There was threat of a players strike at the 1939 PGA Championship!

There was threat of a players strike at the 1939 PGA Championship!

In the second week of July the 1939 PGA Championship was played at the Pomonok Country Club, which was in the Queens borough of New York on Long Island. The tournament was at Pomonok because it was just two miles from where the World’s Fair was being held that summer.

Two weeks before the championship former Llanerch Country Club professional Denny Shute, was informed by the PGA that he was not eligible for the tournament because he had been late paying his $25 dues. The deadline was May 20 and Shute’s check had arrived two days late. When news about Shute became known, some of his fellow tournament professionals began voicing threats not to play. Shute, who had won the PGA Championship in 1936 and 1937, appealed the ruling.

When the professionals arrived at Pomonok for the tournament, Shute was informed that his appeal had been denied. The PGA officers and District Vice Presidents, which made up an 11-man executive committee, had voted 6 to 5 against Shute playing in the tournament. As a Ryder Cup Team member and former PGA champion, he had been exempt from local qualifying.

When the other professionals entered in the tournament heard the results of the vote, 51 prominent tournament players signed a petition stating that they would not play unless Shute’s entry was accepted. A Pomonok member, Corky O’Keefe, who had put up $15,000 to sponsor the tournament, threatened a lawsuit against the PGA and Pomonok, stating there would not be a tournament unless Shute was playing.  More meetings of the PGA executive committee were held. Philadelphia CC professional Ed Dudley, who was the PGA Tour tournament chairman and a national vice president, was in favor of Shute playing. 

36-hole qualifying began with the issue unresolved. There were 120 competing for the 64-man match play ladder. Shute teed off in a pairing with Walter Hagen. He was not issued a score card. When Hagen learned that, he sent someone back to the clubhouse for a scorecard.

During the second day of qualifying, Tom Walsh secretary of the PGA, approached Shute after nine holes and offered him a check for $300 to withdraw. He said Shute could consider it an exhibition fee. Shute refused the offer and went on to post a 143 and qualify comfortably.

The committee had voted again and this time the vote was 8 to 3 against Shute. George Jacobus, president of the PGA, and Walsh emerged from the clubhouse. Walsh announced that Shute was out of the tournament, but Jacobus said that he was president and was overruling the committee. Shute was in.

Match play began with Shute losing in the third round. The final was a neighborhood battle. Hershey Country Club professional Henry Picard defeated Reading Country Club professional Byron Nelson in 37 holes. The purse was $10,600 with a first prize of $1,100. The players were reimbursed for their travel expenses which used up the remainder of O’Keefe’s $15,000.

The final 4 spots on the 1931 Ryder Cup Team were decided by a 72-hole playoff!

The final 4 spots on the 1931 Ryder Cup Team were decided by a 72-hole playoff!

The PGA of America held its annual meeting in Chicago in November 1930. One topic of discussion was the Ryder Cup eligibility. Tommy Armour, who had been born in Scotland and was now a resident of the United States, had won the PGA Championship that year. There were PGA members who thought that Armour should be on the US Ryder Cup Team. After much discussion the delegates passed a by-law stating that all members of the Ryder Cup Team had to be born in the United States, which meant no Armour. Up to that time it was only an unwritten rule that the Team members had to be native born.

PGA President Charles B. Hall announced the PGA of America’s selections for the 1931 Ryder Cup Team, which was being held at Scioto Country Club in Columbus, Ohio. Walter Hagen was the playing captain for a third time. Five other professionals; Gene Sarazen, Johnny Farrell, Horton Smith, Al Espinosa and Leo Diegel who would be the professional at Philmont CC three years later, were on the team. Having lost the Cup in 1929 Hagen was determined to take it back. At the 1929 Ryder Cup, British captain John Henry Taylor had his team out running on the beach at sunup each day. Hagen named 13 professionals that he was inviting to Scioto for qualifying, to determine the last five places on the team.

On Monday June 22, the contingency of professionals trying to qualify for the last four Ryder Cup spots were at Scioto. One of those professionals was Pennsylvania’s Ed Dudley, the professional at the Concord Country Club. Dudley, the winner of the Los Angeles Open in January, had won the Western Open on Sunday in Dayton beating runner-up Walter Hagen, by four strokes. Now on Monday, he had to battle it out for a berth on the Ryder Cup Team.

