If you’ve been even a casual reader of Sports Illustrated over the years, you know of SI’s Faces in the Crowd page, where in over a half-century thousands of young athletes – some of the brink of stardom and some never to be heard from again – were pictured with a brief about their magnificent athletic achievements.
Golf has certainly had its share of entries in Faces in the Crowd, including Jack Nicklaus, who made his second appearance at 19 years old on May 4, 1959.
Jenkins, perhaps sportswriting’s greatest satirist and certainly one of the great golf historians, has the credibility to make that claim stick. He’s referring to the North & South Open, Pinehurst’s first entry into professional golf that came half a century – and more – before any of the U.S. Open championships Pinehurst No. 2 today is so well known for.
It’s a tournament that sometimes gets lost in the annals of pro golf, and honestly, even lost in the lore of Pinehurst itself. Every day in the clubhouse’s hallowed hall, guests and golfers stop and marvel at the North & South Open wall of champions, there next to the more well-known North & South Amateur wall, trying to place the tournament’s legacy in their memories. Often, though, it’s not there.
But as the arrival of April harkens the dawn of another Masters, a studious glance of that North & South Open wall reminds those of us with Pinehurst ties that, many times in golf, before men were masters, they were champions at Pinehurst.
Here is a look at five of the greatest players the game has ever known and what they won at Pinehurst before donning their first green jacket, with a few honorable mentions thrown in.
THE HONORABLE MENTIONS
NOT EVERY PLAYER ON THIS MASTER LIST below has a North & South Open championship to his name – the tournament did end its run in 1951, after all, just 17 years after the birth of The Masters – but it is striking how many giants of the game competed in the event in its 50 years. To wit:
Horton Smith, who won the first Masters in 1934 and again in 1936, won the 1929 North & South Open, the first of two Pinehurst triumphs (he also won the North & South Open in 1937). Smith won 36 times professionally…
Cary Middlecoff won The Masters in 1955, but 10 years earlier – and as an amateur – he won the 1945 North & South Open. Middlecoff won 40 times professionally, including three majors…
Henry Picard won the North & South Open for the first time in 1934 and again just two years later in 1936. Picard won the 1938 Masters and won the PGA Championship in 1939. Picard is credited with working with Ben Hogan in the 1930s, eventually convincing Hogan to weaken his grip. Hogan dedicated his first book, “Ben Hogan’s Power Golf,” to Picard in 1953. We’ll get to Hogan in a moment…
A few final notes on the North & South Open: Walter Hagen won the event three times (1918, 1923, 1924). Alec Ross, Donald Ross’ brother, won the most North & South Opens, with six. Donald Ross won three. Byron Nelson won the North & South Open in 1939, and won two Masters, in 1937 and 1942.
Now, a look at the five best players in history to win at Pinehurst before they won The Masters.
Then came Pinehurst, and after two brilliant opening rounds of 66 and 67, he held on to beat Sam Snead. “I won one just in time,” Hogan said at the trophy ceremony. Nine majors and 68 more professional wins – including two more North & South Opens – followed.
4. ARNOLD PALMER
RANKING THE GAME’S GREATEST PLAYERS is tricky, especially when major championships are factored in. But perhaps no player has had as great an impact on golf than Arnold Palmer. But his win at Pinehurst is a difficult one to find. It’s not the North & South Amateur, which he laments, and where he lost twice in the semifinals. Palmer turned professional in 1954, so he missed the North & South Open, and he was past his prime for the PGA Tour events at Pinehurst in the 1970s and the U.S. Senior Open in 1994.
But there is a win at Pinehurst in the Palmer ledger, and he recalls it fondly. While at Wake Forest, Palmer won the 1948 Southern Conference Championship – a precursor to the Atlantic Coast Conference – over North Carolina and North & South Amateur rival Harvie Ward, who nearly holed out from the fairway of 18 to tie Palmer. “It would’ve dismayed me quite a bit,” Palmer says now of Ward’s shot. “It was a great shot that scared me to death, let’s just say that.”
Palmer won The Masters four times, the first coming 10 years after his lone win at Pinehurst (1958, 1960, 1962, 1964).
3. SAM SNEAD
AGAIN, WE’RE SPLITTING HAIRS trying to rank the greatest of the greats, and it wouldn’t take much to move Palmer up this list.
That said, Snead won 82 times on the PGA Tour, with three of those wins coming in the North & South Open. After finishing as the runner-up in Hogan’s big breakthrough in 1940, Snead returned to Pinehurst and won in 1941. He followed that with North & South wins in 1949 and 1950. Snead won The Masters three times, the first in 1949 (and in 1952 and 1954). He is the only player in history to have won the North & South Open and The Masters in the same year.
2. TIGER WOODS
IT WASN’T THE NORTH & SOUTH AMATEUR. It wasn’t either the 1999 or 2005 U.S. Opens (although he came very close – see above), and Woods did not appear in the 2014 U.S. Open.
But Woods is a Pinehurst champion.
“It’s just at some tournaments. It hasn’t been nationwide. I’m not that big yet.” -Tiger Woods
In what seems like a bit of quaint history, two years before he became the youngest at the time to win the U.S. Amateur, Woods won the “Big I” on Pinehurst No. 7. The tournament’s formal name was the Independent Insurance Agents Youth Golf Classic, and at the time it was one of the elite junior tournaments in the world.
