Pinehurst Heritage Archive

The 1951 Ryder Cup at Pinehurst

The victorious American Ryder Cup team in 1951 at Pinehurst.

The victorious American Ryder Cup team in 1951 at Pinehurst.

The 1951 Ryder Cup at Pinehurst didn’t have a lot of drama. That didn’t stop Skip Alexander’s hands from bleeding



LOOK CLOSELY AT THE BLACK-AND-WHITE PHOTOS in the hall of the Pinehurst Resort Clubhouse. The ones aged by time and history. The winning United States team at the 1951 Ryder Cup played on Pinehurst No. 2 stands together, smiles wide on their faces and nattily attired in light suits befitting the American South culture.

Captained by Sam Snead and led by Ben Hogan, the U.S. team had little trouble with their counterparts from Britain. The Americans won handily 9 ½-2 1/2, as The Wardrobe, Jimmy Demaret, capped perhaps the greatest Ryder Cup career in the game’s long history.

Wedged between Snead and Hogan is Skip Alexander, a rising star on the fledgling PGA Tour and a former All-American from nearby Duke University. At 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, Alexander can’t be missed, his hair slicked back in the fashion of the day, his glasses crystal clear.

Hidden, though, are Alexander’s hands.

Skip Alexander with his wife Kitty and daughter Carol Ann.

“It was a whole new life.”

SKIP ALEXANDER HAD BEEN TO PINEHURST before. He won the prestigious North and South Amateur in 1941 in the midst of a collegiate career that led to his enshrinement in the Duke Hall of Fame. He won twice on the PGA Tour in 1948, finishing fifth on the money list with $18,000 in earnings. Alexander had no trouble making the 1949 Ryder Cup team.

None of it was easy, though. Especially with a young family in tow.

The Civil Air Patrol offered Alexander a lift. It was the kind of break only a star would get.

“In ’49 I restructured my life and it was kind of tough traveling,” Alexander told members of the St. Petersburg Country Club many years later. “We traveled with the baby in ’50. We had a suitcase that made into a bed, so we did all right. But it was a whole new life. We had several long hops (by car), for instance, from Tucson to San Antonio, Texas. That was one of the big ones. And from Houston to Philadelphia, that was another one. The tour didn’t have much money at that time. I hate to say this, but I was fifth-leading money winner one year and made $18,000 or a little more. And the leading-money winner made $27,000 or $32,000. So we had to make the cut and finish in the top 10 to even stay out on the tour. We (tour players) were just a group of vagabonds traveling together. We were a close-knit group (of 75-85 players) cuttin’ up the same pie every week.”

Nearly through the 1950 season, Alexander continued to keep pace with the game’s greats. Snead. Hogan. Byron Nelson. Cary Middlecoff. All winners on Pinehurst No. 2 somewhere along the line. Alexander was in elite company, and after finishing sixth at the Kansas City Open in late September, he was eighth on the money list.

Alexander, though, was ready for a break. An exhibition trip to South America was looming. But he needed to see his young family, which had stayed home this time, in North Carolina. The Civil Air Patrol, with three officers ready to take off from Kansas City to Louisville, offered Alexander a lift. The date was Sept. 24, 1950.

It was the kind of break only a star would get.


“We almost made it.”

NEARING EVANSVILLE, INDIANA, the small plane’s reserve fuel tank malfunctioned. This was fatal. The plane was going down.

“Since we were near the Evansville airport, we banked in to land and almost made it, crashing on the edge of the field,” Alexander told the St. Petersburg Evening Independent’s John Steen on Jan. 16, 1951. “The next thing I remember was trying to force my way out of the cabin door and meeting a wall of flames. I quickly shut the door and opened it again, running out of the wreck on my broken left ankle. I guess I got about 50 yards before I collapsed and the fuel tank exploded.”

His flesh melting from the fire, Alexander raced those 50 yards in about 20 seconds before the plane disintegrated.

He was the only one who made it out of the plane, the three CAP officers killed. But he wasn’t out of the woods yet.


