Gene Sarazen (1902-1999)
37 Tour victories, 7 Major wins
First "Grand Slam Winner"
Open Champion Prince's Golf Club 1932
Eugene Saracini was born in New York on 27th February 1902, to parents of Italian stock. To supplement his father's meagre income from carpentry the youngster picked fruit, sold newspapers and did whatever casual labour was available.
He was first introduced to golf, at the age of 9, with a birthday present of a hickory shafted club. While apprenticed to his father, at the age of 15, he took ill and was advised by a doctor that the dusty environment of a workshop would prove detrimental to his health. Deciding on an outdoor job, he began work at a nearby golf club and soon changed his name to Gene Sarazen, which he thought "sounded like a golfer". Although his initial life as a professional was very hard, by the age of 21 he had won 3 major titles. Playing competitive golf until 1973, he won 37 tournaments, including 7 majors.
- At age 20 he is the youngest ever major winner - 1922 US Open, Skokie Country Club.
- He was the first professional to win both Open and US Open Championships in the same year, 1932 - Prince's, Sandwich and Fresh Meadows, New York.
- He was the first golfer to complete the career professional "Grand Slam" of Open, US Open, Masters and US PGA. The other four are Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan and Tiger Woods.
- With Fuzzy Zeoller (1979) he was the only golfer to win the Masters at his first attempt (1935) having missed the inaugural event in 1934 because he was committed to an exhibition tour of South America with Joe Kirkwood.
- He played in 6 Ryder Cup matches, including the first in 1927.
- He invented the Sandwedge. Having watched the working of aircraft elevators with Howard Hughes he made a prototype in a small machine shop in New Port Richey, Florida, in 1931, and first used it in the following year at Prince's. His Sandwedge and Spoon were donated to Prince's Golf Club.
He will always be remembered for two golf shots. In his final round at the 1935 Masters he holed a four wood second shot at the par 5 fifteenth hole for an Albatross (double Eagle) which enabled him to tie Craig Wood, who he went on to beat in the 36 hole play off. In the 1973 Open Championship at Troon, BBC TV captured his hole in one at the "Postage Stamp".
During the voyage to compete in the 1928 Open at Royal St George's, Sarazen confided to Walter Hagen that, having already won the US Open and two US PGA titles the one he wanted most was the Open. Hagen generously offered him the services of his caddie "Skip" Daniels, whom he claimed to be "the best". Despite Sarazen's accepting this offer, Hagen won the title by 2 strokes, with Sarazen blaming himself for ignoring Daniels' advice at the Canal hole and taking a 7. Four years later, at Prince's, Sarazen was advised that Daniels was no longer fit for the job and reluctantly hired another caddie. They did not get on and Sarazen played badly during practice. He at last took on Daniels and led the Championship from start to finish, winning in a record low score, five shots ahead of MacDonald Smith. Unfortunately Daniels died within months of their Prince's triumph.
Nicknamed "the Squire" because he lived on a farm in Brookfield, New York, during his playing days, Sarazen believed that America's best golfers should test themselves in Great Britain and persuaded Ben Hogan to make the trip to Scotland where he won the Carnoustie Open at his only visit. Sarazen himself continued to travel the world, even when no longer competing, and he hosted the classic "Shells Wonderful World of Golf" television series in the 1960's.
He was guest of honour at a dinner at Prince's, on the eve of the 1993 St George's Open and at the end of the Championship was presented with a commemorative medal of his 1932 win, before Greg Norman received the Claret Jug.
Having competed in the Masters from 1935 to 1973 he returned as an honorary starter, when the tradition was revived in 1981. In the early 1990s, when Sarazen said he was thinking of giving up this role, Hardin told him, "Gene they don't want to see you play, they just want to see if you're still alive". When he succumbed to pneumonia, at age 97 just a short time after starting the 1999 event, the golfing world lost not only a legend but possibly its finest ambassador.