Tiger was 17, his largest gallery was about 75 people and at one point, he was inadvertently knocked to the ground by a woman who grabbed his shirt while seeking an autograph. Woods had an ice pack on his wrist afterward, and speaking to reporters, said, “The price of fame, I guess.”
Woods was asked about his notoriety, even then. “It’s just at some tournaments. It hasn’t been nationwide. I’m not that big yet.”
1. JACK NICKLAUS
JACK NICKLAUS HAS WON AT PINEHURST almost as much as he’s won at Augusta.
Palmer’s father, Deacon, visited Pinehurst regularly in the 1930s and 1940s with a group of golf buddies from their home in Latrobe, Pa., and their hotel of choice was the Manor Inn. Arnold came on occasion and then attended Wake Forest College in the late 1940s when it was located in the town of Wake Forest, just north of Raleigh. Palmer and teammates such as Buddy Worsham, Frank Edens, Jennings Agner and Dick Tiddy would pile into a Desoto station wagon for the 90-mile drive to Pinehurst.
Perhaps no player has had a greater impact on golf than Arnold Palmer. But his lone win at Pinehurst is a difficult one to find. It’s not the North & South Amateur, which he laments, and where he lost twice in the semifinals. Palmer turned professional in 1954, so he missed the North & South Open, and he was past his prime for the PGA Tour events at Pinehurst in the 1970s and the U.S. Senior Open in 1994.
But there is a win at Pinehurst in the Palmer ledger, and he recalled it fondly. Perhaps he thought so much of it because it was a crushing near-miss for the Tar Heels and their star, Harvie Ward.
“It was a great shot that scared me to death, let’s just say that.” -Arnold Palmer
In 1948, Palmer was a freshman sensation at Wake Forest, competing in the Southern Conference, a precursor to the Atlantic Coast Conference. Near the close of the second round on Pinehurst No. 2, Palmer found himself ahead of his friend and rival Ward. But Ward still had the famed 18th to play, and was comfortably in the fairway.
Arnold Palmer and Harvie Ward at the 1948 North & South Amateur. (Photo Copyright Tufts Archives)
Palmer should’ve been confident. Ward would need to hole his approach shot just to tie.
But with the ball in the air, Palmer’s heart sank.
“Harvie needed to hole his second shot to tie me,” Palmer told us in 2014 before the U.S. Open. “He left it about 3 inches from the hole. I didn’t think it had a chance, but he damn near made it.”
Palmer won the conference championship by a stroke. It’s his only documented Pinehurst win.
“It would’ve dismayed me quite a bit,” Palmer said of Ward’s shot. “It was a great shot that scared me to death, let’s just say that.”
Neither Wake Forest nor North Carolina won the Southern Conference team championship, though.
We at Pinehurst are saddened to hear of the passing of Simon Hobday. His grit and determination in winning the 1994 U.S. Senior Open was a performance that stands with the best in the history of Pinehurst and Pinehurst No. 2. We extend our sincerest condolences to the Hobday family.
Hobday’s victory at Pinehurst was a wonderful moment, and he topped a leaderboard that included the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Tom Weiskopf, Lee Trevino and Raymond Floyd, all of whom finished among the top 13 in the championship.
Hobday, too, was one of golf’s greatest characters. The tributes on social media have been great fun to read today and allow us to remember a great champion at Pinehurst with a laugh and smile.
McRae’s legendary time at Pinehurst traces much of the area’s rise in the annals of American golf. He has caddied for five presidents, for celebrities from Mickey Mantle to Michael Jordan and many of golf’s greatest figures, including Donald Ross, Bobby Jones, Gene Sarazen and Sam Snead.
“I’ve always been thankful to be able to work at a place like Pinehurst,” McRae said. “Everybody’s always been so nice to me. They’ve always made me think I was the important person.”
Willie McRae is pictured with his CGA Hall of Fame plaque. McRae’s image will be placed with all of the members on the CGA Hall of Fame Wall in The Carolina Hotel. (photo courtesy of the CGA.)
McRae is one of just two living participants of the 1951 Ryder Cup,which was contested at Pinehurst. He has caddied in several of golf’s greatest championships, ranging from the Ryder Cup to multiple U.S. Opens and U.S Women’s Opens. A great player in his own time, in the 1950s the U.S. Army stationed McRae at Fort Dix instead of shipping him overseas, installing him as the captain of the golf team.
“Willie always says that everybody is somebody, that everyone has a right to be treated well,” said Pinehurst President Tom Pashley. “But what we all know is that Willie has always been one of the most important people at Pinehurst.”
“It’s a very proud moment for the Carolinas Golf Association,” said G. Jackson Hughes Jr., the chairman of the CGA Hall of Fame selection committee. “Willie McRae has meant so much to so many people for so many years here at Pinehurst. It’s a well-deserved award.”
Pinehurst caddie Willie McRae speaks at the induction ceremony of the Carolinas Golf Hall of Fame. (Photo courtesy of the CGA).
“It’s nice to know that with his enshrinement into the Carolinas Golf Hall of Fame, Willie’s picture will be on the Hall of Fame wall in The Carolina Hotel forever,” Pashley said. “To know that his family will always be able to walk by that photo and see how much Willie has meant to the game of golf is really special.”