'31 PGA Champ Tom Creavy
A Major Mystery
This is an article from the Aug. 28, 2000 issue
There are golf trivia, and there are golf minutiae. That Walter
Hagen won 22 consecutive matches in the PGA Championship is
trivia. That he wore a tie during those matches is minutia.
Basic information about the winner of a major wouldn't qualify
as either trivia or minutiae, except in the case of Tom Creavy.
Creavy, who at 20 won the 1931 PGA at Wannamoisett Country Club
in Rumford, R.I., is the most obscure major champion of the
modern era. He easily outdistances '57 U.S. Open champion Dick
Mayer (who at least was known for wearing a cap like Ben Hogan's)
and the two Alfreds, Perry and Padgham, who won the '35 and '36
British Opens, respectively (and who, if nothing else, are
remembered as the two Alfreds).
Facts about Creavy's life are few and far between, but this much
is known: Born on Feb. 3, 1911, Creavy was one of seven children
and the son of a carpenter. He grew up in Tuckahoe, N.Y., a
suburb of New York City, and learned the game while caddying. As
a competitor he was one of the greatest match players in history.
He was also a boy wonder. At 17, he beat U.S. Open champ Johnny
Farrell in the quarterfinals of the Metropolitan PGA
Championship. Creavy had an all-world short game, but his
competitive career was shortened by an untimely accident. In
later years he became a respected teacher whose pupils included
'73 Masters champ Tommy Aaron.
When Creavy won the PGA, he was playing in his first major and
was only two months older than Gene Sarazen had been in 1921 when
he became the youngest winner in the history of the championship.
Creavy whipped Sarazen 5 and 4 in the semifinals and topped Denny
Shute 2 and 1 in the final, a match that was refereed by Creavy's
idol, Bobby Jones. The next year Creavy lost to Frank Walsh on
the 38th hole in the semifinals, and in 1933 he fell to Jimmy
Hines in the quarters. Creavy never played in another PGA, but
his 83% winning percentage among those with 10 or more matches is
the second highest (Lionel Hebert won 85%) in the event's
"Tom Creavy was the quietest, least conspicuous fine player I
ever knew," says Paul Runyan, the '34 and '38 PGA champion. "I
remember him as tall but slightly built and not a powerful
hitter. But he had one of those magical short games that made him
tough to beat head-to-head."
Creavy's record and his ability around the green should have
earned him more adulation, but a combination of circumstances
conspired to reduce his historical impact to less than a
footnote. He shone during a shadow era for golf: Bobby Jones had
retired in 1930, and the game was becoming increasingly
irrelevant as the Depression intensified.
Still, Creavy would have had other chances to deepen his mark. He
had played in the first Masters in 1934, won the '34 San
Francisco Match Play and tied the 18-hole scoring record at the
U.S. Open with a final-round 66 at Merion in 1934. Shortly after
the Open, however, Creavy fell and severely injured his back; the
details of the accident went to the grave with him when he died
of a heart attack in 1979.
"When other people brought it up, my father would tell great
stories about his playing career, but never in a wistful way,"
says Creavy's only child, Jean Chodkowski, 55, a
special-education teacher in Milford, Del. "He considered
teaching golf his true calling. He was the kind of person who
gave people confidence."
Aaron, perhaps the most obscure winner of the Masters, worked
with Creavy during the last two years of Creavy's life, after
having met him at the Saratoga Spa golf course in Saratoga
Springs, N.Y., where the '31 PGA champ was the longtime pro. "I
was drawn to the way Tom talked about golf--simple, but deep,"
says Aaron. "When he put his hands on a club, you could tell he
really had been a player."
That is more than history has ever told us.
Venturi Adds A Zinger
Despite having had their heads handed to them by the
International team in the 1998 Presidents Cup, many veteran U.S.
players are having trouble mustering enthusiasm for the Oct.
20-22 reprise at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club outside
Washington, D.C. The matches, held since '94 in Ryder Cup off
years, are seen as one team event too many, and they're obscured
by a crowded schedule of big-money events.
That malaise no doubt figured into Ken Venturi's surprising
choice of 40-year-old Paul Azinger as one of his two captain's
picks. Venturi said as much on Monday, citing Azinger's passion
for team play when announcing the choice. Venturi also said
having Azinger on the team made up for Azinger's absence in 1994,
the year he underwent treatment for lymphoma.
