During the years when he was leading the American professional golfer out of the wilderness of meager local distinction into the broad plains of plenty, Walter Hagen was annually concerned (beneath his bland exterior) that he always have some major title to place alongside his name. Most of the time he did. In 1914 and again after the war in 1919, he was Walter Hagen, U.S. Open champion. In 1922, 1924, 1928 and 1929, he was Walter Hagen, British Open champion. During the years when he won neither of the national opens, the two biggest championships, Walter bore down with all he had to make sure he didn't let the title that ranked right below them in importance escape from him. That was the PGA Championship. In the 1920s Walter practically owned it. He won it first in 1921 and then, in one of the great extended performances of all time, he repeated in 1924, 1925, 1926 and 1927. When Walter was eliminated in the 1928 PGA by Leo Diegel, Diegel was hailed as a wonder man—which indeed he was to beat the finest match-play golfer who ever lived.
To be the PGA champion amounted to something in those days both in the minds of the players themselves and the people who followed the game. In 1923, for example, the whole country leaned forward in anticipation of a tremendous final between Sarazen, the defending champion, and Hagen, out to unseat the young man he considered a usurper. What a match ensued between these two combative, unyielding rivals! They were even after the first 18, Sarazen squaring with a birdie on the home hole. In the afternoon, throwing everything into his game, Gene moved out in front by three holes at the turn, and then "The Haig," unleashing one of those crescendoing stretch drives for which he was famous, won one hole back, then another, then another. Coming to the 36th, they were all even. They halved it in pars. On into extra holes. Two 4s on the 37th. And then this match, bitter in more ways than one, ended with unexpected suddenness on the 38th, a short par 4 which doglegged to the left. Saved from hooking out of bounds by the trees in the angle of the dogleg, Sarazen gouged his ball out of the thick, tall rough with his niblick—two feet from the cup.
The PGA Championship didn't always, of course, produce matches of these spectacular proportions—and, in candor, the tournament, like all golf tournaments, had to lose some of its primary color when Hagen and his contemporaries were no longer in dominance—but, by and large, it remained a fine and important championship down through the years, until shortly after the end of World War II. Then it began to go down, fast, and in recent years it has come perilously close to becoming just another week of hot weather golf possessing hardly any more significance than the routine circuit tourneys played the week before and the week after it.
What were the reasons for this decline? Well, part of the story was a decided drop in the quality of the competing field. After Hogan, for example, had won his second PGA Championship in 1948, he never entered it again, and other established stars, overgolfed and not exactly poor, felt that all that precarious match play under the broiling sun amounted to midsummer madness. On the other hand, the newly risen young golf stars wanted to get into the championship but couldn't. Standing in their way was that horse-and-buggy PGA regulation decreeing that a young pro put in a five-year apprenticeship in the ranks before earning acceptance as an adult member of the organization and coincidentally becoming eligible to play in its championship. The fact that this rule remained on the books—it made sense only when a golf pro was primarily a clubmaker—was generally attributed to pressures brought to bear by the careerists within the PGA's nationwide administrative hierarchy who, like all wheels within wheels, were nothing if not jealous of their prerogative. They sometimes gave the impression that they regarded the annual championship first as a convention for themselves and secondarily as a golf tournament.
On top of this, a major championship loses its character unless it is played on first-class courses. Much more often than not in recent years, the PGA Championship was held on layouts quite unworthy of the event. Moreover, the hosting club was frequently unprepared, lacking both the facilities and orientation, to handle the one hundred and one details that are part and parcel of running a big show like the PGA. Make no mistake about this: the big-time smoothness of operation that annually marks the National Open and the Masters is hard-bought.
The bottom was reached last summer at the Blue Hill Country Club in Canton, Mass., where the once luminous event had about as much class as the Bolivian Public Links Championship. The nettling thing was that the only persons, apparently, who weren't chagrined by this deterioration were the old PGA hands themselves. "You'd run into one of them, some guy you liked very much personally," a veteran golf observer was remembering not long ago, "and instead of being down in the mouth he'd give you the big smile and exclaim, 'Wonderful tournament, eh?' You'd mention something you were terribly disappointed with, like the course. What you got in return was a renewed smile of affability and the philosophic admission that you couldn't have everything, you know. It was all like that morbid-type gag now going the rounds, the one where a friend of Mrs. Lincoln's asks her as she's leaving Ford's theater, 'So apart from the shooting, Mrs. Lincoln, tell me, how did you like the play?' "
These reflections are brought on by the conviction all of us received at the recent PGA Championship at the Miami Valley Golf Club in Dayton that the turning point has finally been reached. The 1957 PGA Championship was a fine one. More than this, there seemed to be every indication that we can honestly count on the tournament to get better and better and, before too long, reclaim its birthright. Now this frankly came as a surprise. At the beginning of the week, it looked as if officialdom was up to its old habits. Previous to the tournament, the PGA had stated, for instance, that this year it would invite to the competition some of the leading young players who hadn't as yet completed their period of apprenticeship. (Souchak and Finsterwald, by the way, were in the starting field for the first time, each having become eligible this year). At the last minute, just when it appeared that, with something like 132 players qualified for 128 places, there would be no room in the draw for any young "guests," one final fortuitous withdrawal by a scheduled entrant came through, and Gene Littler was invited to step into his spot. There are certainly better methods of procedure than this, but here at least was a step, however shaky, in the right direction. I think we can expect a reasonable number of the ranking young pros to be invited next year, and not at the eleventh hour.
