The Local Knowlege

Throwback Thursday

Recalling the first Senior Open and its underrated champion

The great Argentinian Roberto De Vicenzo has a perennially sad tie-in with the 1968 Masters but more upbeat is to recall his competitive longevity, including his stellar 1967 British Open victory, which he won at age 44, the oldest Open Championship winner of the modern era.


When De Vicenzo won the first-ever U.S. Senior Open in 1980, he was already 57 years, 2 months and 15 days old, and 35 years later that ranks as the second oldest age of a Senior Open winner, behind Allen Doyle (58 years, 13 days in 2006).

The minimum age to enter the first Senior Open was 55, putting De Vicenzo at the prime age to contend. Played on the East Course at Winged Foot, the inaugural event finished on June 29, 1980, so this Sunday’s winner at Del Paso CC will be crowned almost 35 years to the day from Roberto’s four-shot victory over amateur legend Bill Campbell. De Vicenzo shot four under on the weekend to finish at one over par, 285, for the championship.

De Vicenzo’s post-victory comments showed a competitive mindset that works at any age. “To win, you have to fight. Men 57 years old can still do anything -- score a 1 or a 10,” he said. “But at the start we didn’t think anybody would break 290.”

Begun as a “result of the remarkable growth in senior golf, both at the professional and amateur levels,” the debut of the U.S. Senior Open coincided with the formation of the PGA Senior Tour, although notes from the 1969 USGA Annual Meeting show a Senior Open was discussed back then. It wasn’t until the 1979 meeting, however, that the Senior Open was a go.

With his Legends of Golf success on the new senior tour, De Vicenzo was demonstrating his staying power there, too. In 1984 at age 61 he won the Golf Digest Commemorative. In 1981, the USGA lowered the Senior Open age minimum to 50 to “make the championship more competitive” and to more closely align it with other senior-age events. That also made the favorite players more likely to be in their early 50s rather than late, making it unlikely the oldest winning ages will be challenged.


With the passing of Kel Nagle earlier this year at age 94, De Vicenzo is now the third-oldest surviving major champion. Doug Ford will be 93 on August 6; Jack Burke Jr. was 92 in January, and De Vicenzo turned 92 on April 14. The list continues with Peter Thomson (86 in August), Dow Finsterwald (86 on September 6), Arnold Palmer (86 on September 10), and Gene Littler (85 on July 21).


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Throwback Thursday

50 years later, Gary Player winning the career Grand Slam is still pretty incredible

In a sport that's centuries old, the history that matters can be measured in increments of time as prolonged as an entire era or as quick as a single shot. And then there's the landmark, milestone-type historical moment that for several months has been part of the mainstream golf conversation for two present stars and, this week, celebrates a 50th anniversary for Gary Player.

loop-gary-player-300.jpgThe career Grand Slam, achieved by five players, was a big discussion point two months ago when Rory McIlroy had his first chance to complete it at the Masters. His fourth-place finish means we'll have to wait to for it again next April. This week, the conversation moves to Phil Mickelson with his second chance at completing the career Grand Slam at the U.S. Open. If he does it, as you'll see, the components of his achievement compared with the quintet that preceded him will be significantly different, particularly his age.

Like baseball's Triple Crown achievers, which total 17 but just one in the last 47 years, golf's Grand Slam players were busy early and quiet lately. Four players completed the Slam from 1935 to 1966 but just one since then. Completing the Grand Slam can take several years to do, but the week that it happens, the focal point becomes the winning moment and celebration, the zenith of all the effort and buildup. The first to do it, Gene Sarazen, nailed it down after a 36-hole Masters playoff with Craig Wood on April 8, 1935, accompanied by rain and cold.

With the Masters being so new, Sarazen's Grand Slam took awhile to be appreciated. Player, however, was the third to accomplish the feat, and recognition of his sweep of the four majors was immediate. He, too, did it in a playoff, with Kel Nagle, at the U.S. Open. The playoff at Bellerive in St. Louis started at 1:15 p.m on June 21, 1965. (Player will officially mark the 50th anniversary Sunday at Chambers Bay.) The '65 Open was also the first National Open televised in color and first to go to four days of play rather than three with a double-round on Day 3.

