Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh, Allegheny County
Golfer Gene "the Squire" Sarazen got his professional start at the Highland Country Club.
Born in Harrison, New York, on February 27, 1902, Gene Sarazen was one of golf history's legends. He won a total of seven Major golf tournaments and was able to obtain a career Grand Slam. Overall, he won more than 50 tournaments and matches worldwide and participated in six Ryder Cup matches. Sarazen is also credited with inventing the modern sand wedge. He was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame, and was awarded numerous other honors such as the Bob Jones Award and the PGA Distinguished Service Award. He passed away on May 13, 1999, in Naples, Florida. The Gene and Mary Sarazen Foundation was then formed and based on his life principles.
Eugenio Saraceni, better known as Gene Sarazen, was born on February 27, 1902, in Harrison, New York. His father was an Italian carpenter from Rome who, at the time, was experiencing financial problems. Sarazen began caddying at Larchmont Country Club in 1910 to help increase the family income. Then, in 1913, he dropped out of sixth grade to caddy full time at the Apawamis Club. Sarazen held many odd jobs to supplement his family's income such as lighting gas street lights, selling newspapers, and helping with his father's carpentry business. Late in 1917, Sarazen became extremely ill with pneumonia which led to pleural emphysema. In May of 1918, he was discharged from the hospital after an operation to drain the fluid from his chest. The dust from carpentry was deemed to be the problem and would be detrimental to his health if he continued. His health would continue to fail if he did not have a different job. Golf proved to be his saving grace.
After his elongated stay at the hospital, Sarazen decided to start playing golf at Beardsley Park Course where his career really started to develop. After seeing his name in a local paper for hitting a hole-in-one, he decided to change his name from "Saraceni" to "Sarazen" because "it sounded more like a golfer" instead of a "violinist." In 1921, Gene Sarazen became a professional and a force to be reckoned with.
Gene Sarazen's career as a professional golfer took off right from the beginning. In 1922, after working at Titusville Country Club, he was hired at Highland Country Club in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, as the Head Golf Professional. His main jobs included stocking the pro shop and providing the golf instruction for the Club. This was one of his first jobs working as a Head Pro and led to his eventual PGA touring status. At the age of 20, Sarazen won the U.S. Open at Skokie Country Club and was the first player in the world to shoot under 70 to win a professional event. Sarazen's win was also significant because he became the second-youngest winner on the PGA Tour. The links at Oakmont Country Club, also located near Pittsburgh, were the site of his second Major win and his first PGA Championship win. This win is significant because it was his rookie year on the PGA Tour. It showed that he had the skill required to potentially be the best during this era of golf. After the event, Sarazen is known for saying, "I don't care what you say about me. Just spell the name right."
A slew of victories continued after his win at Skokie Country Club including the 1922, 1923 and 1933 PGA Championships, the 1932 British Open, and the 1922 and 1932 U.S Open, and the 1935 Masters. At Augusta National, he hit "the shot heard 'round the world." On hole 15 in the final round of the Masters, Sarazen hit a 235 yard four-wood for the "golden eagle" or "albatross." This is also known as a "double eagle," which is three shots lower than "par." This shot put him at the top of the leader board in a tie with Craig Wood. Sarazen would then defeat Wood in a playoff the following day and become the 1935 Masters champion.
Along with being a top-in-class professional golfer, Gene Sarazen contributed to the game through his ground-breaking invention. While on a flight lesson, Sarazen took notice to the downward lift caused by the plane's wings. He then took this idea and created a club to lift the ball out of the sand. He deemed this his "sand iron" which used a higher degree of bounce to easily hit the ball out of the sand. Sarazen called this invention his "biggest contribution to golf."
Gene Sarazen is considered one of golf history's legends with over 50 wins including seven Major victories. He is one of the few golfers in history to achieve the career Grand Slam, or a victory at all four Majors. Sarazen was also able to compete in six Ryder Cup tournaments over his playing career on tour. During his prime in 1932, he was given the Associate Press Male Athlete of the Year, and in 1974 his legendary status led to his induction in the World Golf Hall of Fame. Sarazen was also the recipient of the Bob Jones Award in 1992. This award is named after Bobby Jones and is the highest recognition for sportsmanship awarded by the PGA. Sarazen also received the PGA Tour Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996.
Later in his life, Sarazen continued to play golf and recorded low scores well into his 60s and 70s. He was invited to drive the opening ball into the fog at Augusta National for the Masters Championship, a ritual reserved for a retired golfer or legend. Gene Sarazen also hosted programs such as Shell's Wonderful World of Golf. When he bought a farm for his family in New York, he gained the nickname "The Squire" which has stuck with him ever since. He was able to maintain an excellent PGA status while being a very family oriented man. As fellow golfer and legend Ben Hogan stated, "Over and above his prowess as a golfer, he was a wonderful family man. Although there were tremendous travel requirements for people on the Tour, he always seemed to have time for his wife, Mary, and their children, and he spoke of them often."
Sarazen continued playing golf and hosting events until his death on May 13, 1999, in Naples, Florida. In commemoration of his success, the Gene and Mary Sarazen Foundation was formed. Their organization is founded on his philosophy, "build a better way."
Gene Sarazen's Common Sense Golf Tips. Chicago: Reilly & Lee, 1924.
Thirty Years of Championship Golf. (with Herbert Warren Wind) New York: Prentice Hall, 1950.
Golf Magazine's Pro Pointers and Stroke Savers. (with Jimmy Demaret and Louise Suggs) Ed. Charles Price. New York: Harper and Row, 1960.
Golf Magazine's Winning Pointers From the Pros. (with Peggy Kirk Bell) New York: Harper & Row, 1965.
Better Golf After Fifty. (with Roger P. Ganem) New York:Harper & Row, 1967.
Garber, Angus. Golf Legends. New York: Michael Friedman Publishing Group, Inc., 1993.