Primed for prestige
Additionally, the Miami Valley Golf Club was ready to stage a championship. When, before leaving for the tournament, you studied photographs of the course, you were led to conclude that the layout was too short and the terrain too featureless to present a real test for the country's best golfers. This, on arrival, turned out to be a fair estimate. But, at the same time, Miami Valley had the crisp, bright look of a course primed for a prestige event. The fairways were green and well cut. The rough had clearly been superintended closely, and so had the greens, the aprons, the hazards, the tees. It is no easy thing to get a Midwestern course into such excellent shape for a summer tournament, and the people at Miami Valley had certainly turned in a job. Off the course, too. All the club committees were well organized and full of interest. The membership, in short, was obviously proud to be hosting the PGA Championship and was not viewing it foremostly as a possible means of making money. This happy state of affairs resulted, essentially, from a change in the PGA's policy. Formerly, the association sold its championship as a package—the tag was about $40,000—to a club meeting its asking price. This year, under the plan promoted by Ed Carter, the new PGA Tournament Manager, the host club receives roughly (after expenses) 60% of the gate and the PGA 40%. The way this agreement works, the better the advance job the club does, the more money it stands to make; and the better the preparatory cooperation the PGA gives, the more money it stands to make. Good crowds turned out to watch the play at Miami Valley. Whether or not the attendance would have been larger with a more stringent use of television was debated all week but in a novel, friendly atmosphere, the underlying feeling being that any organization that is getting the big things right can certainly handle the other problems that come along.
Now that the PGA is heading in the right direction, the association will, if it is wise, keep moving briskly forward. Next year should produce another good tournament. It is scheduled for the Llanerch Country Club, outside of Philadelphia, which possesses an alert membership and a pleasant course. The PGA should even now be planning for 1959, lining up a genuine championship layout on the order of Pebble Beach or Medinah (and, while they are at it, arranging for the best possible venue for the 1959 Ryder Cup match). The association would be well advised also to consider seriously moving the PGA Championship up to some week in September, when it would serve as a fitting climax to the tournament season. (A September date would have, among other advantages, the absence of 90° temperatures and the probable presence of Demaret, Middlecoff, Boros and the other established players who have been ducking the tournament.) Above all, it is high time the PGA stopped talking about turning the championship into a 72-hole stroke-play affair. (The reasoning behind entertaining such a change is this: in match play your big names can get knocked out in the early rounds, but in stroke-play you can count on them being around on Saturday and Sunday and so draw a big gate. Granting that it never hurts to have Sam Snead, that living legend, on the premises, if you build a classic tournament and maintain its integrity, the mere fact that a player is doing brilliant things in that event automatically makes him important, whoever he is.) It has seemed to a great many of us, for a long time, that the PGA will realize it has a gold mine in a match-play form of tourney only when it stops mistaking it for a tin cup. Stroke play has certain distinct charms but so does match play, and from a spectator's point of view—it hasn't really changed since Hagen's heyday—there is probably nothing more exciting in golf than to watch a head-on contest between two top shotmakers played over a dramatic layout with true shot values. If I were a golf fan living within reach of the PGA Championship, I think I Would find it hard to stay away during the early rounds when I could watch my favorite players up close and, if and when they were eliminated, it would be just as hard to miss the duels between the men who played the golf that beat them.
The only thing that really pays off in the long run is quality. A case in point is Rockefeller Center. When that group of buildings was being planned around 1930, the architects, striving to create something that would be beautiful and not just glibly commercial, had the courage to devote one block of Fifth Avenue frontage, some of the most expensive real estate in the world, to two small seven-story buildings separated by a channel some 60 feet wide leading to an interior plaza. And so what happened? By passing up the easy commercial solution, the architects produced so strikingly handsome an over-all project that office space in all the buildings around the plaza (where the skating rink is now situated) became just about as desirable and valuable as Fifth Avenue frontage.
