Paying tribute to those golf lost in 2023
Betsy Rawls didn’t play golf until she was 17. Despite the late start, the University of Texas graduate with a degree in physics shined, winning eight major championships (including the U.S. Women’s Open four times) and 55 LPGA titles en route to one of the more illustrious and inspiring careers in the sport. The legend passed away this year at age 95, but not before changing golf for the better.
Rawls—along with many others that the sport lost this year—put her mark on the game of golf as a player, official, business leader and all-around ambassador. “Anyone who can make a living in golf is lucky,” she once said. “Then to receive all the benefits accorded to me in the process … well, that makes me feel fortunate. It’s more than I could possibly deserve.”
Well, she did deserve all the game gave to her, as did the rest of the men and women on this list that we pay tribute to with heavy hearts. Each had a unique and significant impact on the sport and will be remembered fondly by fans and fellow golfers over the years. Along with Rawls, those mentioned below cared about golf and tried to better the game that we love through hard work, stellar play and thoughtful analysis.
Englishman who became an assistant professional at nearby Downshire Golf Club at 16. Went on to become a five-time Euro Tour winner and member of the 1993 European Ryder Cup team. Won the inaugural Andersen Consulting World Championship of Golf in 1995 and had success as well (eight wins) on the European Senior Tour.
Guam golf legend and U.S. Army veteran. Golf instructor for more than four decades, most notably with the Guam Junior Golf program. Has the Mel Davis Junior Golf Tournament named after him for the best young golfers on the island.
Founded the women’s golf program at Duke University in 1974-75 while serving was head coach for five seasons. Taught 14 different activity sports classes and was an Associate Professor in Health, Physical Education and Athletics, working at the school for 32 years.
European golf’s “guru” of rules officials. Spent more than 40 years as a senior official with the DP World Tour. Helped with the R&A to evolve the Rules of Golf while also assisting the referees at The Open on a yearly basis. Ended up refereeing more than 100 majors in total, was the Chief Referee for the men’s golf return to the Olympic Games in Rio in 2016 and worked at every Open from 1991 at Royal Birkdale to 2019 at Royal Portrush.
Longtime Augusta National caddie who looped for Fuzzy Zoeller when he won the 1979 Masters, the last time a rookie participant won the green jacket. Beard was born in Augusta and known as an unofficial historian for Augusta National caddies. Also caddied for Bob Toski, Doug Sanders and Don January.
Chicago native was a two-time All-American at the University of Texas. Went on to play 349 PGA Tour events, his best finish in an official event coming with a runner-up showing at the 1991 Chattanooga Classic. Won the 1984 Magnolia State Classic before the tournament became a sanctioned PGA Tour event. In addition to playing, he caddied on the PGA Tour, even playing and caddieing at the same event during the 2009 Valero Texas Open, where he beat the man he worked for (Jesper Parnevik).
President of Golf News Now and longtime golf writer who worked for ScoreGolf Magazine, Pro Shop Magazine, Ontario Golf Magazine, Golf Scene Magazine, and Golf Canada Magazine along with writing for Golf Channel’s website. A nominator and contributing member to the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Covered golf for more than four decades; known as a tremendous storyteller.
An Australian pro known as one of the best ball-strikers of his era. Won the 1957 and 1961 Australian Opens and was recognized as a Life Member of the PGA of Australia from 2002. He had 35 professional wins and a 12th-place finish at The Open Championship.
Known in his native Michigan as “Mr. A”. Owned Indianwood Resort in Lake Orion and Lakewood Shores Resort in Oscoda. Revitalized the former storied course that has been a golf staple since the early 19th century. Inducted into the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame in 2005 and established a college-scholarship fund for his Indianwood employees.
Texan best known for winning the 1967 PGA Championship, won in a 18-hole playoff win over Don Massengale. A member of the North Texas State golf team that won four consecutive NCAA titles from 1949 through 1952. Won 10 PGA Tour titles with 22 additional victories on the then Senior PGA Tour, including two PGA Seniors’ Championships. His alma mater established the Don January Golf Classic, an annual spring tournament that began in 1990.
South African pro who won more than 30 professional events around the world. A mainstay on the Southern African Tour for more than 20 years, played summers on the European Tour. Eventually joined the Champions Tour and won four of five career titles in 1996. Played in his trademark Panama hat and was known for a short, flat swing.
One of the LPGA's 13 founders and a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame after winning the Women’s PGA Championship and 26 LPGA Tour events. Hailed from South Dakota and became the youngest player to make the cut at the U.S. Women’s Open at 13; she finished eighth. Became the youngest athlete (15) ever to be named the Associated Press Athlete of the Year, Golfer of the Year and Teenager of the Year.
Legendary publisher of Golf Digest known as “Fitzy” to close friends. President and CEO of Golf Digest and then sister publication Golf World from 1982 to 1999. Publishing background in sales, known for his charisma and charm. “Jay had the unique ability to turn you upside down and shake every nickel from your pockets and still leave you laughing along with him,” said Golf Digest editor Jerry Tarde.
Charlotte golf legend who broke golf barriers for Black pros. Grew up next to a golf course in the 1950s and learned to play the sport while caddieing. Had 11 starts on the PGA Tour and multiple wins on the United Golf Association Tour. The only African American golfer to win the Negro Junior, Amateur and Professional titles in UGA events. Was the first Black golfer to card a round of 67 in his PGA debut; Tiger Woods was the next Black golfer to do so. Also drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates to play baseball but decided to stick with golf. Became a golf teacher putting on clinics for young golfers after his retirement.
Hired as the golf professional at Tilden Park and Castlewood Country Club after serving in the U.S. Army. Eventually became the Director of Golf at Silverado Country Club in Napa. Earned his PGA of America membership in 1962. Went on to become the first Director of Golf at the new Kapalua Resort. Named the PGA Pro of the Year in 1983 and awarded the PGA National Merchandiser of the Year in 1985.