On Monday and Tuesday, the hopeful professionals played 36 holes each day. At the conclusion Billy Burke led with a one over par 289. (Bobby Jones had won the 1926 US Open at Scioto with a 293) Wiffy Cox (294) was next and Craig Wood (299) picked up the third place. Denny Shute, who would be the professional at Llanerch Country Club two years later, tied Frank Walsh and Henry Cuici for the fourth and last spot with 302 totals. On Wednesday they played an 18-hole playoff which Shute won with a 72. Dudley, who had been on the team the previous year, missed the playoff by one stroke with a 303 total.

On Thursday the Ryder Cup began. The matches, which were all scheduled for 36 holes, began with 4 foursomes the first day and 8 singles the second day. With 90 holes under his belt in three days, Shute was in Thursday’s starting lineup along with two of the other qualifiers, Burke and Cox. Hagen paired himself with Shute. They won their foursomes match 10 & 9. The next day Shute won his singles match 8 & 6. With temperatures topping out in the mid 90s each day the Brits were out of their element. The US Team won by 9 points to 3.

The US Open was one week later in Toledo at the Inverness Club.

The 1959 Ryder Cup was awarded to Atlantic City CC, but it was moved to California!

The 1959 Ryder Cup was awarded to Atlantic City CC, but it was moved to California!

The Ryder Cup, which was first contested in 1927, was interrupted by World War II, and postponed twice. The 2001 Ryder Cup was postponed to 2002 due to the 9/11 attack and now in 2020, due to COVID-19, it has been rescheduled for 2021.

With war in Europe and then World War II there were no matches from 1939 to 1946. That could have been the last of the Ryder Cup if not for Robert A. Hudson, a fruit grower and canner from Portland, Oregon. Hudson had been sponsoring the $16,000 Portland Open and had spent $25,000 as the sponsor of the 1946 PGA Championship at the Portland Golf Club. He decided to revive the Ryder Cup. His club would be the host and he would provide whatever finances were needed for a 1947 match.  

Hudson paid the travel expenses for the British Team on the Queen Mary. He met them in New York upon their arrival. They were wined and dined at the Waldorf Astoria, before boarding a train with Hudson to travel on the three-day cross-country trip to Portland. Hudson paid for the British Team’s housing, meals and everything else. To help the British professionals make up for lost income while away from home, the PGA of America arranged paid exhibitions. The American Team swept the foursomes and lost only one of the eight singles, posting an 11-1 victory. Hudson spent $70,000 of his own money hosting that Ryder Cup. He is often referred to as the “The Savior of Ryder Cup”.

In 1949 the US Team was in Ganton, England for the Ryder Cup with its non-playing captain Ben Hogan, who was recovering from his near fatal auto accident.  Hudson wanted to be sure the US Team was properly fed. He shipped a half ton of meat to England with the Team; 600 steaks, 6 hams, 12 sides of beef and 4 boxes of bacon. The British newspapers ran articles about their food being not good enough for the Americans. Hogan said he read more about food in the sports pages than golf. In the end, the US Team shared their food with the British Team.

With the 1951 Ryder Cup back in the states, Hudson was a co-sponsor of the match, which was held at Pinehurst. Four years later he sponsored the Ryder Cup at the Thunderbird Golf & Country Club in Palm Springs, California, where he had a winter home. Just as before, Hudson paid the expenses; travel, lodging and meals, for the British Team.

In May of 1957 the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the officials of the Atlantic City Country Club had been practically assured that the 1959 Ryder Cup would be played at their club. In November, at the PGA’s national meeting it was announced that Atlantic City CC would be hosting the Ryder Cup in 1959. The club and its pro-owner Leo Fraser would be sponsoring the match. In December, an article in the Inquirer mentioned that new championship tees were being built at Atlantic City CC for the Ryder Cup, adding 400 yards to the course. As late as August of 1958, news articles were still mentioning the upcoming Ryder Cup at Atlantic City.

Later in 1958 Robert Hudson decided that he would like to host the Ryder Cup at another one of his Palm Springs clubs, the newly opened Eldorado Country Club. For all that Hudson had done for the PGA, its officials decided to grant his wish. Hudson was also a member of the PGA’s advisory committee. Leo Fraser agreed to release the PGA from its commitment. Again Hudson paid all expenses for the British Team, including travel from England.