“(Doctors) took a knuckle out and fused the (remaining) two knuckles together so they would fit a golf club.”

ALEXANDER SPENT THE NEXT FIVE MONTHS in hospitals before finally being released from Duke University Hospital on Feb. 28, 1951. In all, he would endure 17 surgeries as a result of the crash.

On the day he was released, Alexander accepted the head golf professional position at Lakewood Country Club in Florida, his residence. His career thought over, Wilson Sporting Goods renewed his sponsorship contract as a Christmas gift. Nelson, Middlecoff, Clay Heafner and Orville Wright organized a golf match to benefit the Carolinas’ PGA Skip Alexander $10,000 Fund.

But to Alexander, he wasn’t done. His 726 points toward the ’51 Ryder Cup team had a chance to hold up.

But to Alexander, he wasn’t done. His 726 points toward the ’51 Ryder Cup team had a chance to hold up.

“Only his deep blue eyes were the same when he emerged,” wrote The St. Petersburg Times Sports Editor Bill Beck. “They appeared in usual quizzical, friendly fashion from a scar-tissue face that would have put a lesser man on a psychiatrist’s couch. His hands were twisted so that his fingers stuck out at odd angles like the scarecrow’s in the Wizard of Oz. But he served notice on the golfing world that he would take up the tournament trail again after a Winter’s rest.”

But to play, Alexander needed those fingers fixed. The doctors complied.

“My hands were all burned and (now) they’re all skin-grafted,” Alexander recalled to the country club. “The extensors and (other) parts of the fingers were contracted so (tightly) that I didn’t have any openings. The doctors opened them up. They took a knuckle out and fused the (remaining) two knuckles together so they would fit a golf club.”

Months of rehabilitation still awaited him. But Alexander pressed on. He wanted to play again.

“I was a little fire running away from a big fire,” Alexander told Beck of the crash.

1951 Ryder Cup

“Yes, I can play.”

THE NINTH PLAYING OF THE RYDER CUP 65 YEARS AGO was vastly different than the intense worldwide multimedia event it is today. In early November of 1951, only 30 correspondents, including just three from London and three from Scotland, descended on Pinehurst. There were estimates of a mere 6,000 spectators for Sunday’s singles matches, and even as the Cup was being contested, visiting golfers continued to play on Pinehurst courses No. 1 and 3, and on nine holes of No. 4.

It was high season for Pinehurst, and Pinehurst owner Richard Tufts found himself in the unenviable position of being forced to turn away nearly 600 potential guests. But Pinehurst No. 2, which had been closed for three months in preparation for hosting the Ryder Cup, was ready for the game’s greatest, according to famed British golf correspondent Henry Longhurst.

“It was cold and (Dutch) Harrison got sick and Snead came to me and said, ‘Can you play?’” -Skip Alexander

“With the grass about three inches thick on the fairways and the ground untrodden for three months, at 7,007 yards on the card and playing more like 9,000, it was murder — brassies, brassies all the way, as the poet might have said — and it was not long before my partner and I agreed upon it as an admirable battlefield for the Sneads and Mangrums of this world but no fit stomping ground for aging investment brokers and golf correspondents.”

Fourteen months removed from a horrifying plane crash, and just eight months since finally being released from the hospital, it was unclear whether Alexander was ready for such a world class competition. He had played a smattering of tournaments leading up to the Ryder Cup to secure his position on the team, but Alexander was one of two players on the 10-man U.S. squad held out of play during Friday’s team matches.

On Saturday, the teams took a break in play, with many of them instead traveling to Chapel Hill to watch a football game between Tennessee and North Carolina.

“They said, ‘In North Carolina when Carolina plays Tennessee in a football game on Saturday, nobody watches golf,’” Alexander recalled decades later. “So they took the day off and we all went to the football game.”

Tennessee won 27-0, but the Tar Heels weren’t the only casualty.

“It was cold and (Dutch) Harrison got sick and Snead came to me and said, ‘Can you play?’” Alexander said. “I told him, ‘Yes, I can play.’”

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Skip Alexander, at left, stands with Ben Hogan (center) and Jackie Burke during the 1951 Ryder Cup at Pinehurst.