Perhaps the easiest way to convey the shape the 1957 PGA Championship took would be to chart the routes the two finalists took to get there. In the upper half of the draw, Lionel Hebert (left) began his march by defeating Max Evans 2 up, Marty Furgol 3 and 1, and Charlie Farlow 3 and 1. Continuing his forceful play, he got by Mike Souchak 2 and 1 in the fourth round and then went out in the afternoon and eliminated Claude Harmon by the same score. (At this stage of Lionel's progress, one began to remember that two winters ago at Augusta, Bob Jones, when asked which of the younger players impressed him, did not name the more celebrated comers but had instead remarked that he liked the solid way Lionel Hebert hit the ball.) In the semis Lionel met and defeated, 3 and 1, Walter Burkemo who, as everyone knows, has three times gone to the final of the PGA and, as his over-all record of 26 wins and 6 defeats in this championship testifies, may have, along with his very competent game, the best temperament for match play of any present-day golfer. There was very little to choose between Burkemo and Hebert, but Walter missed a few putts he might have holed, and Lionel canned a few he might have missed. Dormie 2, playing the 35th, a 170-yarder to a crown green, Lionel closed out the match' by hitting a five-iron next to the stick.
In the lower half of the draw, Dow Finsterwald, a comparatively local boy from Athens, Ohio, made his way to the semis by eliminating Ted Sleichter (1 up), Bud Williamson (3 and 2), Joe Kirkwood Jr. (2 and 1), Sam Snead (2 and 1) and a 51-year-old tiger named Charlie Sheppard (2 and 1). Dow is a very skillful technician and, perhaps, the most conservative tactician of the touring pros. He likes to play his drives down the safe side of the fairway and his approaches to the safe side of the green. Some people assert that this makes Finsterwald uninteresting to watch, but there is a great deal of artistry to this young man's golf if you look for it. Dow was at his best beating Snead with three birds and the rest pars. In his other matches, somewhat reminiscent of the way Robin Roberts used to pitch when he was racking up 20 victories or more a season, Dow played just well enough to win. In the semis, he had a humdinger of a match against Don Whitt, an engaging young Californian who plays almost as rapidly as Ford, is simplicity itself on the greens and has plenty of moxie. Five down after 12 holes, young Whitt holed an eight-iron for a 1 on the short 13th, won four of the next five holes to square the match, fell behind at the 30th when he hooked out-of-bounds but stayed right in there, forcing the play, and was not beaten until Finsterwald set himself up for a birdie on the 36th by sticking a six-iron approach five feet from the cup.
The Hebert-Finsterwald final, tight all the way, was decided on the 31st and 34th holes. Three up on the 22nd tee after tying three birdies together, Lionel lost the 22nd, the 23rd and then, after six straight halves, the last hole of his lead on the 30th, where he hit one of his few poor tee shots. But then, he immediately went out in front again on the short 31st by holing a pretty 16-foot downhiller for a deuce—a tremendous psychological boost. The 32nd and 33rd were halved in birdies. On the 34th, Lionel moved to 2 up when Finsterwald first caught the rough with his drive and then the creek before the green with his recovery. Two pars on the 35th—Hebert, 2 and 1.
Is the new champion a worthy champion?—so goes the ancient query. Well, what would be your estimate of a fellow who has the stuff to outplay, consecutively, men of the caliber of Evans, Furgol, Farlow, Souchak, Harmon, Burkemo and Finsterwald?
THE HEBERT BROTHERS
and how to tell them apart
Lionel (left), the new PGA champion, is the younger (29), the shorter (5 feet 9 inches) and the heavier (185 pounds) member of golf's outstanding brother act. (Natives of Lafayette in the Evangeline country of Louisiana, where their father was a sheriff, the Heberts steadfastly adhere to the French pronunciation of the name—rhymes with Mayfair.) Lionel's victory in the PGA climaxed an unspectacular but steady progression up the ladder: caddie, high school star, college star at LSU, assistant pro (to Johnny Bulla at the Westmoreland club in Pittsburgh), pro at the Kahkwa club in Erie and an increasingly successful circuit competitor who finished well in the money in seven of the 11 tournaments preceding the PGA. He has a very sound swing and can be long off the tees. A music major at LSU and an accomplished Dixieland trumpeter, Lionel carries on the tour a horn given to him by Jimmy Dorsey. He finds an occasional session on the trumpet the perfect antidote to the strain of competitive golf and is careful to occupy an end room at the motels he stops at.
Junius Joseph (Jay) (right), winner of the 1957 Bing Crosby and Texas Open tournaments, is 34, a slim 6-footer, who presently represents the Mayfair Inn Country Club in Sanford, Fla., an outlying possession of the New York (baseball) Giants management. Like his younger brother, Jay is well endowed with intelligence and hard sense and planned his career with unusual thoroughness. When he decided he wanted to become a golf pro while attending LSU, to make sure he could keep his feet on the ground he studied accounting and business administration. Several years later, when he was well established as a club professional, he completed his work for his master's degree in management, finance and investment. During World War II, Jay served for four years in the Pacific as a lieutenant in the Marines. (A leg wound received at Iwo Jima sometimes makes it hard for him to shift his weight at top velocity.) Jay turned professional in 1949 and joined the tour in earnest in 1955. He has a very graceful swing and a notably gracious disposition.