As a favor to Fraser, the British Team would practice at Atlantic City CC before heading to California. The British Team had also practiced at ACC in 1955. They practiced for two days and then participated in a pro-am that was held in a driving rainstorm. Everyone played the 18 holes and then were treated to a five-course dinner. From there the British Team traveled to the White House to visit President Eisenhower, who would later become an honorary member at Eldorado.  From Washington it was on to Augusta National and California. Having lost the Cup in 1957, the US Team won by a margin of 8-1/2 to 3-1/2 points.  

Due to minority golfer issues, the PGA Championship was and was not at Aronimink GC!

Due to minority golfer issues, the PGA Championship was and was not at Aronimink GC!

In 1947 Charlie Sifford was in Detroit playing in the Negro National Championship. Heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis and entertainer Billy Eckstine were playing in the amateur division. Louis sold Eckstine on hiring Sifford as his private golf pro and chauffeur. Sifford had been living in Philadelphia and honing his game at Cobbs Creek GC, but now he was on the road with Eckstine. They would spend winter months in California where it was warm and had golf courses open to them.

Sifford played on what was called the United Golfers Association tour, which was for Black golfers. The UGA tour offered two-day weekend events in various locations with meager purses, but it was an opportunity to compete. Beginning in 1932 the UGA held a national championship, which Sifford would later win six times.

Golf was the last professional sport in the United States with a national schedule to become integrated. The PGA of America had a by-law stating that only Caucasians could be PGA members. With the threat of lawsuits in the early 1950s, the PGA announced that Black golfers could play PGA Tour events if invited. Now many of the tour events, especially in the south, became invitation tournaments, in order to not invite the Black golfers.

Sifford began entering the Monday qualifying events for tour tournaments that were open to Black golfers. Most of those were in the northern states.

By the late 1950s, with the growth of golf and more golfers wanting to play on the PGA Tour, the PGA devised an “Approved Players Card”, for non PGA members. Those were attained through the local PGA Sections. Only non exempt PGA professionals and those with Players Cards could enter the Monday qualifying rounds for PGA Tour events.

In 1960 on his third attempt and now with the help of an attorney, Sifford’s application for an “Approved Players Card” was accepted by the PGA, after an eight week wait. Even with that he could still only play in the Monday qualifying rounds for tournaments that were open and not invitations. With such a limited schedule, winning enough money to be among the top sixty money winners and gain full exemption for the next year was difficult.

In July 1960 the PGA announced that its 1962 championship had been awarded to Los Angeles’s Brentwood Country Club. One month earlier in June of 1960 Sifford had qualified for and played in the US Open, but he was most likely not going to be playing in a PGA Championship. To play in the tournament as a non PGA member he would have to be in the top 25 money winners on the PGA Tour the previous year.

When California attorney general Stanley Mosk was informed of that, he announced that there would not be a PGA Championship in California unless Sifford was in the field. The PGA replied that because Sifford was not a PGA member or an exempt player, he was not eligible for entry. Then the Los Angeles Junior Chamber of Commerce, which was the sponsor of the tournament, decided they did not want to be involved in a segregation issue and asked out of its contract with the PGA. Instead they would run an L.A. Open in 1962, rather than skipping a year as planned.

The PGA came back with a statement that it had a valid contract with the Chamber, but at the same time went looking for a new venue. On the other side of the country near Philadelphia, the PGA found a club with a championship course that could host the tournament on short notice, the Aronimink Golf Club. Just a few years before the PGA had held a highly successful PGA Championship at Llanerch Country Club in 1958, which was not far from Aronimink, so there was some comfort in a shift to Philadelphia.

In the third week of May, 1961 the Philadelphia Inquirer ran an article stating that the 1962 PGA Championship might be coming to Philadelphia. PGA Tournament Director J. Edwin Carter was on his way to check out the course at Aronimink. At the annual meeting of the PGA in the fall of 1961, the Caucasian Only clause was removed from the by-laws. The tournament was played at Aronimink in June 1962 without Black golfers. The winner, Gary Player, was the first non PGA member to win the tournament and the first foreign born winner not domiciled in the United States.