Here is a Grand Slam primer, with dates when Grand Slam history was made, in the order they happened, with feat details. Interestingly, Sarazen, Ben Hogan and Player won their clinching major just once; Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods won their clinching major, the British Open, three times. Sarazen and Hogan did not win another major after their Slams were done.

  • April 8, 1935: Gene Sarazen (two months past age 33) wins the Masters, beating Craig Wood, 144-149, in a 36-hole playoff. Sarazen clinched the Slam on his first try (he did not play the 1934 Masters). Three years passed from his No. 3 major (1932 British Open). Grand Slam span: 13 years; 1922 first, 1935 fourth (the Masters did not start until 1934). Won Masters once. Seven total majors won at time of completion.

  • July 10, 1953: Ben Hogan (one month shy of 41) wins the British Open by four. Hogan clinched the Slam on his first try (he only played the British Open once). Two years passed from his No. 3 major (1951 Masters). Grand Slam span: seven years; 1946 first, 1953 fourth. Won British Open once. Nine total majors won at time of completion.

  • loop-garys-gang-throwback.jpgJune 21, 1965: Gary Player (five months shy of 30) wins the U.S. Open in an 18-hole playoff with Kel Nagle, 71-74. Player clinched on his third try. Three years passed from his No. 3 major (1962 PGA). Grand Slam span: six years; 1959 first, 1965 fourth. Won U.S. Open once. Four total majors won at time of completion.

  • July 9, 1966: Jack Nicklaus (age 26 and a half) wins the British Open by one. Nicklaus clinched on his third try and his fifth time to play the Open. Three years passed from his No. 3 major (1963 PGA). Grand Slam span: four years; 1962 first, 1966 fourth. Won British Open three times. Six total majors won at time of completion.

  • July 23, 2000: Tiger Woods (age 24 years 7 months) wins the British Open by eight. Woods clinched on his first try and his sixth time in the British Open. One month passed from his No. 3 major (2000 U.S. Open). Grand Slam span: three years; 1997 first, 2000 fourth. Won British Open three times. Four total majors won at time of completion.


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Throwback Thursday

If you want to win the U.S. Open, you probably don't want to win this week in Memphis

The predominant strategy heading into a major such as next week's U.S. Open is to have your game peaking for the best chance to win. But Golf Digest research shows that's all fine and good as long as the peaking doesn't include actually winning the week before the Open.

loop-throwback-usopen-ernie-els-300.jpgSince 1934, the year the PGA Tour first crowned a leading money-winner, the tour has played an event the week before the Open 65 times (this week marks the 16th time it's being played in Memphis). Since 1962, it has been a full-field, stroke-play tournament. Of the 65 winners of these tournaments, however, none has ever gone on to claim the U.S. Open title. The best Open finishes were runner-up results for Jimmy Demaret in 1948 and Lloyd Mangrum in 1950, third-place finishes for Arnold Palmer in 1963 and Tom Weiskopf in 1973 and a T-3 by Sergio Garcia in 2005.

As it turns out, winning the week prior to the National Open has done little to improve a golfers chances of even contending in the major. Eight of the 65 winners of the lead-in tournaments did not actually play in the Open and 17 winners missed the cut the next week, meaning 40 percent of the winners weren't even close to being a factor in the U.S. Open. Of the other 39 who played 72 holes at the Open, the average finish was 21st; only 16 players (25 percent) finished in the top 10.

Related: One of these 11 players will win at Chambers Bay

The fact no player has gone into the Open off a win and repeated likely speaks to the different (and more difficult) nature of the course the USGA is playing its championship on compared to the normal tour venue, where birdies aren't quite so scarce. In short, the Open likely ruins whatever good feelings you had about your game after winning.

In some cases, it was beneficial to come close to winning and then do it at the Open: In 1962, Jack Nicklaus was second at the Thunderbird Classic and won his first pro tournament at the Open. In 1971, Lee Trevino lost a playoff at the Kemper and won the Open the next week. In 1974, Hale Irwin was second at Philadelphia one week and won the Open the next. Corey Pavin lost a playoff at Kemper then won at Shinnecock Hills in 1995.

The toughest heartbreak trifecta was Palmer in 1963: He won a playoff June 16 at the Thunderbird Classic, lost a three-way playoff the next week in the Open, then won a playoff at the Cleveland Open the next.

