Class of 2018
Deceased (1902 – 1999)
Gene Sarazen was born as Eugenio Saraceni in 1902 in Harrison, New York. His parents were poor immigrants from Sicily and his father worked as a carpenter. He started caddying when he was 8 years old at Larchmont Country Club and other local golf clubs, teaching himself the game along the way. He eventually moved over to Apawamis Club, where he could earn more money as an experienced caddy.
During his mid-to-late teen years, he quit school and took a couple of assistant club professional jobs in the New York area including Brooklawn Country Club. He was introduced to the head pro, George Sparling, by his mentor and coach, Al Ciuci of Bridgeport’s Beadsley Park.
He won the first of his two U.S. Opens in 1922 at the age of 20, making him the second-youngest winner of the event.
That same year, he won the PGA Championship at Oakmont Country Club and successfully defended his title the following year at Pelham Country Club, winning in 38 holes over fellow New York professional, Walter Hagen (who would win the next four).
Throughout the 1920s, he tagged on a few more prominent non-major wins including the 1925 Metropolitan Open, as well as the Metropolitan PGA in 1927 and 1928 (then again ten years later in 1939).
His self-proclaimed biggest contribution to golf was when he helped design the modern sand wedge, and used the club at The Open Championship in 1932, which he ended up winning. It was his first major victory after a decade-long “slump” and marked the beginning of his resurgence on the grand stage.
He was known as one of the most innovative minds in golf. His inspiration for the sand wedge came after noticing how airplane tails adjust downward during takeoff. He also developed the weighted practice club in 1929 after a tip from professional baseball player Ty Cobb.
In 1935, he became the first player to win the modern Grand Slam by capturing the Masters. During that championship, he hit the most famous shot in major championship history by holing a 4-wood from 235 yards away on hole #15, for a double-eagle to tie Craig Wood. The next day, he won the tournament in a playoff. This shot is known widely as the “shot heard round the world” and helped put the Masters Tournament in the national spotlight.
A longtime member of the Northeastern New York PGA section, Sarazen made his first appearance at their championship in 1966 and won the 36-hole tournament at age 64. En route to victory at Columbia Country Club, he carded a score of one over par 141.
In the early 60’s, he became the host of Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf and became known across the sporting world as a television personality.
Throughout his later years, he was always a presence and familiar face at The Masters tournament as an honorary starter, hitting the ceremonial first tee shot alongside other golf legends such as Byron Nelson and Sam Snead.
In 1992, he was voted the Bob Jones Award, the highest honor given by the United States Golf Association, in recognition of distinguished sportsmanship in golf.
Sarazen died in May of 1999, at the age of 97 at a nursing home in Naples, Florida.
Gene Sarazen’s Career Highlights- U.S. Open Championship: Won 1922, 1932- PGA Championship: Won 1922, 1923, 1933- Metropolitan Open: Won 1925- Metropolitan PGA: Won 1927, 1928, 1939- The Open Championship: Won 1932- Ryder Cup: 1927, 1929, 1931, 1933, 1935, 1937- Masters Tournament: Won 1935- Lake Placid Open: Won 1938- A.P. Male Athlete of the Year: 1932- NENY PGA Championship: Won 1966- World Golf Hall of Fame: Inducted 1974- USGA Bob Jones Award Recipient - 1992- PGA Tour Lifetime Achievement Award recipient - 1996