Throwback Thursday: Sixty years on from the pro debuts of two World Golf Hall of Famers
There was a time when the end of the calendar year for the aspiring tour professional was Armageddon and the Promised Land all in one. Be one of the top finishers in an arduous qualifying school and you earned the right to play the following year on your respective tour. Be off your game, and you'd spend the entire next season in the wilderness . . . waiting for the next November to roll around.
The first PGA Tour Qualifying School was held in the fall of 1965, with 49 players competing over eight rounds with 17 getting a chance to play on tour in 1966. John Schlee was the medalist.
Now, of course, the PGA Tour has changed qualifying school so that it gives you status on the Web.com Tour. In turn, the school's impact on the heartbeats of male pros has been diminished, as has the November/December time period each year when hundreds of PGA Tour careers were launched via Q School and livelihoods were begun.
Reflecting on November as a time of hope for the tour player is a good time to celebrate a pair of World Golf Hall of Fame careers that launched 60 years ago.
Palmer won the '54 U.S. Amateur in late August and, at 25, felt he was more than ready to play for pay. So did the PGA of America (the PGA Tour was still under the auspices of the association at the time), which had this in Palmer's bio: "The most coveted title in amateur golf, the National Amateur Championship, was won in 1954 by Arnold Palmer, and it presaged his eventual decision to turn PGA professional, for you might say the powerful Youngstown, Pennsylvania native was born to play golf alongside the top stars of the 'new look' era of youth." The "Man from Latrobe" label was still down the PR pipeline.
Palmer had a pretty strong first year on tour, despite not being able to collect any prize money during his first six months. At that time, tour newcomers had to go through a "probation" period of not being allowed to take money; one can only imagine how much today's tour players would learn from such an experience. Palmer played the Masters in April 1955 and could collect the $696 10th-place money because the Masters was an invitational event and not an official tour event. In mid-August Palmer won the Canadian Open by four shots, along with $2,400 in first-place money. For the year he earned $7,958 for 32nd place on the money list.
At 5-feet-9, Wright's athletic, powerful swing was one of the all-time finest of any gender. In her first year in '55, she had a 77.22 stroke average and was 12th on the money list with $6,325. She didn't win her first tour event until 1956, in the Jacksonville Open. Golf Digest named her the Most Improved Women's Professional in 1957, she won 10 or more tour titles each year from 1961 to 1964, and by age 28, in 1963, she had won the four women's majors twice. In 1999, the Associated Press named her Female Golfer of the Century.
The qualifying school may have lost its historical impact, but this time of year still has memories of when historical careers were launched.