Walter Charles Hagen, (December 21, 1892 – October 6, 1969) was the first superstar in golf due to his tremendous skill, and flamboyant, witty character. During his career, "The Haig" or "Sir Walter," as he was called by his fans, won 11 majors, made five Ryder Cup appearances, and was a dominant match play competitor.
Throughout his career, Hagen constantly helped raise the status of the PGA tour. He became a celebrity during his tenure on tour for his actions such as refusing to dress in clubhouses, ordering limousines, and demanding first class treatment at all times.
His best skill on the course was his amazing short game. Hagen was known for being erratic with his driver, but would constantly amaze spectators with his "short game," his ability to make great plays around the green. His play combined with his colorful personality helped create interest in professional golf at a time when many who cherished the amateur ideal looked down on the professional game.
Hagen was born in Rochester, New York, as the only son of a local blacksmith. He was the second of five children, and began playing golf at the young age of five. He would practice the sport by playing in the family cow pasture: "I would herd the cows all in one spot where I had made a hole, so they could eat the grass and make a gloss putting surface." As he continued to grow up, Hagen immersed himself in the sport of golf, as a caddy at a prominent country club. Andy Christy, the head pro at the club, gave Hagen lessons in his childhood, and was even challenged by Hagen during this tenure together, to a nine hole battle: "How about my beating you nine fast holes? His eyes covered me slowly for a few seconds, then he said, young man, when I want to play golf, I'll ask you." He also excelled as a baseball player as a boy, practicing his fastball in his backyard, and eventually becoming an all-star in his school district.
He continued to succeed at both sports, but eventually had to make a decision about which sport to pursue. As a teenager, Hagen decided that his talent and outgoing personality were better suited for a individual sport such as golf, rather than a team game.
Hagen's drive to become a PGA pro started during the 1912 U.S. Open, held at the club for which he caddied. After watching the field, he decided that his skill level was at least on par with the field, so he decided to start working harder on his game.
His first tournament was in 1913 at the Shawnee Open, where he finished out of the money. The next year he cancelled a tryout for the Philadelphia Phillies in order to play in the 1914 U.S. Open at Midlothian Country Club in Blue Island, Illinois. Later that week, Hagen was crowned the U.S. Open Champion, and his career was changed forever.
From (1913-1930), Hagen was one of the most dominant forces in golf as he won two U.S Opens, five Western opens, five PGA Championships, and four British opens. Hagen was a player that always went for the win, and never backed off his aggressive style to play it safe and finish in the middle of the pack. This approach did not always serve him well. During his first trip to the British Open Hagen refused to change his confident style despite the famous winds, and ended up with an 83, good for second to last after the first round.
Walter rebounded from that disastrous showing, finishing sixth the following year at the British Open, and winning it in 1922 at Sandwich.
He also was the captain of six American Ryder cup teams, and had a nine and one career record in the match play event. His only loss came to George Duncan in 1929 at Moortown Leeds. He won eleven majors, currently placing him third on the all time list.
Walter Hagen was an amazing player no matter what the situation, however if he was dominant in one thing, it was match-play. He won 34 out of 36 career matches, including 29 straight, at the PGA Championship, then a match play not medal play tournament as it is currently. He was such a distraction on the course with his fans, and tremendous scrambling ability, that he frequently frustrated his opponent into defeat. In his autobiography, The Walter Hagen Story, (1956) he writes: "Through the years I've been accused of dramatizing shots. Of making the difficult shots look easy and the easy shots look difficult. Only that last came naturally, believe me. Well, I always figured the gallery had a show coming to them. I deny I ever held up a game by any such shenanigans, but I don't deny playing for the gallery. I don't deny trying to make my game as interesting and as thrilling to the spectators as it was possible for me to make it."
With all of his physical talents, his most important talent might have been his mastery at playing people, and the reason why Hagen was so dominant in match play competitions. John M. Ross writes in Golf Magazine: "One of Hagen's most successful tactics was to lull an opponent into swapping banter between shots, getting him so amused he was vulnerable to a crack in concentration when important shots were played. Hagen, on the other hand, could turn off the fun like a light switch and devote total attention to the task at hand."