In October 1988 the PGA announced that its 1993 PGA Championship would be held at Aronimink GC. In 1990 the PGA Championship was played at the Shoal Creek Country Club in Alabama. Leading up to the tournament it was learned by the press that Shoal Creek did not have any minority members and did not plan to. Now the press was on the case. With the 1993 championship on the horizon the press inquired as to whether Aronimink had minority members. When it was learned that they did not, there were more articles in the newspapers.

In early November 1990, officials of Aronimink GC informed the PGA that the club was withdrawing from its contract to host the 1993 PGA Championship. They said that with its current seven year waiting list for full golf privileges, the club was not going to be able to achieve minority representation in its membership prior to 1993.

If Joe Lewis had not introduced Charlie Sifford to Billy Eckstine, Aronimink GC may not have hosted the PGA Championship in 1962. Aronimink is now scheduled to host the PGA Championship in 2026. 

Aronimink GC’s pro in 1899 was the USA’s first African American golf professional!

Aronimink GC’s pro in 1899 was the USA’s first African American golf professional!

John Matthew Shippen, Jr. was born in Washington D.C. on December 2, 1879. His father John Sr., was born into slavery in Virginia. When the Civil War ended he was a free man. He moved to D.C. and attended Howard University. Upon graduation he became an Episcopalian minister. In 1888 the church sent John Sr., his African American wife and children to the far end of Long Island to bring Christianity to the Shinnecock Indians.

The Shinnecock Hills Golf Club opened in 1891 and the golfers needed caddies. John and his brother Cyrus along with some of the Indian boys became caddies and some learned to play the game.

By 1896, with the US Open scheduled for Shinnecock Hills, 16 year old John Shippen was being proclaimed in newspapers around the USA. It was written that he was a long straight driver and could play all the shots. He was the holder of the Shinnecock Hills course record, having lowered the number set by then Shinnecock professional Willie Dunn, by six strokes. Dunn had given Shippen pointers on how to play the game.

When the 1896 US Open rolled around in July, Shippen was paired with Charles Blair MacDonald, 1895 US Amateur champion. Oscar Bunn, one of the Shinnecock Indian caddies was also entered. Some of the Shinnecock members paid their entry fees. When the British born professionals learned there was a black golfer entered they produced a signed petition, refusing to play. USGA President Theodore Havemeyer stated that there would be a tournament even if only Shippen and Bunn were in the field. The protesting players decided to play.

The tournament, one day of 36 holes, was won by James Foulis, a Scotland-born professional from Chicago with rounds of 78 and 74 for 152. Despite poor putting, Shippen posted a 78 in his morning round. In the afternoon he took 11 strokes on the 13th hole when his tee shot ended up on a sandy road, where it took several strokes for him to escape. He finished with an 81 for 159 and a tie for sixth and last money. Some years later he said the hole was an easy par four, but his drive was a little too far to the right.

After working as the professional at Maidstone Golf Club, Shippen became the professional at Aronimink Golf Club in 1899, for that one year. His brother Cyrus was his assistant. At times his employers, to justify his employment, would say that he was not a black man but of English/Indian decent. It was said and written that Shippen was related to John Raife on his father’s side and Pocahontas on his mother’s side, which was far from realty. Shippen himself had registered for that 1896 US Open as a Shinnecock Indian, to avoid problems. In later years in an interview with his daughter, she said her father was 100 percent black.   

As the professional at Aronimink, Shippen finished third in a driving contest at the 1899 US Open. He played in six US Opens, tying for 5th in 1902 along with his tie for 6th in 1896.  

For many years Shippen was the professional and course supervisor at the Shady Rest Golf & Country Club in Scotch Plains, New Jersey. It was later Scotch Hills Country Club. In 1991 the John Shippen Foundation was created to offer golf instruction and competition for young minority golfers.  

A Philadelphia PGA pro was the only person to play in a World Series and a Masters!

A Philadelphia PGA pro was the only person to play in a World Series and a Masters!

Samuel Dewey “Sam” Byrd was born October 15, 1907 in Bremen, GA and grew up in Birmingham, AL. As a young boy he learned to play golf as a caddy. In high school he was a star on the basketball and baseball teams.