“My hands were bleeding.”

THE AMERICANS ENTERED SUNDAY’S singles matches with a 3-1 lead following Friday’s play. Still, the Cup would be decided with the 36-hole singles matches, and Snead had to tread carefully. He still needed 3 ½ points for the U.S. to retain the Cup, and the Americans had not lost it since 1933.

Perhaps protecting Alexander or maybe to get into his opponent’s head, Snead paired Alexander against Britain’s top player, John Panton, who had topped the Order of Merit and won the Vardon Trophy. Panton, a member of three Ryder Cup teams, would finish his career with 38 professional victories. Years later, like the “Arnold Palmer,” Panton had a beverage named after him. The mix of non-alcoholic ginger beer and a dash of lime cordial was named the “John Panton.”

“I don’t know whether Snead knew that I was going to play … and (Sam) was just forfeiting the match or leading the lambs to the slaughter.” -Skip Alexander

All things considered, Alexander didn’t see the logic in the matchup.

“I don’t know whether Snead knew that I was going to play … and (Sam) was just forfeiting the match or leading the lambs to the slaughter,” Alexander told the St. Petersburg Country Club. “But having to play their No. 1 man, I wouldn’t have been the choice. I’d have had Hogan play him.”

Alexander didn’t know whether he could even finish 36 holes. He had never played a 36-hole match before.

It turned out he didn’t have to.

His hands bleeding throughout the match, Alexander pulled off one of the most unlikely upsets in the playing of the Ryder Cup. Beating Panton 8 & 7, Alexander helped the Americans clinch the Cup with the most lopsided match in the event’s history to that point.

Even Alexander couldn’t believe it.

“I was all bandaged up; my hands were bleeding,” he told the country club. “I played John Panton, the Vardon Trophy winner, Order of Merit winner, leading money winner and everything. I’d never walked 36 holes before that, and it was a 36-hole match. So I took off, and every time I played a hole, I wondered if I could play the next. But it worked out all right (chuckling). I beat him 8 & 7, which as I heard, was the biggest margin that anybody had won by. … I three-putted No. 10 though, in that afternoon round, or I might have won 9 & 8. I remember wondering if that was the beginning of the end and I wouldn’t win another hole.”

He was right. Alexander never won again.

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Skip Alexander (left) with Clayton Heafner.

“Borrowed courage”

LAUDED THROUGH MUCH OF THE NEXT YEAR, Alexander was honored in January by Philadelphia sportswriters as the “Most Courageous Athlete” of 1951.

The Associated Press covered the event:

“His face lined with scars and his fingers, which once controlled some of golf’s best shotmaking, still bent and bruised, Alexander told some 1,300 diners that he owed part of his recovery to letters and telegrams of encouragement from people all over the nation. ‘It was sort of borrowed courage,’ he said.”

Alexander went on.

“Skip smiles under that new ear and eye lid and refuses to consider anything but an ever-brightening future.” – Oscar Fraley, AP Columnist

“It was undoubtedly my sporting instinct, that natural effort to win against all odds, that helped carry me through my recent trying days,” he told the audience. “My faith in the doctors and the unflinching encouragement of my wife, plus the thought of our 2-year-old daughter, carried me past many discouraging moments.”

Still he expected more in golf. Alexander envisioned a return to the Tour, but soon found he could no longer compete regularly at the highest level.

“I played in a couple of Masters, but didn’t have any success playing on the Tour after the accident,” he said.

Alexander never left golf. He settled in at Lakewood, now known as the St. Petersburg Country Club, where he served as the head golf professional for 34 years — the job he was given as he rose from his Duke University Hospital bed for the last time. In addition to the Duke Hall of Fame, Alexander has been enshrined in the North Carolina Hall of Fame and the Carolinas Golf Hall of Fame. Alexander’s son Buddy won the U.S. Amateur in 1986 and eventually became the head golf coach at the University of Florida, leading the Gators to two national championships.

Skip Alexander passed away in 1997, leaving behind a legacy in golf – and the Ryder Cup – few can match.

