History of Golf - Part Six Golf Since 1900

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Americans were taking rapidly to the game of golf as the 20th century began, taught ever so enthusiastically by Scots who crossed the Atlantic for the sole purpose of instructing their Yankee cousins. Many times the knowledge of the Scot regarding golf wasnt particularly savvy, but he did know more than the fellow (or madam) he was teaching.
 
And for a while, the British were the ones who did all the winning in America. The Great Triumvirate ' Harry Vardon, J.H. Taylor and James Braid ' toured repeatedly and were consistent winners. These three ruled golf from 1894 until 1914.
 
American golf took a giant step toward world-wide recognition with the victory in the U.S. Open by 20-year-old amateur Francis Ouimet. Vardon and Ted Ray were the overwhelming favorites, but Ouimet took them into an extra day for an 18-hole playoff and beat them both.
 
An American, John J. McDermott, had made history by becoming the first home-grown winner of the U.S. Open in 1911, then repeated in 1912. Prior to 1911, the first 16 Opens were won by British golfers.
 
Brash upstart Walter Hagen became the first great American professional. Not only did he play throughout the country, but also in Europe ' in Scotland, England and France. It was almost solely through his efforts that the professional golfer achieved gentleman status. Told by haughty club members in Europe that professionals must change in the pro shop and not the country club, Hagen insisted on pulling his limousine up to the clubs front door to dress. Perplexed club members hurriedly relented, establishing a new tradition for the professionals. Hagen won two U.S. Opens, four British Opens and four PGAs.
 
The PGA of America was founded in 1916 when a group of professionals met in New York to form the organization. Their first championship was held later that year with Jim Barnes defeating Jock Hutchinson, 1-up, in match play. The PGA continued as a match-play championship until 1958, when it became stroke play.
 
Two great golfers were born in 1902, Gene Sarazen in Harrison, N.Y., on Feb. 27 and Bobby Jones in Atlanta March 17. Jones founded the Masters tournament in Augusta, Ga., in 1934, and Sarazen hit there the most famous shot ever played ' a double eagle on the 15th hole during his win in 1935.
 
Jones was a brilliant player who retired at the age of 28 after winning all four legs of the then-grand slam in 1930. He was an amateur throughout his playing career, which lasted only from 1923 to 30.
 
What was even more amazing about Jones is that he was becoming educated as he was playing. He majored in English literature while earning a degree at Georgia Tech, though he also studied mathematics, physics, engineering, geography and chemistry while there. He then went to Harvard and got his law degree. All the while, he was the best golfer in the world for the seven years from age 2l to 28.
 
Actually, Jones began playing major championships when he entered the U.S. Amateur ' then considered a major because most of the best players were amateurs ' at age 14. He exploded onto the scene with a boom when he led the field in the first qualifying round. He wouldnt actually win the Amateur until 1924, a year after he won his first U.S. Open in 1923.
Jones would win 13 major championships, highlighted by his swan song quartet in 1930. In that year, he won the British Amateur (then a major) and the British Open, as well as the U.S. Amateur and U.S. Open. He then halted his tournament play and focused on buying the property upon which he would establish Augusta National. His tournament would become the Masters.
 
Because of his education and outside activities, Jones never could concentrate solely on golf. He averaged playing in championships only three months a year, and only played in seven tournaments outside of the majors between 23 and 30.
 
Three players were born in 1912 ' Byron Nelson, Sam Snead and Ben Hogan ' and each had a tremendous impact on golf in the 20th century. Nelson set an all-time record of 11 consecutive wins in 1945, a total of 18 victories that year. Snead set the all-time record of 81 wins and won the 1965 Greater Greensboro Open at the age of 52 years and 10 months ' another Tour record.
 
Hogan is regarded by some as the games best player. He won four U.S. Opens, two PGAs, two Masters and the only British Open he ever played ' setting a course record at Carnoustie though it was the only time he ever saw it. In 1953 he won three legs of the Grand Slam ' Masters, U.S. Open and British Open ' and couldnt return from Britain in time to play the fourth, the PGA.
 
Arnold Palmer began a cycle of great players born every 10 years when he was born in 1929, followed by Jack Nicklaus in 1940 and Tom Watson the latter part of 1949. Palmer had a tremendous influence on the popularity of the game, winning 60 times and boosting television coverage when it needed it most ' at the end of the 50s and start of the 60s. He, along with Nicklaus and Gary Player, became known as the Big Three of golf in the 60s and played numerous exhibitions together.
 
Nicklaus is the man generally recognized as the greatest ever to play the game. He won an astounding 70 times, including 18 professional majors, more than any other golfer. He won his final major at the age of 46 ' the 1986 Masters ' in an unbelievable career that stretched from 1962 to the Senior Tour age of 50 in 1990.
 
Watson won 34 times and dominated in the late 70s and early 80s. Player, a South African who is the most successful player on the world scene, won 21 times on the PGA Tour.
 
The stage was set for a new hero when Tiger Woods came upon the scene in 1996. He won eight times in 1999, nine times in 2000, and won the four major championships in succession in 2000-2001, starting with the U.S. Open in 2000. Should his career be as successful in his 30s and 40s as it has been in his 20s, he will assume the mantle of best player ever.