1926 PGA Championship

Sept 20-25 1926 the 9th PGA Championship was contested at Salisbury Golf Links, Westbury Long Island, New York. The total purse was $11,100. On Monday, a 36-hole qualifying round was conducted before the start of the Championship. Walter Hagen turned in a score of 140 and was the medalist among the 32 qualifiers. A score of 154 qualified for match play, my uncle Dick turned in a card of 153, so he made it. The young Oklahoma professional had a 78 for the first 18, but clipped three strokes off that, in the afternoon, with 39-36-75. Notable players who didn’t make it to match play were Emmett French (155 lost in playoff), Cyril Walker (157) and Bill Mehlhorn (157). All matches were played at 36 holes.

Jock Hendry, a professional from St Paul, Minnesota who qualified for match play with a score of 152, was Uncle Dick’s first round opponent. Jagged nerves and a sluggish putter seemed to get the better of Grout during the front-nine of their match. He was two-down to Hendry at the turn. But, Dick came from behind on the back-nine of the morning round and wound up ‘going to lunch’ 2-up. My uncle played steady golf in the afternoon and was victorious over Jock Hendry by the final score of 4 & 3.

The next morning, for his second match, Dick would meet a vastly more experienced and confident pro named Walter Hagen. Hagen, the defending PGA champion, had advanced to the next round by defeating Joe Turnesa of Elmsford, NY by a count of 3 & 2. When the Grout’s back in Oklahoma learned the news of Dick’s victory, they were joyous. H.D. “Pop” Grout was so proud of the achievement that he immediately sent his son a congratulatory telegram which also contained some counseling for his next opponent, “The Haig.” Pop Grout reminded Dick to stay calm. Then he added, “Son, about all I can tell you is, go out there tomorrow and play your best, because if you do, you can’t be beaten.” As far as Pop was concerned, it was just that simple.

That night in his hotel room, as stated by my uncle, he could not get comfortable enough to get much sleep. Apparently, his mind raced in every direction as he assessed his chances the next day against the great Walter Hagen. So, why was he experiencing so much anxiety and self-doubt? After all, Dick Grout was a fine player and this was definitely “not his first rodeo.”

The main ingredients for making a champion are confidence, concentration and patience, combined, of course, with the ability to play the proper shots. Cicero said: “Confidence is that feeling with which the mind embarks in great and honorable courses with a sure hope and trust in itself.” So, confidence is, perhaps, the greatest of all winning assets. If a player doesn’t believe in his ability to play championship golf, the chances are that he will never get very far.

Had there been pari-mutuel wagering during the 1926 PGA (which, of course, there wasn’t), an expert handicapper might have given this pre-round analysis of the match pitting Walter Hagen against Dick Grout:

About Hagen, he’d write; the Defending Champion never tries to force the madness of perfection on his golf. Hagen is oft quoted as saying “I expect to hit at least five bad shots a round.” However, Sir Walter fully expects to win, whenever he plays. There might well be no golfer with a better attitude toward the game than Walter Hagen. On the fast, undulating greens, usually found in big championships, there has never been a better putter than Hagen. He is known as a master putter.

Summary of Hagen: Great Attitude, Great Putter.

About Grout, he’d write; the Oklahoman is playing in his first big championship. It has been reported that Grout lacks the calm, steady disposition characteristic of great golfers; that his golfing temperament leaves much to be desired. The twenty-two-year-old is inclined to grow careless when he misses a shot or two. Grout’s putting is like so many of us golfers, he is off again and on again.

Summary of Grout: Lacks Confidence, Moderate Putter.

On Wednesday, September 22nd, as their match began, Grout grabbed the early lead when he took the first hole, getting down in four strokes while the champion took one more. Hagen squared the match on the third, and went one up on the fifth. Grout continued to execute a number of quality shots but a balky putter failed him in the early goings. Hagen dropped a birdie three on the ninth to go two up, having made the outward journey in 34, one stroke under par. Grout’s card showed that he scored a nifty 36 despite some missed opportunities. The champion fought his way to a three-hole advantage at the end of eighteen and increased his margin to 7 & 6 at the final.

When a reporter asked for comments from some of the spectators following the Hagen versus Grout match; one fellow stated, “Oh, you know Walter, he hit three of those and one of them and that was it.” Then another man said, “Hagen’s a magician around those greens, even ‘The Great Houdini’ couldn’t escape from some of the places where he did.” A third person, who watched the entire contest, commented that “Grout battled gamely against {Hagen} a master at his best.” He added, “I believe the young Oklahoman hit 16 out of 18 greens in the morning round and was still 3-down.”

My uncle had been eliminated from the PGA Championship. Now it was time to go home. But, he took with him an outstanding experience and some unforgettable moments. During his match with Hagen, my uncle witnessed, perhaps, the greatest shot that he would ever see in his life. On number 6, a 400-yard, par 4 hole, Hagen trapped his second shot. Unlike many bunkers that are shallow, this one was deep. Hagen’s ball was buried within inches of the sheer side of the green. To make matters worse for him, the hole was cut not more than six feet from the edge of the green. Hagen lifted the ball almost straight up and plopped it down, six feet past the cup but, with enough back-spin for the ball to finish within a yard of the hole! That fantastic shot literally took Uncle Dick’s breath away!

My uncle’s match with “The Haig” had its lighter moments too. Many years after they played, Dick reported this memory: “I was paired with Walter Hagen in the second round of the PGA Championship in 1926. All matches were 36 holes. The tournament was held in Garden City, Long Island. It was my turn to putt. I noticed a worm in my line and hesitated. Walter said, “Pick it up, Dick. It won’t bite you.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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