Related: 15 things that only happen at the U.S. Open

There is actually more evidence that winning the U.S. Open can carry over to the following week, if the champion feels up to playing after a big win. Five U.S. Open winners have carried the momentum over into the following week's tour event: Ralph Guldahl (1938 U.S. Open) at the Western Open; Cary Middlecoff ('49 Open) a rare co-champion at the Motor City Open; Billy Casper (1966 U.S. Open) won the Western; Irwin (1990 Open) won the Buick Classic at Westchester; and Ernie Els experienced both perspectives. In 1994, he was second at the Buick Classic a week before winning at Oakmont in a playoff, but in 1997 he did an Irwin and won the Open and Buick back-to-back.

Of course, some players can win an event and take time off to win an Open: In 1953, Ben Hogan won Colonial on May 24 and the Open in his next start on June 13. Tiger Woods won the Memorial May 29 in 2000 then was off until winning at Pebble Beach June 18.

Interestingly, 13 players twice won the event leading into the Open, but neither time got the follow-up win at the Open: Mangrum, Palmer, Gene Littler, Casper, Weiskopf, J.C. Snead, Andy Bean, Ray Floyd, Seve Ballesteros, Vijay Singh, Lee Janzen, Justin Leonard and Garcia.


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Throwback Thursday

A milestone birthday has us revisiting this Hall of Famer's winning ways

The best 1970s/1980s counterpart to the 1960s Billy Casper is Hale Irwin. He didn't have the Big Three in his way as the late Casper did, but there were Nicklaus, Watson, Miller and Trevino, among many others, at various competitive stages of their hall-of-fame careers to battle. Like Casper, Irwin won three majors, all U.S. Opens, including the brutal 1974 Massacre at Winged Foot. The Missourian won two World Match Plays and an NCAA individual title in 1967.

Known for winning on tough golf courses, Irwin was a tenacious player, who, like Tom Kite in their 1970s-style glasses, had that studious look that accentuated a tactical game rather than the heroic he could play to. Irwin's substantial talents carried onto the Senior PGA Tour/Champions Tour, where his 45 victories rank No. 1 in career wins.

Wednesday marked Irwin's 70th birthday. As a major Golf Digest contributor during his prime, we salute the supreme player of the fairway wood and long iron, clubs that were part of the repertoire that had to be mastered in Irwin's era. Here are two condensed pieces of instruction from his 22 articles.


From September 1981: In the article "10 Ways to KO Your Opponents," Irwin threw a jab at the camera as he revealed how to become more competitive "for the golfer whose competitive fires burn low, but whose desire for improvement is high." 1. Approach each round with a fresh mind. 2. Make every shot the critical one and handle it as a separate challenge. 3. Consider difficult conditions an advantage since they eliminate quitters. 4. Keep moving forward; always go for the bigger winning margin. 5. Give yourself shotmaking alternatives; every situation presents you with more than one way to play the shot. 6. Practice your weakness. 7. Use your warm-up for "housecleaning," pay particular attention to tempo and fundamentals. 8. Keep your emotions on an even keel. 9. When shot and club indecision creep in, go back to Square 1 and start your decision-making again. 10. Above all, keep it fun.

From June 1980: In "How to Play Fairway Woods," Irwin had a great tip that still applies to today's modern fairway clubs used for long plays. In describing fairway woods in his game as falling "into a buffer zone between the power of the driver and the accuracy of the irons," he said to maintain your tempo with a "backplace." For smooth tempo, he wrote, "I find it helpful to forget about the backswing, as such, and think of it instead as a 'backplace.' In other words, just place the club at the top of the swing. That's where the real swing begins. In 'swinging' the club to the top there is a tendency to rush. By simply placing the club at the top, you eliminate a lot of apprehension that accompanies a long shot."


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Throwback Thursday

Arnie started cashing tour checks 60 years ago, and tour players are still cashing in today

Forget Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. A better example of connectedness, at least in the game of golf, is Arnold Palmer, who has millions of fans feeling part of the Arnie's Army, as well as thousands of tour pros, including Tiger Woods, who can trace their personal largesse to A.P.

loop-arnold-palmer-1955-canada-300.jpgIn fact, the big money machine that benefits the PGA Tour and its players can celebrate an anniversary this week. Sixty years ago on Friday marks the day Arnold Palmer started making money as a tour player. On May 29, 1955, after finishing his fourth round at the Fort Wayne Invitational, Palmer pocketed $145 for finishing T-25. It was the first official PGA Tour payday Palmer was allowed to keep, having served the long-since abandoned, six-month probation against earning money in tour events after turning pro. (Imagine a tour pro today being told he had to wait a half-year to take home money he earned.) 