In 1926, at age 18, he began a professional baseball career in Class D. He batted .348 and was promoted to Class B Knoxville, where he hit .331 in 1927. The New York Yankees purchased his contract and sent him to Albany, NY, which was in the Class A Eastern League. At Albany he batted .371 and was invited to the Yankees spring training in 1929, where he made the team.

At that time the Yankees had three great outfielders; Babe Ruth, Bob Meusel and Earle Combs. Byrd was relegated to pinch hitting, pinch running and playing in the late innings as a defensive replacement along with filling in for Ruth when he was not feeling well from too much beer or too many hot dogs. Byrd was a great defensive outfielder, with a rifle arm and legs to match.

In late 1934 the Yankees released the aging Ruth. They were bringing Joe DiMaggio up from the Pacific Coast League. After six seasons with the Yankees, Byrd was no longer needed. He was sold to the Cincinnati Reds, where he played two years before being traded to the St. Louis Cardinals. That is when he decided to leave baseball and concentrate on golf. His batting average for his eight major league seasons was .274. Baseball historians later wrote that Byrd’s baseball career was wasted sitting on the Yankees bench during his prime years.

Byrd had turned pro in 1933, playing in a few professional tournaments during the winter months, but now he was all in. Philadelphia Country Club professional Ed Dudley hired Byrd as an assistant. In 1939 he won the Philadelphia Open. The next year he moved over to Merion Golf Club as an assistant. During his four years at Merion, Byrd won the 1942 Pennsylvania Open and won twice on the PGA Tour; 1942 Greensboro Open and 1943 Chicago Victory Open.

In 1940 Byrd was invited to play in the Masters Tournament. At that time the tournament was strictly an invitational tournament. A player was there solely at the invitation of Bobby Jones. It may have helped that Dudley, his boss at Philadelphia CC, was also the professional at Augusta National GC as well. The next year Byrd finished third in the Masters, and a year later he finished fourth. In 1945 as the professional at the Plum Hollow CC in Detroit, Byrd was runner-up to Byron Nelson in the PGA Championship.

In spite of getting a late start in professional golf, and the cancellation of tournaments during World War II Byrd played in 5 Masters, 9 US Opens and 6 PGA Championships. During his career he won eleven professional tournaments of note.

Late in one of the 1932 World Series games Byrd played one inning. Today he is still the only person to play in both a World Series and a Masters Tournament.

82 holes were needed to determine a winner at the two-day 1936 Wildwood Open!

82 holes were needed to determine a winner at the two-day 1936 Wildwood Open!

In 1936 the PGA Tour was still finding its way and wasn’t organized like it is today. The third Masters Tournament, that was not yet called the Masters, had ended on Sunday April 5th. The tournament with a purse of $5,000 was still listed as the Augusta National Open on the PGA schedule.

After Augusta the professionals began working their way north. The next week they were in Richmond for the three-day, 72-hole, $3,000 Richmond Open. The tournament ended with 36 holes on Sunday, which Shawnee Country Club’s playing professional Jimmy Thomson won with a first prize of $700.

From there some of the professionals drove to Wildwood, NJ for the two-day 72-hole Wildwood Open which would begin the next day. Due to the tight schedule and a purse of only $1,500 the field wasn’t filled with big names. Many of the pros had returned to their club jobs after having been out on the tour for most of the winter. Sam Parks, the holder of the U.S. Open title, and international tournament player Joe Kirkwood, Sr. were in the field.

The Wildwood Golf & Country Club was starting the golf season off with a bang. A three-day amateur tournament had ended on Sunday, and the two-day Wildwood Open was beginning the next day. On Sunday evening the members opened pari-mutuel betting on the Open tournament and posted odds.

Missouri professional Leonard Dodson, who had tied for tenth at Richmond, arrived in time to see he was posted at 50 to 1. He promptly bet $100 on himself. Dodson may have been an unknown in Wildwood, but he had won the St. Petersburg Open in February that year and was in 20th place on the 1936 money list, leaving Richmond.

On Monday Ray Mangrum (brother of Lloyd) jumped out to a four-stroke lead with what Fred Byrod of the Philadelphia Inquirer called “a sparkling 71-72—143 over a wind-whipped course”. Philadelphia Country Club’s defending champion George Smith and Atlantic City’s Clarence Hackney were in second place.

