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Gene Alec Littler (July 21, 1930 – February 15, 2019)[1] was an American professional golfer and a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame.[2] Known for a solid temperament and nicknamed "Gene the Machine" for his smooth rhythmical swing,[2] he once said that, "Golf is not a game of great shots. It's a game of the best misses. The people who win make the smallest mistakes."

Gene Littler
Gene Littler 1959.jpg
Littler at the 1959 U.S. Open
Personal information
Full nameGene Alec Littler
Born(1930-07-21)July 21, 1930
San Diego, California
DiedFebruary 15, 2019(2019-02-15) (aged 88)
San Diego, California
Height5 ft 9 in (1.75 m)
Weight155 lb (70 kg; 11.1 st)
Nationality United States
Spouse
Shirley Warren
(m. 1951; his death 2019)
Children2
Career
CollegeSan Diego State University
Turned professional1954
Former tour(s)PGA Tour
Champions Tour
Professional wins54
Number of wins by tour
PGA Tour29 (19th all time tie)
Japan Golf Tour2
PGA Tour of Australasia1
PGA Tour Champions8
Other14
Best results in major championships
(wins: 2)
Masters Tournament2nd: 1970
PGA Championship2nd: 1977
U.S. OpenWon: 1961
The Open ChampionshipT18: 1974
U.S. AmateurWon: 1953
Achievements and awards
World Golf Hall of Fame1990 (member page)
Bob Jones Award1973

Contents

Early years and amateur careerEdit

Littler was born in San Diego, California. He played on the 1953 United States Walker Cup team, and won the U.S. Amateur and the California State Amateur that same year.[2] In 1954, he won a PGA Tour event as an amateur, a rare achievement which was not to be repeated until Doug Sanders won the Canadian Open in 1956.

Littler graduated from San Diego State University, and after that served in the United States Navy from 1951 to 1954.

Professional careerEdit

An early highlight of Littler's professional playing career was a second-place finish at the 1954 U.S. Open. He finished one shot behind Ed Furgol.

In 1955, he won four times on the tour, but fell into a slump in the late 1950s after tinkering with his swing. In 1959 after taking advice he received from Paul Runyan and adjusting his grip,[3] he recovered to have his best year with five PGA Tour victories. He finished second on the money list that year, which was to remain his career best. Only once from 1954 to 1979 did Littler finish out of the top 60 on the final money list. He was stricken with melanoma cancer found in a lymph node under his left arm in 1972,[2] but came back to win five more times on the PGA Tour. He ended his career with 29 PGA Tour wins, and also won two tournaments in Japan and one in Australia.

One of Littler's 29 PGA Tour wins was unique. When he won the 1975 Bing Crosby National Pro-Am, it marked the first and (so far) only time that a player won that event as a professional after having previously won the pro-amateur portion, which Littler did as a 23-year-old amateur in 1954.[4]

Littler won one major championship – the 1961 U.S. Open. He shot a 68 in the final round to overtake Doug Sanders. He accumulated 17 top-10 finishes in the three U.S.-based majors: seven at the Masters Tournament, five at the PGA Championship, and five at the U.S. Open. In addition to his U.S. Open victory, he had one second-place finish in each of the three U.S. majors, losing playoffs to Billy Casper at the 1970 Masters and to Lanny Wadkins at the 1977 PGA Championship. The latter was the first ever sudden-death playoff in a major. He was a member of the U.S. Ryder Cup teams of 1961, 1963, 1965, 1967, 1969, 1971 and 1975, and had a 14-5-8 win/loss/tie record including five wins and three ties in 10 singles matches.

