania to be remembered with a historical marker.

2014 Oct 9-McDermott Marker TTTWhen Johnny McDermott won the U.S. Open at the Chicago Golf Club in 1911 he was the first American born golfer to win our Open and also at age 19 the youngest; a distinction he still holds today.  In 1912 he defended his title at the Country Club of Buffalo by winning the tournament again. Having lost the 1910 U.S. Open in a playoff, McDermott had come within one stroke of winning the tournament three straight years. Only five others have won two consecutive U.S. Opens.

McDermott was born on August 12, 1889 and grew up on Florence Avenue in West Philadelphia. He learned to play golf as a caddy at the Aronimink Golf Club, which was then located at 52nd Street and Chester Avenue. Along with winning two U.S. Opens, McDermott also won the Western Open, Shawnee Open and three Philadelphia Opens. He accomplished all of that in four years.

In October of 1914 McDermott suffered a mental breakdown blacking out and collapsing in the golf shop at the Atlantic City Country Club where he was the head professional.  He was taken to Philadelphia and put in the care of his parents. At the age of 25 his golf career was over. He spent the rest of his life in the Norristown State Hospital for the Mentally Insane. He died on August 1, 1971, just a few weeks after watching Lee Trevino and Jack Nicklaus play off for the U.S. Open title at Merion Golf Club.

It may not be possible to be over golfed!

It May Not Be Possible To Be Over Golfed!

On May 25, 1921 an American team of 12 golf professionals left New York on the Aquitania and sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to oppose a team of golf professionals from Great Britain. The match was played at the Gleneagles Hotel. There were other tournaments and exhibitions for the professionals to play in but the main purpose of the trip was to bring the British Open’s Claret Jug back to the United States.

On the 7th of June the American team was soundly defeated as they played foursome matches in the morning and singles in the afternoon.

The next day the 2,000 Guineas Tournament kicked off, which was also being played at Gleneagles. The contestants played 27 holes on June 8th and 27 holes on the 9th to qualify for sixteen places in a match play format.  Jock Hutchison qualified but lost to Abe Mitchell in the first round in spite of being four up after the first four holes.

Mehlhorn-1967 Aug TTTBill Mehlhorn, who was later the professional at Brandywine Country Club, was also a member of the team and rooming with Hutchison. After losing, Hutchison said to Mehlhorn who had failed to qualify “Let’s go over to St. Andrews and play a practice round for the British Open”. Off they went by cab to The Old Course. Even though Hutchison had grown up at St. Andrews and had played 18 holes of tournament golf that day they went 36 holes.

On June 14 and 15 Hutchison won a 36-hole tournament in London at the Kinghorn Fife Links. He put together a 74 and a 64 to win by three strokes.

On June 18 Hutchison and James Braid defeated J.H. Taylor and Joe Kirkwood in a featured match at St. Andrews.

1921 Some of Pre Ryder Cup Team TTTQualifying for the British Open was on June 21 and 22 with 18 holes each day. Even the defending champion (known as the holder in Great Britain) had to qualify. The British Open was played on June 23, 24 and 25 with 18 holes each of the first two days and 36 holes on the third day. Hutchison posted a score of 296 and was tied for the title with Roger Wethered, an amateur. The next day Hutchison won a 36-hole playoff by nine strokes with a 150 total. First prize was 75 British Pounds. Mehlhorn tied for 16th.

Hutchison and Mehlhorn did quite well considering that the two of them were sleeping in one bed. They were on a tight budget having been allotted $1,000 apiece by Golf Illustrated magazine, which sponsored the team’s round trip to Scotland.

From what this writer can find Hutchison played 17 competitive rounds plus at least 8 practice rounds in 20 days and won two important tournaments.

A match between American and British golf professionals was played in 1921!

A Match Between American and British Golf Professionals Was Played in 1921!

A forerunner to the Ryder Cup was played in June of 1921. A golf magazine called Golf Illustrated sponsored the match, which was played in Scotland. The magazine solicited money from its readers and the PGA professionals at the various clubs around the country assisted with the funding by collecting donations from their members. The golfers were asked to each donate $1. Enough money had to be raised to pay the expenses for the team members to make the overseas trip for the match and the British Open.

Twelve American golf professionals, which were chosen by the PGA of America, were selected to oppose twelve golf professionals from Great Britain.  The members of the American team had to be native born or naturalized citizens. The match was played in Scotland and hosted by the Gleneagles Golf Club. Six members of the American team had been born in either Scotland or England.

1921 Pre Ryder Cup Team (3)Five members of the American team had connections to clubs that would make up the Philadelphia PGA later that year. They were Charlie Hoffner, Wilfrid Reid, Clarence Hackney, Jim Barnes and Emmett French.

Hoffner was the professional at Philmont Country Club and would win the first Philadelphia PGA Championship one year later. Because Hoffner was born and spent his whole career here the old Philadelphia golfers used to refer to him as the “Ryder Cupper”, which was not exactly true but nice.

Reid was the professional at Wilmington Country Club and Hackney was the Atlantic City Country Club professional. Barnes had been the professional at Whitemarsh Valley Country Club from 1914 to 1917 and had won the first two PGA Championships. French had learned to play golf while working in the locker room at Merion Cricket Club (later Merion Golf Club) as a boy and then had been the professional at the Country Club of York form 1914 to 1920. French was the captain of the team. Another member of the team, Bill Mehlhorn, would later be the professional at the Brandywine Country Club in 1947 and 1948.

The other members of the U.S. team were Walter Hagen, Jock Hutchison, Fred McLeod, George McLean, Tom Kerrigan and J. Douglas Edgar.