Prior to Fort Wayne, Palmer had played 10 tour-run events in 1955, having turned pro at the end of 1954. He finished "out of the money" in five, missed the cut in one and had to pass on $1,144.86 he would have gone home with in the other four. (He was allowed to take home the $695.83 he earned for a T-10 finish at the Masters in April 1955 because it was not run by the tour.) Three months later in August, Palmer won the Canadian Open (shown) for his first tour title and a top prize of $2,400. 

The 145 simoleons from Fort Wayne were the start of Palmer's launch into making golf in general -- and the tour specifically -- financially lucrative. His star power helped the tour grow in popularity, which in turn increased prize money substantially. He was the first to make $100,000 in a season, first to $1 million in career earnings and the first to make advertising marketability an art form, something he still excels at today at age 85. The huge tour purses he helped grow came much after Palmer was capable of winning on tour, but the money he was able to keep at the Fort Wayne Invitational 60 years ago must have felt like a fortune at the time, which is what he turned it into.

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News & Tours

That time I made a complete ass of myself to Loren Roberts at Colonial

Do you remember that Kenny Perry won the 2003 Colonial? I didn't until I looked it up this morning. I was at that tournament, and in hindsight, I vaguely recall Perry winning in what was a resurgent season for the veteran. But 12 years later, I think we all more likely recall that year's Colonial for Annika Sorenstam's historic two rounds playing on the PGA Tour

The concept of a player other than the event winner hijacking a tournament storyline isn't uncommon in golf. We remember that tournament where Michelle Wie made her professional debut and got DQed because of a bad drop, but we don't remember that (fittingly) Sorenstam was the winner. We remember the time Jean Van de Velde coughed up the Open Championship, but you might need a moment to recall that Paul Lawrie was the benefactor.

But back to that year's Colonial. There was no bigger story in golf in 2003 than Sorenstam, the unequivocal star of the LPGA, testing herself against the men. And as reporters on the scene, our job that week was to try to put it all in its proper perspective.

So there I was, and there was then 47-year-old Loren Roberts. Nice guy, thoughtful quote. Great putter. Roberts was one of more than a dozen players I interviewed that week about Sorenstam, how she might fare and the historical implications of her appearance.

We were standing by the practice green and at some point I introduced the premise (a prescient one, it turns out) that years from now, all we'd remember about this tournament is Sorenstam playing in it. Then to underscore my point, I continued.

"It's really like when Tiger made his pro debut at the Greater Milwaukee Open in '96," I said.

Roberts nodded.

"I mean, everyone remembers Tiger that week. But does anyone even remember who won?" I said. "Do YOU?"

"Yes," Roberts said. Then he smiled. "I did."

"Oh," I said, blood rushing to my face. "Right."

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Throwback Thursday

Tom Watson's mentor showed club pros could be pretty good players too

The perception that the golf professional at most courses is a highly skilled player traces back to the beginning of the country club and golf-pro relationship in America in the early 1900s. With the passing of Stan Thirsk at age 87 on May 16, we are reminded of how the talented club pro often takes the occasional foray into top-level tournament play, a far more prevalent practice "back in the day" than it is now. 

loop-stan-thirsk-200.jpgIt was especially common for tour-caliber club pros of Thirsk's generation, and earlier, to hold down a club job and still compete on the national stage. And you didn't have to be from a prestigious club or major market. Herman Scharlau was before my time growing up in Bloomington, Ill., but he was the pro at Bloomington Country Club in the 1940s and '50s when the town had just 34,000 residents, and he had a great playing record, including three times making the cut in major championships. Pay on professional tours was quite feeble compared to today, so a skillful club pro got his playing fix in tour events while earning a steady income at the club. And if you were as great as Ben Hogan, Sam Snead and Byron Nelson, you could become a golfing legend while having a club job. The tour's riches today are incredibly tempting, but the skill level is so high on tour that it is a rarity to see a club pro playing a tour event. 