Associated Press columnist Oscar Fraley couldn’t have been more prescient on March 4, 1952, when he wrote, “Skip smiles under that new ear and eye lid and refuses to consider anything but an ever-brightening future.”

In a frame on the wall of Pinehurst’s historic clubhouse, the smile never fades.

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Willie McRae and the Ryder Cup at Pinehurst

After 73 years spent caddying on Pinehurst No. 2, Willie McRae is rarely wrong about golf.

But at the first tee on a brisk November morning in 1951, an 18-year-old Willie McRae made the wrong read.

“I don’t get it,” McRae recalls saying in his memoir, On the Bag. “Not only is he itty-bitty, but he damn near died in that car accident a couple of years ago. How they think he’s gonna be able to get the job done?”

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Willie McRae, at far left, caddied in Ben Hogan’s group during the 1951 Ryder at Pinehurst No. 2. (Photo Courtesy of the Tufts Archives – May not be used without permission)

McRae was talking about, of course, the great Ben Hogan, who had won in Pinehurst three times in the North & South Open, including his first PGA Tour win in 1940, which might’ve saved Hogan’s career.

“He got up on the first hole and said, ‘Have a nice round. When he finished, he said, ‘Have a nice day.’ He shot 32-34. I said, ‘Yeah, he can play.'” -Willie McRae on Ben Hogan

But McRae, who’s trusted his eyes on No. 2 for seven decades, couldn’t see how the diminutive Hogan could possibly still compete with the world’s best players on the terribly difficult No. 2, which was playing to 7,007 yards for the 1951 Ryder Cup.

It didn’t take long for McRae to change his mind.

“He got up on the first hole and said, ‘Have a nice round,'” McRae told ESPN of that first Ryder Cup round. “When he finished, he said, ‘Have a nice day.’ He shot 32-34.

“I said, ‘Yeah, he can play.'”

Looking back 65 years later, McRae believes Hogan’s Ryder Cup 66 may have been the best round he’s ever seen on Pinehurst No. 2.

“I couldn’t stop raving about that itty-bitty fellow at home that night,” McRae writes.


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Pinehurst’s Putter Boy included as one of golf’s must-see landmarks


Golf Digest lists Pinehurst’s Putter Boy among golf’s greatest landmarks.

Pinehurst and the Putter Boy go hand-in-hand. Two-time U.S. Open Champion – and two-time North & South Amateur Champion – Curtis Strange sees the connection as well as anyone. “Weren’t we all that Putter Boy once? I was,” he told us recently.

“It’s the coolest symbol in all of golf,” Strange adds.

Golf Digest this week collected what it feels are golf’s most treasured landmarks, and there among Augusta’s Amen Corner and The Old Course’s Swilcan Bridge, Golf Digest lists Pinehurst’s iconic Putter Boy. It’s an honor that humbles us here at Pinehurst greatly, and one we don’t take lightly.

And neither, it seems, do those who visit Pinehurst. Perhaps it’s the second stop after a moment with the Payne Stewart statue, or maybe the first, but the Putter Boy standing between Pinehurst’s two main putting greens offers a glimpse into Pinehurst lore and legend, one that has been woven over a century. Below are just a few of the images you, our guests, shared with us.

Also, here are a few of our favorite Putter Boy Images:

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Simson makes Pinehurst history with eighth North & South Amateur title

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With his victory at the 2016 Senior North & South Amateur, Paul Simson is now the winningest golfer all-time at Pinehurst Resort and Country Club. (Photo by Thomas Toohey Brown)

Simson has won more championships at Pinehurst than any golfer in history


VILLAGE OF PINEHURST, N.C. – His scorecard signed and attested, Paul Simson sought to find some shade. He settled into his golf cart, his phone in hand. He needed to make a quick call. Then he had a text or two to send.

All of these actions were done with an ever-widening smile on his face. The moment was almost too much.

After all, he had just done something no one has ever done in the 120-year history of Pinehurst.

Paul Simson won his eighth North & South Amateur championship on Thursday – his sixth North & South Senior Amateur – to become the all-time winningest golfer at Pinehurst.

