Champion: Gene Sarazen

Gene Sarazen (1902-1999) was born in New York to Italian immigrants, he dropped out of school in sixth grade to help support his family. He started caddying at the age of eight, and played golf on a makeshift neighborhood course with tin cups and wooden-shafted clubs, inspired by the 1913 U.S. Open victory of former caddie Francis Ouimet. When his family moved to Bridgeport, the teenager got a job at Remington Arms, drilling the wooden crates in which ammunition was shipped to Europe.  After becoming ill with pneumonia, he was instructed by his doctor to get an outdoor job. His father, a carpenter, warned him not to try to make golf his profession, warning, “It’s a game for rich men.”  Indeed, it was difficult for an Italian-American to gain entry into the world of golf, which was dominated by Scottish and English players.

He spent much of his time at the golf course in Bridgeport’s Beardsley Park, and the golf pro there, Al Ciuci, introduced him at Brooklawn Country Club. After seeing him play, influential Brooklawn members Archie and William Wheeler pressed their golf pro, George Sparling, to take him on in the pro shop, where he worked as a club maker. Changing his name from Eugenio Saraceni – which he thought sounded like a name for a violin player rather than a golfer – to Gene Sarazen, he went out on the professional circuit. 

In 1922, at the age of 20, he won both the U.S. Open, defeating golf greats Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen, and the PGA Championship.  Following a ten-year slump, he returned to the top of the golf world in 1932 winning the British and the U.S. Opens. One key to his victory was his “secret weapon,” a new type of club he had invented known as the sand wedge, which enabled him to hit shots out of sand traps and greenside bunkers that others found nearly impossible. 

He became the first golfer to win all four modern “Grand Slam” events: the U.S. Open, the British Open, the PGA Championship, and the Masters. His double eagle shot (scoring three strokes under par) at the 1935 Masters Tournament is known as “the shot heard ‘round the world,” and may be the most famous single shot of golf in the game’s history. He dominated golf during the 1930s, and served as the game’s global ambassador, playing exhibitions in South America and Asia. Sarazen had a long career in golf, playing his last tournament at the age of 71, and appearing in the British Open 50 years after his first victory there. Even after he stopped playing, he became the sport’s senior statesman, connecting the past and present as a commentator and honorary tournament opener into his 90s. 

 “All men are created equal. I’m just one stroke better than the rest.”- Gene Sarazen

“The more I practice, the luckier I get.” - Gene Sarazen