Littler received the Ben Hogan Award in 1973 for a courageous comeback from injury or illness, after returning to the tour following treatment for malignant melanoma. Also in 1973, he was given the Bob Jones Award, the highest honor given by the United States Golf Association in recognition of distinguished sportsmanship in golf. In the 1980s and 1990s Littler played on the Senior PGA Tour, winning eight times. He was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1990.[2]

Personal life and deathEdit

On January 5, 1951, ten days before joining the Navy, Littler married Shirley Warren, his university classmate. They had a son, Curt, born in March 1954 and a daughter, Suzanne, born in October 1957.[5][6] Littler died at the age of 88 on February 15, 2019.[7][8]

Professional winsEdit

 
Gene Littler with family in 1956
 
Gene Littler (right) congratulates Billy Casper with winning the 1970 Masters Tournament

PGA Tour wins (29)Edit

No. Date Tournament Winning score Margin of
victory
Runner(s)-up
1 Jan 21, 1954 San Diego Open
(as an amateur)
−14 (67-66-69-72=274) 4 strokes   Dutch Harrison
2 Jan 9, 1955 Los Angeles Open −8 (72-67-68-69=276) 2 strokes   Ted Kroll
3 Feb 6, 1955 Phoenix Open −5 (66-70-68-71=275) 1 stroke   Billy Maxwell,   Arnold Palmer
4 May 1, 1955 Tournament of Champions −8 (69-71-68-72=280) 13 strokes   Jerry Barber,   Pete Cooper,
  Bob Toski
5 Aug 28, 1955 Labatt Open −8 (67-69-68-68=272) Playoff   Stan Leonard
6 Feb 19, 1956 Texas Open Invitational −12 (68-73-70-65=276) 2 stroke   Mike Fetchick,   Frank Stranahan,
  Ernie Vossler
7 Apr 29, 1956 Tournament of Champions −7 (70-71-69-71=281) 4 strokes   Cary Middlecoff
8 Jun 10, 1956 Palm Beach Round Robin +55 pts (69-69-68-68-70=344) 24 points   Ted Kroll
9 Apr 21, 1957 Tournament of Champions −3 (73-73-69-70=285) 3 strokes   Billy Casper,   Jimmy Demaret,
  Dow Finsterwald,   Billy Maxwell
10 Feb 8, 1959 Phoenix Open Invitational −12 (67-63-67-71=268) 1 stroke   Art Wall, Jr.
11 Feb 15, 1959 Tucson Open Invitational −14 (65-67-68-66=266) 1 stroke   Joe Campbell,   Art Wall, Jr.
12 May 17, 1959 Arlington Hotel Open −18 (67-69-64-70=270) 1 stroke   Jim Ferree
13 Jul 19, 1959 Insurance City Open Invitational −12 (64-66-72-70=272) 1 stroke   Tom Nieporte
14 Aug 30, 1959 Miller Open Invitational −15 (68-66-64-67=265) 1 stroke   Bob Rosburg,   Bo Wininger
15 Jun 12, 1960 Oklahoma City Open Invitational −11 (71-64-70-68=273) 1 stroke   Art Wall, Jr.
16 Jul 31, 1960 Eastern Open Invitational −15 (65-68-73-67=273) 2 strokes   Gary Player
17 Jun 17, 1961 U.S. Open +1 (73-68-72-68=281) 1 stroke   Bob Goalby,   Doug Sanders
18 Jan 28, 1962 Lucky International Open −10 (65-68-68-73=274) 2 strokes   George Knudson
19 Jun 10, 1962 Thunderbird Classic Invitational −13 (67-71-70-67=275) 2 strokes   Jack Nicklaus
20 Jul 17, 1965 Canadian Open −7 (70-68-69-66=273) 1 stroke   Jack Nicklaus
21 Feb 16, 1969 Phoenix Open Invitational −21 (69-66-62-66=263) 2 strokes   Miller Barber,   Don January,
  Billy Maxwell
22 Apr 6, 1969 Greater Greensboro Open −10 (66-70-69-69=274) Playoff   Julius Boros,   Orville Moody,
  Tom Weiskopf
23 Apr 18, 1971 Monsanto Open −8 (71-67-71-67=276) 3 strokes   George Archer,   Pete Brown
24 May 23, 1971 Colonial National Invitation +3 (72-68-74-69=283) 1 stroke   Bert Yancey
25 Jul 22, 1973 St. Louis Children's Hospital Golf Classic −12 (66-66-68-68=268) 1 stroke   Bruce Crampton
26 Jan 26, 1975 Bing Crosby National Pro-Am −8 (68-71-68-73=280) 4 strokes   Hubert Green
27 May 25, 1975 Danny Thomas Memphis Classic −18 (67-68-69-66=270) 5 strokes   John Mahaffey
28 Aug 3, 1975 Westchester Classic −17 (68-68-69-66=271) Playoff   Julius Boros
29 May 1, 1977 Houston Open −12 (70-65-67-74=276) 3 strokes   Lanny Wadkins