“Who else in the world can say they have their name on the Pinehurst wall of honor more than anyone else?” Simson said, the smile never leaving. “It’s really cool to have done it just once. To have it more than anybody else is pretty special.”

Over 20 years ago, before he won his first North & South Amateur, Simson couldn’t bring himself to even look at the wall of names of past champions in Pinehurst Resort and Country Club’s famed clubhouse.

Sure, Simson knew all the names, and knew them well. But even for the man who seems to have won every amateur title imaginable, it was the thought of having his name emblazoned in bronze at Pinehurst that sent the chill through him.

“I wouldn’t even go by the wall,” Simson said of that time. “I just wanted my name to go up there so much, I couldn’t even bring myself to look at it.”

Now, it’s up there eight times, twice on the North & South Amateur wall – in 1995 and 1996; Simson is the last man to have won back-to-back North & South championships – and now six times in the Senior North & South – 2006, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2015 and in the 65th playing of the event, in 2016.

With the 1-shot victory over Pinehurst resident Macon Moye, Simson on Thursday eclipsed 7-time North & South Amateur Champion George Dunlap, 7-time Women’s North & South Amateur Champion Estelle Lawson Page, and Carolyn Cudone, who won six Senior Women’s North & Souths and one Women’s North & South Amateur.

“Doing something special in golf is always something you strive for or hope to achieve,” Simson said. “To win a state amateur or a mid-amateur or a senior amateur, but Pinehurst being the premier golf resort in the country, to have your name up there more than anybody else is incredible.”

That says a lot coming from Simson, 65, a legend in amateur golf. He’s won more than 200 titles, and in 2010, he won the British Amateur, the Canadian Amateur and the U.S. Senior Amateur in a span of 55 days. In 2008, Simson played in the U.S. Senior Open, the U.S. Amateur at Pinehurst and the U.S. Senior Amateur.

But the possibility of winning for the eighth time at Pinehurst weighed heavily on Simson’s mind.

“I have to admit, I’m surprised I thought about it as much as I did,” he said.

Simson had to close strongly to win the championship, and did so, making birdie on the 16th and 18th holes of Pinehurst No. 5 to rally and claim the victory over Moye, who had eagled 17.

“I didn’t really think about it last night,” said Simson, a Raleigh resident. “But on the drive down here and today while I was playing, I thought about it. And sometimes it was a curse and sometimes it was a motivator.”

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Canada’s Judith Kyrinis won the Senior Women’s North & South Amateur for the second straight year. (Photo by Thomas Tooohey Brown)

Simson wasn’t the only champion on Thursday to defend his title. Canada’s Judith Kyrinis, who won the 58th Senior Women’s North & South Amateur a year ago, fired a tournament-low 69 on Pinehurst No. 1 to win by 10 shots over Amy Ellertson and Marie-Therese Torti to successfully  – and emphatically – defend her championship.

“I’ve had a lot of people over the last year text me and email me when they saw my name in the hallway when they visited Pinehurst,” Kyrinis said. “It really is an honor to have your name up there forever and your picture up for the year. I’m thrilled. I’m thrilled again.”

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Patty Moore won her sixth Putter Boy trophy after winning the Super Senior Women’s North & South Amateur for the third time. (Photo by Thomas Toohey Brown)

Pinehurst Country Club member Patty Moore won the Super Senior Women’s North & South by a stroke over Beatriz Arenas, winning a coveted Putter Boy trophy for the sixth time. Moore, who won the Senior Women’s North & South three times, has now won three Super Senior titles.

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Don Donatoni won the 2016 Super Senior North & South Amateur at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club. (Photo by Thomas Toohey Brown)

Don Donatoni, of Malvern, Pennsylvania, shot a 3-under 69 on Pinehurst No. 8 to win the Super Senior North & South Amateur by one shot over Logan Jackson.

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“Dead City” on Pinehurst No. 2

There is a place on Pinehurst No. 2 that legendary caddie Willie McRae calls “Dead City.”

He would know.

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