Tuesday, opening day for major league baseball, was another cool windy day. The Phillies were hosting the Boston Bees at the Baker Bowl before 10,000 fans. Mangrum posted a 73 in his morning round to take a five stroke lead into the final round. In the afternoon he took 78 strokes, but still appeared to be the winner. He retired to the bar, while waiting for the rest of the field to complete their rounds. Later in the afternoon Dodson brought in a 72 to tie Mangrum at 294. First prize was $500 and second was $225. Woodcrest CC professional Bruce Coltart (296) finished third, and Smith (298) was fourth. Kirkwood (299) and Hackney (299) tied for fifth.  

The two pros were all set to call it a tie, split the top two prizes and move on out of town, but the tournament chairman, Gus Heil, stated that there had to be a tournament champion and no unsettled tie. Heil suggested a nine-hole playoff. Mangrum protested saying “I can’t go out now I’ve had a few drinks to warm me up.” “How many did you have” asked Dodson who was said to not drink. “About four” said Ray. “Set up four for me,” said Dodson. He tossed them down one after another. “Now we’re even” Dodson said. “Let’s go.”

Out they went into a cold twilight wind. The golf was not of championship caliber and when Mangrum three-putted the ninth green Heil still didn’t have a winner. They had ended up tied again with 42 strokes apiece. They then agreed to a sudden-death playoff. On the tenth hole, Mangrum made a par four, and when Dodson missed a five-foot putt for his par Mangrum was the winner. Mangrum and Dodson completed 46 holes that day and it was only April 14th. The touring pros must have played much more quickly in the 1930s.

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. 

A Philadelphia PGA professional would have been host to the cancelled 1939 Ryder Cup!

A Philadelphia PGA professional would have been host to the cancelled 1939 Ryder Cup!

On March 18, 1939 George Jacobus, president of the PGA of America, announced that the Ponte Vedra Golf Club had been chosen to host the Ryder Cup sometime that fall. The course, 22 miles south of Jacksonville, lay near the Atlantic Ocean. In trying to be a gracious host, Jacobus said the location might be to the liking of the British team, with windswept golf holes and weather that was not extremely hot. The PGA of America was the holder of the Cup having won at Sandwich in 1937. That was the first time either side had won on foreign soil.

Walter Hagen had been named team captain for the seventh time (now non-playing). Hagen did not seem enthusiastic about providing a friendly venue for the invading team. He said there might be more seagulls than spectators on hand for the matches. 

It was going to be the first time a major golf tournament would be held in Florida. Why in Florida and why at Ponte Vedra? The golf professional at Ponte Vedra was A.B. “Al” Nelson. Nelson had been a head professional at the Country Club of York, Yardley CC and then just across the Delaware River in New Jersey at Hopewell Valley CC. before becoming the professional at Ponte Vedra in 1936. He played in PGA Championships and US Opens along with being an officer in the Philadelphia PGA. Once he attended his first national PGA meeting in 1932, he seemed to attend them all. Thru all of this, Nelson knew nearly everyone in professional golf and sold the PGA on bringing the Ryder Cup to Ponte Vedra.

The PGA scheduled November 18 and 19 for the Ryder Cup and the British team was announced on August 23. On September 5, before the US team was finalized, British captain Henry Cotton wired Ed Dudley, the tournament chairman for the U.S. PGA Tour, that due to war in Europe the British PGA would not be sending a team to the states.

Even with the cancellation of the Ryder Cup, a ten-man U.S. team was selected and announced at the PGA’s national meeting on November 13. The selection committee was composed of Jacobus who was now the past president of the PGA, Dudley, Hagen, Leo Diegel and Olin Dutra.

Over the next four years the Detroit, Michigan golf community hosted four Ryder Cup challenge matches, with teams of professionals taking on the Cup team to raise money for the Red Cross and other wartime charities. Bobby Jones, who was no longer an amateur, and an honorary member of the PGA, led a team of challengers to victory as a playing captain in 1941.

In late 1941 a wartime Ryder Cup team was selected by the PGA of America. There were professionals on those two wartime teams like Harold McSpaden, Vic Ghezzi, and Jimmy Hines who never received credit for being Ryder Cup team members. They only played for charity.  

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.  

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