But by picking Azinger, who ranked 24th on the Presidents Cup
points list, Venturi broke with tradition. For the last two Cups,
the U.S. captain made the 11th and 12th players on the list his
wild cards (the top 10 automatically qualify), and no player
lower than 14th had been selected. Venturi did make the
11th-ranked Loren Roberts his other wild card but passed on No.
12, a deeply disappointed Chris Perry, who had said making the
team was his "sole goal for the year." In 1999 Perry finished
16th on the Ryder Cup list and was passed over by captain Ben
Crenshaw. "Ben told me I missed by the width of a finger," says
Sorry, Chris. Thumbs down again.
If Tiger makes next year's Masters his fourth straight win in
the majors, the feat should not be counted as a Grand Slam.
Tennis was confronted with the same issue in 1984-85, when
Martina Navratilova won the four majors consecutively. Most
aficionados did not count her achievement as a Grand Slam. The
magic of Bobby Jones's 1930 season was in its building drama and
symmetry. Carryover Slams lack both.
What do these players have in common?
They are the golfers Tiger Woods says he would include in his
Is Valhalla of major championship quality?
--Based on 6,621 responses to our informal survey
Next question: If Woods is victorious in next year's Masters, he
will have won the four majors consecutively. Should that feat be
considered a Grand Slam, or must he win them all in the same
calendar year? Vote at golfplus.cnnsi.com.
SYNONYMS for an APPROACH SHOT HIT CLOSE TO THE HOLE
Against it, all over it, buried, cozy, DL, flagged, jammed,
kick-in, Klingon, leaner, packed, pin hunter, pin rattler,
skintight, snug, stacked, stony.
With his victory at the Atlantic City Kids Classic, former major
league pitcher Rick Rhoden became the first golfer to surpass $1
million in career earnings on the Celebrity tour, which began in
1997 and has 14 events this year. Here are the tour's alltime
STARTS WINS MONEY
Rick Rhoden 36 16 $1,017,574
Dan Quinn 30 8 581,381
Shane Rawley 32 2 348,849
John Brodie 34 2 330,250
Al Del Greco 20 1 277,736
Brooke Tull, Georgetown, Texas
Brooke, 17, was the only player with a 4-0 record at the Canon
Cup, an East versus West team event for the top 10 junior boys
and girls in the country. Brooke, whose West squad fell to the
East 27-23, won the American Junior Golf Association's Texace
San Antonio Shootout in June and will play for Texas Christian
Pat Boyle, South Milwaukee, Wis.
Boyle, 35, a high school history teacher, took the 99th
Wisconsin Amateur with a two-over-par 290 at Racine Country
Club. Boyle, who in June was victorious in the state public
links championship, drained a 33-foot birdie putt on the
next-to-last hole of the Amateur to defeat Bob Gregorski of Cato
by a stroke.
Teresa Fisher, North Pole, Alaska
Fisher, 43, the athletic director at North Pole High, prevailed
in the Alaska Amateur at Anchorage Golf Course by beating Yasue
Alkins of Elmendorf Air Force Base in the first playoff in the
tournament's 42-year history. After both players finished
regulation tied at 39-over 327, Fisher parred the second extra
hole for the victory.
Submit Faces candidates to golfplus.cnnsi.com/faces.
Pet of the Week
Dallas and Tulsa, Billy Mayfair's rottweilers
Billy Mayfair's love affair with rottweilers began when he and
his future bride, Tammy, starting dating. A rottweiler named
Tallie was Tammy's constant companion, and after the Mayfairs
eloped in 1994, Billy, Tammy and Tallie traveled on Tour as a
trio. Tallie died of cancer in '96. To cheer up Billy, Tammy
surprised him on their second anniversary with a female
rottweiler puppy, whom they named Dallas. A few days later the
Mayfairs got another female from the same litter. They named her
Tulsa, in honor of Billy's victory at the '95 Tour Championship
at Southern Hills. The dogs have cruised down Magnolia Lane
with their heads hanging out of the car and were most memorably
seen cavorting on the 18th green of Valencia Country Club after
Mayfair defeated Tiger Woods in a playoff at the '98 Nissan
Open. But the dogs have been homebodies since the Mayfairs had
their first child, Maxwell, last November. Road-tripping these
days consists of loping next to Tammy as she runs with a baby