In the sport of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nichlaus and Tiger Woods, Walter Hagen had a bigger influence on the game of golf than arguably anyone else in history. Early in the century, the main job of a professional golfer was to teach the wealthy how to play the game, something that quickly changed once golf was introduced to Hagen. At that time professional golfers weren't allowed in the front door of clubhouses, so Hagen would refuse to go in them at all. Instead, he elected to change in his car, and even ordered champagne to his limousine at the 1920 British Open. His colorful personality made the fans of the game fall in love with him, and he soon became a superstar all over the world. He visited nightclubs, partied until dawn, threw his money around, and even showed up intoxicated to tournaments. At his prime, Hagen was able to demand an appearance fee of $40 to attend exhibition tournaments. His stardom led to more sponsors of the PGA, which led to higher prize money for players. "All the players who have a chance to go after big money should say a silent prayer to Walter Hagen. It was Walter who made professional golf what it is."
Throughout his career, Hagen was known for out-dueling the other big names in the sport such as Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, and Sam Snead. In 1926, Hagen challenged young start Bobby Jones to a pair of 36-hole matches, an accomplishment that Hagen calls the biggest thrill ever in the sport of golf. Hagen's game was the perfect description of the kind of golfer who could give Bobby Jones fits. Hagen loved to talk to his opponents, and Bobby Jones, was known for getting frustrated very quickly. In fact, Hagen frustrated Bobby Jones so much, he beat him 12 and 11 in match play (12 holes up with 11 to play), a very large margin of victory. However later in 1950, Walter Hagen showed the kind of sportsmanship for which his peers loved him. When sports writers voted Bobby Jones, as the greatest golfer in the first half of the century, Hagen replied, "I would have voted for Jones, myself, He was marvelous."
After retiring from golf, Hagen lived in Michigan, at the Detroit Athletic Club and the Book Cadillac Hotel. In 1954, Walter decided to move to a large estate that overlooked East Long Lake. Despite retiring as a professional, Walter still played golf frequently and even played celebrity figures such as Kind Edward VIII and Edsel Ford. Hagen died on October 6, 1969, in Traverse City, Michigan at the age of 76. He now rests at the Holy Sepulchre Mausoleum, Southfield, Michigan, next to his grandson. At the time of his death, Hagen was well-respected. His pall bearers included some legendary sport figures such as Arnold Palmer and George Morris.
Hagen was a dashing and assertive character who raised the status of professional golfers and improved their earnings as well. He was the most popular golfer of his time, and was never afraid to speak his opinion, or tell a good joke. Grand Rapids named a street after him in his memory. Scotland's Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, which actually had barred him from playing at the course 48 years earlier, made him the fourth American ever selected as an honorary member. He was also the first sportsmen to ever be named to the country's best-dressed list. Walter Hagen was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. His sportsmanship won over his fellow PGA members, his personality won over fans, and his presence on the golf course through personality and play, changed the sport of golf forever.
Major championships are shown in bold.
|Year||Championship||54 Holes||Winning Score||Margin||Runners Up|
|1914||U.S. Open||2 shot lead||+2 (68-74-75-73=290)||1 stroke||Chick Evans|
|1919||U.S. Open (2)||5 shot deficit||+17 (78-73-75-75=301)||Playoff 1||Mike Brady|
|1921||PGA Championship||N/A||3 & 2||3 strokes||Jim Barnes|
|1922||The Open Championship||2 shot deficit||76-73-79-72=300||1 stroke||Jim Barnes|
|1924||The Open Championship (2)||Tied for lead||77-73-74-77=301||1 stroke||Ernest Whitcombe|
|1924||PGA Championship (2)||N/A||2 up||2 strokes||Jim Barnes|
|1925||PGA Championship (3)||N/A||6 & 5||6 strokes||William Mehlhorn|
|1926||PGA Championship (4)||N/A||5 & 3||5 strokes||Leo Diegel|
|1927||PGA Championship (5)||N/A||1 up||1 stroke||Joe Turnesa|
|1928||The Open Championship (3)||75-73-72-72=292||2 strokes||Gene Sarazen|
|1929||The Open Championship (4)||4 shot lead||75-67-75-75=292||6 strokes||Johnny Farrell|
Note: The PGA Championship was match play until 1958
1 Defeated Mike Brady in 18-hole playoff - Hagen (77), Brady (78)
|The Open Championship||DNP||DNP||NT||NT||NT||NT||NT|
|The Open Championship||T52||T7||1||2||1||DNP||T3||DNP||1||1|
|The Open Championship||DNP||DNP||DNP||T19||DNP||DNP||DNP||T26||DNP||DNP|
|The Open Championship||NT||NT|
NYF = Tournament not yet founded
NT = No tournament
DNP = Did not play
WD = Withdrew
DQ = Disqualified
"T" indicates a tie for a place
Green background for wins. Yellow background for top-10
All links retrieved January 25, 2014.
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