Source[9]

PGA Tour playoff record (3–8)

No. Year Tournament Opponent(s) Result
1 1955 Labatt Open   Stan Leonard Won with par on first playoff hole
2 1956 Texas International Open   Cary Middlecoff,   Peter Thomson Thomson won with birdie on second extra hole
3 1957 Western Open   George Bayer,   Doug Ford,
  Billy Maxwell
Ford won with par on third extra hole
Littler and Maxwell eliminated with par on first extra hole
4 1960 Memphis Open Invitational   Tommy Bolt,   Ben Hogan Lost an 18-hole playoff (Bolt:68, Hogan:69, Littler:71)
5 1962 Memphis Open Invitational   Lionel Hebert,   Gary Player Hebert won with birdie on first extra hole
6 1966 Tucson Open   Joe Campbell Lost to birdie on first extra hole
7 1969 Greater Greensboro Open   Julius Boros,   Orville Moody,
  Tom Weiskopf
Littler won with birdie on fifth extra hole
Weiskopf eliminated with par on first hole
8 1970 Masters Tournament   Billy Casper Lost an 18-hole playoff (Casper:69, Littler:74)
9 1975 Westchester Classic   Julius Boros Won with par on first extra hole
10 1977 Tucson Open   Bruce Lietzke Lost to birdie on fourth extra hole
11 1977 PGA Championship   Lanny Wadkins Lost to par on third extra hole

Major championship is shown in bold.

Japan Golf Tour wins (2)Edit

Australian Tour wins (1)Edit

Other wins (2)Edit

this list may be incomplete

Champions Tour wins (8)Edit

No. Date Tournament Winning score Margin of
victory
Runner(s)-up
1 Mar 20, 1983 Greater Daytona Senior Classic −13 (65-70-68=203) 6 strokes   Guy Wolstenholme
2 Jul 10, 1983 Greater Syracuse Senior's Pro Classic −9 (69-69-70-67=275) 2 strokes   Don January
3 Jan 4, 1984 Seiko-Tucson Senior Match Play Championship 1 up   Don January
4 May 4, 1986 Sunwest Bank Charley Pride Senior Golf Classic −14 (65-66-71=202) 2 strokes   Don January
5 Aug 31, 1986 Bank One Senior Golf Classic −12 (71-63-67=201) Playoff   Miller Barber,   Bob Goalby
6 Aug 2, 1987 NYNEX/Golf Digest Commemorative −10 (67-68-65=200) 1 stroke   Dale Douglass
7 Nov 22, 1987 Gus Machado Senior Classic −6 (71-67-69=207) 3 strokes   Orville Moody
8 Feb 26, 1989 Aetna Challenge −7 (70-70-69=209) 2 strokes   Harold Henning

Champions Tour playoff record (1–2)

No. Year Tournament Opponent(s) Result
1 1981 Peter Jackson Champions   Miller Barber Lost to par on first extra hole
2 1986 Greater Grand Rapids Open   Jim Ferree,   Chi-Chi Rodríguez Ferree won with birdie on first extra hole
3 1986 Bank One Senior Golf Classic   Miller Barber,   Bob Goalby Littler won with par on third extra hole
Goalby eliminated with par on first hole

