In honour of the 2012 Ryder Cup we salute Walter Hagen (1892-1969), first & six-time US Ryder Cup Captain, whose spectacular career revolutionised the role of the contemporary professional golfer.
Walter Hagen came from a working class background, the only son of five children. He started playing golf as a caddy and made his professional debut at 19 years old, when he came a respectable 11th at the 1912 Canadian Open. Hagen was also a very skilled basketball player & in 1914 he cancelled a tryout with the Philadelphia Phillies in order to take part in a golf tournament. Later that week he won the US Open (20-21st August at the Midlothian Country Club, Blue Island, Illinois) for the first time, aged 21, his first major golfing title. The photograph above is taken three weeks after that life-changing golf event.
Thereafter Walter Hagen won so many golf tournaments in such flamboyant and cheerful manner that he raised the then lowly status of the golf professional singlehandedly. At that time golf pros often weren’t allowed entry in golf clubhouses. When Hagen won the 1922 British Open at Royal St George’s, he hired a limousine in protest at his barred entry there. He had the car parked directly in front of the clubhouse, changed his clothes in the vehicle and ate his celebratory meal there.
He went on to win 11 professional major championships, won 22 straight 36-hole games in the PGA & defeated his then great rival, Bobby Jones, in a 72-hole golf tournament in 1926 to (temporarily at least) decide who was the greatest golfer of the the day.