Walter Hagen was one of the biggest stars in golf in the 1920s, although his career stretched from the 19-teens into the 1940s. He helped popularize professional golf and is still among the golfers with the most major championships.
Born: Dec. 21, 1892 in Rochester, N.Y.
Died: Oct. 5, 1969
Nickname: The Haig
• U.S. Open: 1914, 1919
• British Open: 1922, 1924, 1928, 1929
• PGA Championship: 1921, 1924, 1925, 1926, 1927
Awards and Honors:
• Member, World Golf Hall of Fame
• Member, U.S. Ryder Cup team, 1927, 1929, 1931, 1933, 1935
• Captain, U.S. Ryder Cup team, 1927, 1929, 1931, 1933, 1935, 1937
• Walter Hagen: "I never wanted to be a millionaire. I just wanted to live like one."
• Bobby Jones, after losing a 72-hole "World Championship" match to Walter Hagen: "When a man misses his drive, and then misses his second shot, and then wins the hole with a birdie, it gets my goat."
• Gene Sarazen: "All the professionals ... should say a silent thanks to Walter Hagen each time they stretch a check between their fingers. It was Walter who made professional golf what it is."
Walter Hagen Biography:
Walter Hagen won 11 professional majors, more than any golfer not named Jack Nicklaus or Tiger Woods. But more than the victories, Hagen's impact is felt in his almost single-handed legitimizing of the PGA Tour, and of the standing of professional athletes around the world.
Early in Hagen's career, it was not uncommon for golf clubs to refuse entry to their clubhouses to pro golfers. Hagen fought to raise standards for pro golfers. Once at a tournament in England, he rented a limousine, parked it in front of the clubhouse and used it as a changing room after the club refused him entry to its locker room.
Hagen's presence at a tournament guaranteed great crowds, and he commanded huge appearance fees for exhibition matches. He was among the first golfers to capitalize on product endorsements, and he is believed to be the first athlete to earn $1 million in a career.
Hagen grew up just a few miles from the famed Oak Hill Country Club. As a youth, he caddied at Rochester (N.Y.) Country Club, where later he would serve as head pro.
His first win in a major was the 1914 U.S. Open, at age 22, but his greatest success came in the early to mid-1920s. In all, he won 11 majors, including five PGA Championships, four of them consecutively. In addition, he won the Western Open five times, which in that time was equivalent to a major.
Hagen's career spanned the first great explosion of talent on the American golf scene, and he enjoyed rivalries with Bobby Jones and Gene Sarazen. Hagen never beat Jones in a major in which they both played, but did crush Jones in a heavily promoted 72-hole exhibition match play event in 1926.
Hagen's 11th and final win in a major was at the 1929 British Open. His last victory that is credited as a PGA Tour win was at the 1936 Inverness Invitational Four-Ball. He played in a major for the final time in 1942.
Hagen also played a pivotal role in the early history of the Ryder Cup, captaining the United States team in the first six Cups played.
Hagen brought color and glamour to golf, playing in plus-fours and two-toned shoes (he was the first athlete ever named to the list of Best Dressed Americans). His swing was inconsistent and he probably hit more bad drives and approaches than any of the all-time greats, but his recovery game was so good he usually got away with his mistakes.
He was equally exciting and flamboyant off the course, earning and spending money lavishly. Hagen often stayed at the best hotels, threw the best parties, and hired limousines to take him to tournaments (sometimes pulling the limo right up to the first tee).
Walter Hagen was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1974.