As it turned out two American team members were not able to play. Barnes had a case of neuritis and J. Douglas Edgar was not allowed to play because he had not yet become a United States citizen. (Edgar was only selected at the last minute when one of the team could not make the trip. Maybe he was selected because he was in New York and on the way to the British Open. He was a worthy pick as he had won the 1919 Canadian Open by 16 strokes. ) Due to that it was ten against ten. They played five foresome (alternate strokes) matches in the morning and ten singles in the afternoon. The British team won 10-1/2 of the 15 points. The Philadelphia players won two and one-half of the points.

Jock Hutchison, a transplanted Scot from St. Andrews, won the British Open at St. Andrews’ Old Course two weeks later.

The Ryder Cup, which was first played in 1927, is back in Scotland and at Gleneagles this month. One difference is that the 1921 match took place on the Kings Course and this year’s match will be played on the relative new PGA Centenary Course.

What happened to Byron Nelson’s tee shot on the 70th hole at the Hershey Open?

What Happened to Byron Nelson’s Tee Shot on the 70th Hole at the Hershey Open?

1940 PGA Hershey & Nelson xIt was September 1939 and Reading Country Club professional Byron Nelson was playing in the 72-hole Hershey Open. Late in the final round Nelson was in contention needing to play the last three holes in one under par to tie Scranton Country Club’s professional Felix Serafin for the top prize. On the 70th hole Nelson’s tee shot was just off the fairway but could not be found. He returned to the tee and with a two stroke penalty for the lost ball made a double bogey. Serafin won with a total of 284. Ben Hogan and Jimmie Hines tied for second at 286 and Nelson finished fourth at 287. Serafin’s victory was worth $1,250. Hogan and Hines each won $650.

Here is the rest of the story. A man who had attended the tournament with a lady friend was on a train returning to New York. Sometime during the return trip the lady reached into her handbag and produced a golf ball. The man knew right away that it was Nelson’s golf ball. He sent a letter to Nelson explaining what had happened and enclosed a check for the difference between what he won and the amount that he would have won if he had finished alone in second place at 285.

The PGA built a practice green for President Eisenhower!

The PGA Built a Practice Green for President Eisenhower!

 In the late summer of 1955 Reading Country Club professional Henry Poe, who was president of the Philadelphia Section PGA, received a telephone call from Harry Moffitt, the president of the PGA of America. Harry Moffitt asked Poe if Reading was anywhere near Gettysburg. He told Poe that the PGA wanted to build a putting green for President Eisenhower at his Gettysburg farm. Poe then called on the green superintendents from the Country Club of York and the Lancaster Country Club to ask for their help. They assisted Poe in designing and building a 9,000 square foot green with an approach for chipping.

1955 Ike's green x (TGH)By the time the green was completed it was getting late in the year. Poe didn’t want the President to wait nine months for a seeded green to grow in but he didn’t have the proper sod. Poe then received a telephone call from Eugene Grace, the president of Bethlehem Steel. He said I understand that you are building a putting green for President Eisenhower. Grace said that Bethlehem Steel, which owned the Saucon Valley Country Club, would like to donate the sod. Their men would install it at no charge but they couldn’t get there until the next day. The only stipulation was that the PGA couldn’t tell anyone who had provided the sod. One of the major golf course equipment companies donated the mowers. The construction of the putting green turned out to be timely. President Eisenhower suffered a heart attack in September and spent seven weeks in the hospital. After leaving the hospital on November 11 he went to his Gettysburg farm to recuperate. His heart specialist reported that it was quite likely that the President would eventually get back to regular rounds of golf and hopefully he would be able to get in some practice on his new putting green before the end of the year. Three months later he announced that he was running for reelection and in November he was elected for a second term.

If you visit Gettysburg and the Eisenhower Farm, and it is a very worthwhile trip, you won’t see the green that the PGA built. When President Eisenhower died in 1969 Mrs. Eisenhower had the green removed because it reminded her of how bored she always was, watching Ike practice his chipping and putting for hour after hour on that green.

A small grassed over mound with a flagstick, which is a poor excuse for a golf green, was put there after Mrs. Eisenhower died in an attempt to show the farm as it was when the President of the United States lived there. Much to the PGA of America’s regret each tour guide tells the visitors to the farm that the green was a gift to President Eisenhower from the PGA of America.

Babe Didrikson played in the 1937 True Temper Open at Whitemarsh!

Babe Didrikson Played in the 1937 True Temper Open at Whitemarsh!

The American Fork & Hoe Company, manufacturer of the True Temper golf shaft, and the Philadelphia PGA co-sponsored the True Temper Open in June of 1937. Along with the professionals from the Philadelphia Section there was a strong contingent of male professionals from other regions entered.

Didrikson, BabeFor what was a first in American men’s professional golf two women were entered as well. The two women professionals were Mildred “Babe” Didrikson (later Zaharias) and Betty Hicks. Didrikson, the star of the 1932 Olympics, was not a polished golfer yet as she had only begun playing golf in 1935. The ladies were not a factor other than being in the starting field. Seven months later Didrikson played in the Los Angeles Open on the PGA Tour. Most records cite the 1938 L.A. Open as the first time a female competed against males in a PGA tournament, but it actually took place during 1937 in Philadelphia.

At that time there were very few tournaments for female golf professionals but with the help of Wilson Sporting Goods the LPGA was formed in 1947 with Didrikson, now Zaharias, a founding member.

Harry Cooper, a Texan playing out of Chicago and one of the greatest golfers to never win a major championship, shot a 30 on the last nine for an eight under par 280 and a two shot victory. First prize from the $4,000 purse was $900. The low professionals from the Philadelphia PGA were Jack Patroni and Jimmy Thomson. Patroni, the head professional at the Shawnee Country Club, tied for seventh at 288 and Thomson, the playing professional from Shawnee, finished eleventh with a total of 290.

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