The younger brother of LIV golfer Pat Perez. Was a golf professional and teacher who competed on the Korn Ferry Tour and made one PGA Tour appearance in 2010 at the Children’s Miracle Network Classic. Said Pat: “Everyone that knew him loved him and he was always happy and upbeat."
Pittsburgh native who helped develop and transform Grand View Golf Club in Pennsylvania. Served as General Manager of Grand View, which opened in 1996 all the way through 2007. A member of the Pennsylvania Golf Course Owners Association and served a term as president.
International golf course architect and superintendent whose top-rated efforts included Old Head of Kinsale in Ireland and Apes Hill. Native of Massachussetts who became obsessed with golf, eventually serving as caddie, caddie master and grounds crew worker. Worked for golf architect Dick Wilson and Robert Trent Jones Sr. Started his own firm with consulting partner Gary Player, sold firm to Jack Nicklaus and worked with Golden Bear Inc.
Longtime PGA of Australia golfer and three-time winner of the Legends Tour. Defied his cancer diagnosis by hosting and playing the inaugural Glenn Joyner Legends Invitational at Thaxted Park. Winner of 153 tournaments and pro-ams throughout Australia. Lived by the mantra: “‘Today, not tomorrow.’ If you have things you want to do, don’t hesitate.”
Legendary host of “The Price is Right” known for empathy, suaveness and advocacy for animal rights. For golf fans, though, he became even more of a legend with his camio appearance in the movie “Happy Gilmore” as a wild version of himself in which he brawls with Adam Sandler’s Gilmore character.
An actor and comedian perhaps best known for representing the FootJoy golf brand as the popular “Sign Boy” in the early 2000s. Appeared in ads with Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott, Luke Donald and Ernie Els. Was a sidekick to Peter Jacobsen on the Golf Channel show “Peter Jacobsen: Plugged In.”
Decorated English amateur golfer who eventually became R&A secretary and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2000. Regular competitor in the Open Championship and played for the Great Britain & Ireland Walker Cup team seven times. Awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1971 for services to golf, and eventually knighted in 1998. A member of Augusta National, he was truly steeped in the game of golf.
Former University of Kentucky women’s golf head coach from 1979 to 2001, director of golf operations for the men’s and women’s teams for the next 17 years. Brought UK to the NCAA Championships five times and coached two All-Americans, six All-Southeastern Conference first-team players, four All-SEC second-team players and five Academic All-Americans. Induced into the National Golf Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1997
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American golfer arguably best known for shooting a 65 as an amateur during the 1966 U.S. Open at The Olympic Club. Played on the PGA Tour from 1966 to 1971, eventually becoming head golf pro at Las Colinas Country Club in Irving. Northern Texas PGA Teacher of the Year who won the club pro’s national title in 1973. Competed on the Senior PGA Tour, won three events.
Eleven-time PGA Tour winner from LaFayette, Ga. Played on the U.S. Ryder Cup team in 1979 and 1987. Finished second at majors three times and finished inside the top 35 on the money list from 1977 to 1986. Started his career at the University of Florida where he won four amateur tournaments. Played on Gator teams that won the SEC and NCAA Championship in 1973 along with fellow tour pros Woody Blackburn, Phil Hancock and Gary Koch. Inducted into the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame.
The voice of The Open Championship for nearly half a century. A first-tee announcer for the ages known for his distinctive Scottish accent with his signature “On the tee …” Did not eat, drink or take bathroom breaks while on the job as a starter. A golfer as well and club pro in Scotland throughout the 1960s and ‘70s. Bonded with many golfers over the years.
Former caddie to Lexi Thompson and many other high-profile PGA and LPGA golfers. Had been married to Swedish golf star Anna Nordqvist. A player himself, he won the Scottish Amateur and competed on the men's team at Colorado State. Played a handful of events on the Challenge Tour and DP World Tour.
American LPGA Tour legend who won eight major championships, including four U.S. Opens, and 55 LPGA Tour events. Started playing golf at age 17 and won the Texas Amateur in 1949 and 1950. Finished second at the U.S. Women’s Open as an amateur in 1950. Won her first tournament (Sacramento Women’s Invitational Open) after turning pro in 1951. The tour’s leading money winner in 1952 and 1959, Rawls eventually becoming the LPGA’s president from 1961 to 1962 and a tournament director for the McDonald’s LPGA Championship at the DuPont Country Club. One of the six inaugural inductees to the LPGA Tour Hall of Fame. Awarded the USGA's Bob Jones Award, the governing body's highest honor for distinguished sportsmanship in golf, in 1996.
A Scottish pro golfer who won 21 times on the Ladies European Tour. Played for Europe in the first four Solheim Cups and was Europe’s non-playing captain for multiple years. Charismatic player celebrated for her open and honest personality.
College teammate at the University of Minnesota who inspired tour pro Erik van Rooyen en route to his victory at the World Wide Technology Championship. Passed away shortly after from Stage 4 melanoma. Van Rooyen broke down in tears after the Los Cabos win in November, said a win would “mean everything”. Trasamar was a mini-tour pro who showed up routinely on the Latinoamerica Tour and Canada Tour.
Bel-Air golf pro who gave lessons to Hollywood royalty such as Ringo Starr, Hugh Grant, Celine Dion, Jack Nicholson, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Fred Astaire. Known as the ultimate gentleman and famous for his signature white driving cap. Also known as the “Little Pro” due to his 5’7” stature. An outstanding amateur golfer who won two SEC titles while at LSU. Played in more than 200 PGA Tour events, including eight U.S. Opens and six PGA Championships.