BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. -- For whoever wins the 90th PGA Championship at Oakland Hills Country Club this week, the best present might not be the huge payday or the Wanamaker Trophy, but the pleasure of being around in 2058 and squinting back through time to remember what it was like.
Dow Finsterwald, the 1958 PGA champion, trim and lively at 78, took the opportunity Tuesday to look back a half-century at his finest golf achievement, a two-stroke victory over Billy Casper at Llanerch CC in Havertown, Pa., in the first PGA Championship conducted at stroke play and the first to be televised.
It was no surprise that Finsterwald was in the hunt in 1958, for he had lost to Lionel Hebert in the PGA final in 1957 and would finish fourth in 1959. One of the most consistent players on tour in the late-1950s and early-1960s, Finsterwald had a stellar short game and utilized it in the final round at Llanerch.
In a tight duel with Sam Snead with whom he was paired, Finsterwald missed the green at the par-3 12th hole, but pitched over a tree and made a 12-footer for par. Snead, meanwhile, three-putted from 15 feet for bogey and then double-bogeyed the next hole. Holding a two-shot lead with three holes to go, Finsterwald was steady to the finish, shooting a three-under 67 for 276 to earn the $5,500 first prize.
"I think definitely it was love of the game," Finsterwald said yesterday when asked about the motivation of his generation to compete. "The buck went further then, but it won't catch up with what the prize money has done. My father told me early on that if a person is able to make a living doing something he likes, the chances of his having a happy life are greatly enhanced."
Finsterwald won 11 PGA Tour events and played on three Ryder Cup teams. He captained the United States to victory in 1977, the last time America competed against Great Britain & Ireland instead of all of Europe. Three decades ago, Finsterwald couldn't foresee how competitive the matches would become. Occasionally the past U.S. captains get together and chew on the Americans have struggled in recent years. "Our players just need to play a little better," Finsterwald said. "I don't know about this camaraderie stuff. Sure, it helps, but the fact is our guys just need to play better."
Sort of the way Finsterwald played 50 years ago. But he doesn't mince words when comparing then and now. "They're bigger, they're stronger and they have had better instruction throughout their lives," he said, comparing the pros of today versus those of his prime years. "You can't discount the equipment. But still, I think there has been more improvement in the players than there has been in the equipment."