The Squire: Gene Sarazen
Posted on January 26, 2018
Gene Sarazen is the first golfer to capture the modern Career Grand Slam. He was the innovator of the modern sand wedge. He had a unique style of wearing knickers, also known as plus-fours, which he continued throughout his entire career. He was smaller in stature, so he hit the ball hard using an interlocking grip, which was unique at the time. He earned his nickname “The Squire” because he didn’t have much faith in golf as a career, so he’d bought a farm and at the time farm owners were called squires. However, Sarazen would gain great success in golf, here’s a look at his life and achievements.
Gene Sarazen was born February 27, 1902 in Harrison, New York to Sicilian immigrants and was originally named Eugenio Saraceni. He changed his name to Gene Sarazen after seeing his name in the newspaper after he’d hit a hole in one. Eugenio Saraceni he thought sounded more like a violinist than a golfer, so he changed it to Gene Sarazen. At age 10 he began to caddie at local golf clubs to help earn money for his family and began teaching himself the game of golf. By sixth grade he dropped out of school and later turned professional at 19, in 1921. Sarazen was inspired to finally go professional after hearing about Francis Ouimet’s victory at the 1913 U.S. Open, since Ouimet also began as a caddie.
A year after going professional, in 1922, when Sarazen was 20 he competed in and won his first U.S. Open Championship. With his birdie on the final hole to score 68, Sarazen became the first player to shoot under 70 in a final round to win. Later that year he won the PGA Championship to capture his second major. Following his quick success, Sarazen got invited to meet President Harding and got signed to Wilson Sporting Goods. He’d keep his Wilson Sporting Goods endorsement for the rest of his life, marking it as the longest running contract in professional sports at 75 years long. He rose to the ranks of being one of the world’s best players with the likes of Walter Hagen and Bobby Jones. The rivalries on tour and exhibition matches between the three greatly increased the popularity of golf and brought the United States ahead of England as the dominant force in golf.
Sarazen went on to win the PGA Championship again in 1923, then struggled after his immediate success. He reworked his swing and made his journey back to the top. He would win the PGA Championship for a third time a decade later in 1933. The year prior, in 1932, he won both the U.S. Open and the British Open Championships. The British Open Championship was a special tournament for Sarazen, who was determined to win and had even promised to bring the Claret Jug back home to his wife Mary. After a few years of top ten finishes at the British Open Championship, including a 2nd place finish in 1928, on his fifth trip over the pond he found success.
Gene Sarazen’s success in claiming the Claret Jug was with the help of Walter Hagen’s former caddie, who Hagen let Sarazen use for the tournament, Skip Daniels. Daniels caddied for Sarazen in the 1928 British Open, which Sarazen could’ve won had he listened to Daniels advice. Following the 1928 British Open, Daniels promised Sarazen he’d help him win the Claret Jug. Daniels made good on his promise and helped Sarazen win in 1932 to become the “Champion Golfer of the Year.”
In 1935, Gene Sarazen made golf history at the second Masters Tournament, then known as Augusta National Invitational, with what is known as the “shot heard ’round the world.” He hit a 4-wood on the 15th hole from 225 yards out which went in the hole for a double-eagle, or albatross. The shot helped Sarazen come back and get into a playoff where he would defeat Craig Wood. His win at the 1935 Masters completed his career grand slam of the modern majors, making him the first golfer to do so. He remains only one of five golfers to earn the career grand slam along with Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.
Becoming the first modern grand slam winner is just part of Sarazen’s legacy. Along with his success on the greens, he was also an innovator in the sand. Sarazen is credited for inventing the modern sand wedge, while the sand wedge existed it lacked bounce which he introduced. He conceived of the notion after watching the wings of an airplane lower which caused the plane’s nose to rise while flying with Howard Hughes. He thought if he added some weight to the back of his niblick, our 9-iron, it could make the club and ball bounce out of the sand. He sneakily used the new sand wedge during his winning performance at the 1932 British Open Championship. At the time the rules of golf allowed you to finish a tournament with the clubs you started with. Sarazen knew this and, out of worry he wouldn’t be able to use the sand wedge if someone saw it, he began with the club flipped upside down in his golf bag.
Sarazen won the Senior PGA Championship twice in 1954 and 1958. After his career playing golf, he remained a prominent figure in the sport. In the 1960s he teamed with Jimmy Demaret to form a commentary team for broadcasts of “Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf”. Then in 1973 on the 50th anniversary of his first appearance at the British Open, Sarazen made a hole-in-one at the age of 71 on the eighth hole at Troon. He later became an honorary starter for the Masters Tournament from 1981 to 1999, along with Byron Nelson and Sam Snead.
He was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1974. In 1978, Gene Sarazen was granted an honorary Doctorate degree, a Doctor of Humane Letters, Honoris Causa, from Siena College. Sarazen and his wife Mary then established the Gene and Mary Sarazen Foundation in 1995. The foundation was built on Gene’s philosophy to build a better way of life where needed and grants a scholarship for students who are committed to humanitarian efforts. In 1992, he was given the Bob Jones Award, which recognizes those who uphold the spirit, character and respect of the game, from the United States Golf Association. He received the PGA Tour Lifetime Achievement award in 1996. Gene Sarazen passed away in 1999 at the age of 97.
PGA Tour: 39
- Masters Tournament: 1935
- U.S. Open: 1922, 1932
- The Open Championship: 1932
- PGA Championship: 1922, 1923, 1933
PGA Tour Champions (Senior PGA Tour): 2
- PGA Seniors’ Championship: 1954, 1958
- 7 Major Championships
- 1st Golfer to Win Career Grand Slam (Won all 4 Modern Majors)
- World Golf Hall of Fame Member
- Recipient of the PGA Distinguished Service Award
- Member of the U.S. Ryder Cup team: 1927, 1929, 1931, 1933, 1935, 1937
- PGA Tour Lifetime Achievement Award
- Bob Jones Award