Thirsk, the head professional at Kansas City Country Club from 1961 to 1992 and Tom Watson's lifelong teacher and mentor, is in that elite honor roll of club pros who taught legends but also had great games, including Jack Nicklaus' teacher Jack Grout (who tied for 51st in the 1947 U.S. Open) and Bobby Jones' Stewart Maiden (who tied for 42nd in the 1908 U.S. Open). Grout also played in three PGA Championships during the match-play era and had a 4-3 record. 

Thirsk made the cut in seven majors. In 1963 and 1966, he played 72 holes at both the U.S. Open and PGA; the latter was his best finish when he tied for 37th. He was 48 when he tied for 71st at the 1976 PGA. In 1989 he won the inaugural Senior PGA Professional championship. But he had two spotlight moments on tour. First was a tie for seventh at the 1965 Bob Hope Desert Classic (the same event that another great-playing PGA club pro, Tom Nieporte, the last club pro to win a tour event, won in 1967). 

150521-stan-thirsk-tom-watson-gw-213.jpgSecond was the 1972 PGA at Oakland Hills. At age 44, Thirsk shot a two-under 68 in the first round to lead with Bud Allin. Thirsk was in the last group out on Day 1, teeing off at 2 p.m. He made par on 18 as dusk approached to tie Allin, who had finished as Thirsk was getting started. With Allin seemingly the leader all afternoon, writers had long since done everything but pack their typewriters away. When Thirsk came in at the last to tie Allin and mess up the leads, the typically humble Kansan apologized: "I'm sorry to make you fellows miss your dinner," which, of course as golf writers, would never happen. 

Out with the breakfast crowd in Round 2, an anxious Thirsk asked the gallery on the first tee, "Are you nervous?" He then skied to an 82, but made the cut and ended in a tie for 72nd. But his brief moment in the lead was another example of the quality of game club pros can exhibit in big moments. 

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Throwback Thursday

Verifying if Rickie's 'take that critics' Players win -- and his victory kiss -- were the best of all time

When someone in the golf world is said to have accomplished something historic, most times the place to turn for verification is the Jack Nicklaus timeline. So when Rickie Fowler's win Sunday at the Players Championship elicited the "best ever" label on two fronts -- one for its in-your-face response to doubters of Fowler's talent, the other for his passionate victory kiss with girlfriend Alexis Randock -- anyone looking for comparison needed to see what Jack did.

loop-throwback-fowler-kiss-randock-300.jpgFowler's decisive response after a poll of his peers tagged him the most overrated player in golf was indeed phenomenal, particularly in its quickness. But there are plenty of worthy examples of players who impressively silenced critics. Tom Watson twice beat back naysayers, first at the start in the 1970s and then at end of his PGA Tour career in the 1990s. Tom Kite was said to be past his chance of winning a major when he won the 1992 U.S. Open at 42. Raymond Floyd had won five times in 10 years when the criticism got as personal as it could get: Wife Maria questioned his commitment and desire, and he went on to win 17 more times, including three majors.

Still, Nicklaus undoubtedly trumps Fowler's response to critics thanks to the magnitude of his "take that" victory at the 1986 Masters. The legendary win had the immediacy. The week of the Masters he had read an Atlanta columnist's summation of his chances as: "Nicklaus is gone, done. He just doesn't have the game anymore … He's 46 and nobody that old wins the Masters." A house guest with Nicklaus at the rental he stayed at made sure Jack saw the story by putting the clipping on the refrigerator.


Then there was the fact it came on a bigger stage (all due respect to Sawgrass and the fifth major). Plus with Nicklaus being 46, the power of the punch was truly unexpected.

As for the passion of the winner's kiss, a search through our archive of Nicklaus images looking to find him putting a big wet one on wife, Barbara, only showed him kissing trophies and posing with Mickey Mouse and Dinah Shore. With Barbara in the picture, he had one hand on the money and the other around her shoulder. So we'll give Rickie the edge in the public display of affection department.


Editor's Note: After publishing this post, a spokesperson for Nicklaus wanted to make sure that Jack's passionate side got a fair shake. He supplied this AP image from when Nicklaus won the 1961 Western Amateur and earned a congratulatory smooch from Barbara.