Japan Senior Tour wins (2)Edit

  • 1983 Coca-Cola Grandslam Championship
  • 1987 Coca-Cola Grandslam Championship

Other senior wins (10)Edit

Major championshipsEdit

Wins (1)Edit

Year Championship 54 holes Winning score Margin Runners-up
1961 U.S. Open 3 shot deficit +1 (73-68-72-68=281) 1 stroke   Bob Goalby,   Doug Sanders

Amateur wins (1)Edit

Year Championship Winning score Runner-up
1953 U.S. Amateur 1 up   Dale Morey

Results timelineEdit

Tournament 1950 1951 1952 1953 1954 1955 1956 1957 1958 1959
Masters Tournament T22 T22 T12 CUT 42 T8
U.S. Open 2 15 T34 T32 4 T11
The Open Championship
PGA Championship R64 T10
U.S. Amateur R64 QF 1
Tournament 1960 1961 1962 1963 1964 1965 1966 1967 1968 1969
Masters Tournament CUT T15 4 T24 T13 T6 T44 T26 T43 T8
U.S. Open CUT 1 T8 T21 T11 T8 T48 CUT CUT
The Open Championship CUT
PGA Championship T18 T5 T23 T34 T33 T28 T3 T7 T30 T48
Tournament 1970 1971 1972 1973 1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979
Masters Tournament 2 T4 T17 T39 T22 T12 T8 T24 T10
U.S. Open T12 T37 T18 CUT T49 T50 T35 CUT
The Open Championship T18 CUT T32
PGA Championship T4 T75 CUT T28 T7 T22 2 CUT T16
Tournament 1980 1981 1982 1983
Masters Tournament 49
U.S. Open T38 T22
The Open Championship
PGA Championship CUT CUT T49 CUT
  Win
  Top 10
  Did not play

CUT = missed the halfway cut
DQ = disqualified
WD = withdrew
R64, R32, R16, QF, SF = Round in which player lost in match play
"T" indicates a tie for a place.

Source for U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur: USGA Championship Database

SummaryEdit

Tournament Wins 2nd 3rd Top-5 Top-10 Top-25 Events Cuts made
Masters Tournament 0 1 0 3 8 18 26 24
U.S. Open 1 1 0 3 5 12 25 20
The Open Championship 0 0 0 0 0 1 4 2
PGA Championship 0 1 1 4 7 11 25 20
Totals 1 3 1 10 20 42 80 66
  • Most consecutive cuts made – 14 (1962 PGA – 1967 Masters)
  • Longest streak of top-10s – 4 (1961 U.S. Open – 1962 U.S. Open)

U.S. national team appearancesEdit

Amateur

Professional

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ "Gene Littler, golfer who won the US Open and was admired for the beauty of his swing – obituary". Daily Telegraph. March 21, 2019. Retrieved March 21, 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d e "World Golf Hall of Fame profile". Retrieved January 15, 2014.
  3. ^ Kelley, Brent. "Gene Littler profile". About.com. Retrieved August 20, 2011.
  4. ^ Shain, Jeff (February 1, 2013). "AT&T Pebble Beach – First Look". PGA Tour. Retrieved February 2, 2013.
  5. ^ White, Gordon S. (August 4, 1975) Comeback Star of Pro Golf Tour. New York Times
  6. ^ Wright, Alfred (May 14, 1962) Loud Noise From the Quiet Man. Sports llustrated
  7. ^ Strege, John (February 15, 2019). "Gene Littler, a U.S. Open champion and member of World Golf Hall of Fame, has died". Golf Digest.
  8. ^ Goldstein, Richard (February 16, 2019). "Gene Littler, Golfer With a Gorgeous Swing, Dies at 88". The New York Times. Archived from the original on February 17, 2019. Retrieved February 17, 2019.
  9. ^ Barkow, Al (November 1989). The History of the PGA TOUR. Copyright PGA Tour. Doubleday. p. 264. ISBN 0-385-26145-4.

External linksEdit