Player Feature
Gene Sarazen
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The 1932 Champion Golfer
Gene Sarazen
Old Tom Morris might have been the original king of links golf but Gene Sarazen became the game’s first global superstar when he swept all before him in 20 years of near dominance.

The American, who was crowned the 1932 Champion Golfer of the Year at Prince’s, was the first to complete the career Grand Slam and retired in 1973 with seven major honours. 

Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods all went onto follow in his footsteps but Sarazen first trod the path to golfing immortality.

HUMBLE BEGINNINGS

Born Eugenio Saracini to Italian parents in New York in 1902, Sarazen knew what it meant to work hard early on in life.

His father, a carpenter, had a low income so from a young age Sarazen was picking fruit, selling newspapers and doing whatever labour that paid.

That had an early impact. Aged 15, he became ill while working as an apprentice for his father and was advised by doctors that the dusty environment was a long-term health risk.

Instead, the young Eugene went to work for a golf club and he soon changed his name to Gene Sarazen – insisting it "sounded like a golfer". The gamble worked. Quickly, that name would be known all round the world.

RECORD-BREAKER

Sarazen rapidly became a household name. A year after turning professional, he entered the 1922 US Open and sunk a birdie putt on the final hole to win his first major ahead of Scotland’s John Black and fellow American and future three-time Champion Golfer Bobby Jones.

With a score of 68, he became the first player to shoot under 70 in the final round of a major to win. He backed up his success just months later by winning the PGA Championship – then a match-play tournament – where he beat Emmet French 4&3 to cap off a remarkable year.

In just a few months, Sarazen had taken the game by storm and went from low-ranking professional to meeting president Warren Harding.

All he needed was a rival to help cement his legacy. And luckily, there were a couple knocking at the door.

SARAZEN v HAGEN

Walter Hagen, ten years Sarazen’s senior and already a three-time major winner, was the superstar of the age.

He missed the 1922 PGA Championship due to an exhibition but returned a year later, where a potential battle with defending champion Sarazen was hotly anticipated. Thankfully, it lived up to the billing.

The pair had breezed through to the final at Pelham Manor and put on a thriller over 36 holes. The lead only changed hands twice and Sarazen was in charge for almost all of the second 18 holes, at one point even being three to the good.

But Hagen roared back and forced the match to a play-off, only for Sarazen to win it with a birdie on the second.

Add Jones into the rivalry and the three men were at the forefront of American golf, playing exhibitions all over the country and the world.

Unfortunately for Sarazen, that was his last major in nine years before he claimed his second US Open title at Fresh Meadow Country Club in 1932.

CHAMPION GOLFER OF THE YEAR

Like many of the age, the lure of the Claret Jug was too strong for Sarazen to resist. He first travelled to the UK to play at Royal Liverpool in 1924, although he struggled and finished in a tie for 41st.

But he returned in 1928 at Royal St George’s, where he finished second to Hagen – missing out on the trophy by just two strokes.

Two more top-ten finishes followed before everything clicked in 1932 at Prince’s when Sarazen took an early lead at the end of the first round by shooting a two-under par 70.

He stretched that to three strokes a day later and, by the end of round three, he led by three strokes from Arthur Havers.

The two men, at seven-under par and three-under par respectively, were comfortably clear – with third-placed duo Arthur Lacey and Charles Whitcombe back at five-over par.

The leading duo slipped back in the final round with Havers shooting a 76 and Sarazen a 74, but it was enough to earn the American the Claret Jug – something he promised wife Mary he would bring back home.

FURTHER SUCCESS

Sarazen’s achievements did not stop there. He won a third PGA Championship in 1933 and then two years later he put Augusta National on the map.

The tournament, which would become The Masters, was still in its infancy and regarded as the Augusta National Invitational.

Yet Sarazen produced one of the most famous shots in the tournament’s history by hitting a 4-wood on the 15th hole from 225 yards. It flew menacingly through the air, pitched perfectly onto the green and rolled into the hole.

It was quickly regarded as the “shot heard around the world” and played a key part in Sarazen going onto to win the Green Jacket – and completing the career Grand Slam.

That proved to be the last major he won although there were still further highlights – including at The 1973 Open, when he hit a hole in one on the famous Postage Stamp at Royal Troon, live on the BBC.

He retired shortly after, aged 71, and died in 1999, aged 97, as a pioneer of golf and true sporting great.