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Throwback Thursday

Recalling Pete Brown and Calvin Peete's historic accomplishments

A sad twist of fate best explains the stunningly timed passings of Calvin Peete and Pete Brown, two African-American golf pioneers. Peete died April 29, Brown two days later, and both roughly three months after the passing of World Golf Hall of Famer Charlie Sifford, the most notable golfer in the sport's struggle for equality and fairness for all races.

That both Brown, 80, and Peete, 71, would pass away around the first of May allows flashbacks to key events in their golf careers that are tied to this week of the golf season.

loop-pete-brown-300.jpgBrown was 29 when he won the Waco Turner Open on May 3, 1964, at Turner Lodge (now Falconhead Resort & Country Club) in Burneyville, Okla., a course founded by oilman Waco Turner. The one-stroke victory over Dan Sikes (Sifford finished three back) made Brown the first African-American to win an official PGA Tour event. By winning, Brown was given an invite to play the Colonial National Invitation the following week, making him the first African-American to play in it (he tied for 12th).

Brown's victory was somewhat overshadowed because Sifford had already broken through with a victory at the 1957 Long Beach Open, co-sponsored by the PGA but an unofficial tour event, and because Jack Nicklaus won the Tournament of Champions that same weekend at Las Vegas with a more star-heavy field. Brown got the full spotlight, though, when he captured his second tour win at the 1970 Andy Williams San Diego Open, beating Tony Jacklin in a playoff.

loop-calvin-peete-300.jpgAs for Peete, with the Players Championship starting today it offers a natural opportunity to reflect on his record-setting performance when he won the so-called fifth major 30 years ago. (The Players was held in March back then, so Peete's actual anniversary came March 31.) Until Tiger Woods started winning majors, it was the most prestigious victory by an African-American. Peete shot 14-under 274 to win by three over D.A. Weibring.

After the Players win, Peete felt "this is as much a major as any," and hoped it would trigger a win in a Grand Slam event, but he was nearing 42 and after winning twice more in 1986 to improve his career victory total on tour to 12, he never had as big a moment as the Players win.

With the passings of Peete and Brown, following so closely to Sifford's, 2015 is regretfully becoming the year we lost important pioneers who helped elevate the game to new heights.

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Throwback Thursday

The PGA Tour goes back to the future with its round-robin format at the Match Play

Much has been made of the round-robin approach put into play this week at the WGC-Cadillac Match Play at TPC Harding Park. It's certainly a fan-friendly format with the guarantee that the entire field of 64 will be around for three days rather than the one-and-done elimination that sent half the group home after a single day of the traditional match-play format. However, it's not new to pro golf.

Round robins, both stroke-play and match-play varieties, were a familiar format during the first few decades of the PGA Tour, albeit usually with a smaller field than 64. It wasn't until around 1960 that they were eventually phased out by the predominant four-round, stroke-play tournament. Yet the tour's all-time winningest player, Sam Snead, has round-robin wins among his 82 career titles, including five at the Palm Beach Round Robin (also Goodall Round Robin), named after the clothing company.

Snead won the Palm Beach RR four times in the 1950s, including the one pictured here, the 1954 event held May 12-16 at Meadow Brook Club in Westbury, N.Y. The invitation event had 16 elite golfers -- presumably the tour's best 16 at the time -- play five rounds in groups of four. One round was played on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday and two rounds on Friday. You accumulated or lost points depending on how you fared in stroke differential against the other players in your group. Snead shot 67-72-68-66-65 and had a plus 62 to easily win over runner-up Bob Toski, who had plus 26.


The full field: Front row from left, Peter Thomson, Jim Turnesa, Gene Littler, Cary Middlecoff, Sam Snead, Ted Kroll, Earl Stewart, Bob Toski and Jimmy Demaret; back row from left, Tommy Bolt, Walter Burkemo, Doug Ford, Lloyd Mangrum, Jackie Burke, Harold (Jug) McSpaden, Byron Nelson, Marty Furgol and Ed (Porky) Oliver.

The Palm Beach RR was taken off the tour schedule after the 1957 event, which Snead also won. The reason: Since the majority of tour pros were left out of the tour event the week of the round-robin, with no alternative place to play, there were complaints the event idled the rank and file and only benefited only the elite.

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