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The Amateur Golfers Who Won Professional Tour Events

By: Golfshake Editor | Thu 14 Jan 2021 | Comments


It has now been 30 years since then-amateur Phil Mickelson won the Northern Telecom Open in Tucson. Aged 20 and on a golf scholarship at Arizona State University, the left-hander birdied two of his final three holes to clinch an unforgettable victory, seeing off the challenge of experienced heads Tom Purtzer, Bob Tway and Corey Pavin.

Mickelson remains the most recent amateur golfer to win on the PGA Tour.

There has naturally always been a divide between the paid and non-paid ranks, but throughout the history of the game, several amateurs have successfully upstaged their professional rivals on tour and in major championships.

England's John Ball set several benchmarks in the sport, most notably becoming the first amateur (and Englishman) to win The Open in 1890 at Prestwick. Ball - who grew up on the Hoylake links at Royal Liverpool Golf Club - also won The Amateur Championship on a staggering eight occasions.

Following in his footsteps was Harold Hilton, twice winner of The Open as an amateur in 1892 and 1897. Hilton - who later became the first editor of Golf Monthly - also triumphed in The Amateur Championship and U.S. Amateur.

Decades later, American Bobby Jones reached unsurpassed heights, claiming the Claret Jug in 1926, 1927 and 1930, the last of which comprised the second part of his unique Grand Slam of winning the Opens and Amateur Championships in both the United States and Britain.

Jones was also a four-time winner of the United States Open, a remarkable achievement for a man who retired from competitive golf at the age of 28, later founding Augusta National and the Masters Tournament, and pursuing a legal career, with an interruption during World War Two, in which he served as an officer in the U.S. Army Air Corps.

However, Jones was not the last amateur to win a men's major championship. Johnny Goodman (1933) retains that honour, while it was Francis Ouimet who was the first in the U.S. Open, astonishingly defeating Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in a playoff at Brookline, a victory that stands as one of the most storied in golf.

Jerome Travers and Chick Evans also won America's Championship as amateurs, while in 1960, a young Jack Nicklaus came agonisingly close to joining them at Cherry Hills, battling with the revered Ben Hogan, before Arnold Palmer shocked both by completing a dramatic comeback, winning the most thrilling of majors.

Other near-misses for amateurs included the super-fit Frank Stranahan, who was twice a runner-up at The Open, and also the Masters in 1947. Bobby Jones had long hoped to see an amateur win his tournament, with Ken Venturi looking like the man to accomplish that in 1956, only to shoot a final round of 80 and throw away a four-shot lead.

Twice U.S. Amateur winner, Charles Coe finished in a tie for second at Augusta in 1961, one shot behind Gary Player.

More recently in the championships, many will recall the runs of Justin Rose (1998), Chris Wood (2008) and Paul Dunne (2015). The young Irishman was the first amateur since Jones in 1927 (also at St Andrews) to lead The Open Championship after 54 holes, but he ultimately shot 78 to finish way down the leaderboard.

As noted earlier, Phil Mickelson won on the PGA Tour in 1991, but he wasn't the first amateur to succeed on the world's most lucrative circuit. Since 1945, Fred Haas, Cary Middlecoff, Frank Stranahan, Gene Littler, Doug Sanders, and Scott Verplank also have that rare honour.

On the European Tour, Pablo Martin was the first amateur to win a tournament, at the 2007 Estoril Portuguese Open, while in the same year, Ryo Ishikawa recorded that achievement on the Japan Golf Tour.

Two years later, Danny Lee took the Johnnie Walker Classic, while most memorably of all, Shane Lowry won the Irish Open at Baltray, overcoming Robert Rock in a playoff in view of a rampant home crowd that defied the horrible conditions to provide a rich atmosphere. 

Lowry - later the Champion Golfer of the Year in 2019 - reflected on his Irish Open moment, stating: “As long as I live it will be my greatest achievement in golf." 

On the LPGA Tour, the very first official event (1950 Tampa Open) was won by amateur Polly Riley. Indeed, back in the formative days of the competitive scene, amateurs regularly claimed the biggest titles. Legendary figures and future pros, Patty Berg, Louise Suggs, and Babe Didrikson Zaharias were among those who secured multiple championships that were then considered majors, the Titleholders and Western Open.

Going back to 1930 through to 1951, Lucia Mida, June Beebe, Marian McDougall, Opal Hill, Bea Barrett, Betty Jameson, Helen Hicks, Dorothy Kirby, Peggy Kirk and Pat O'Sullivan also won significant championships when amateurs.

Another great of the game, JoAnne Carner was an amateur when she secured her first of 43 LPGA Tour victories in 1969. 

In 1967, France's Catherine Lacoste won the U.S. Women's Open. She remains the last amateur to win a major, despite some close-calls, including Morgan Pressel and Brittany Lang (runner-ups in 2005) and Lydia Ko (runner-up at the 2013 Evian Championship).

Amateur Choi Hye-jin was a runner-up at the U.S. Women's Open in 2017, while Jenny Chuasiriporn (1998), and Nancy Lopez (1975), also came near to emulating Lacoste.

Speaking of Lydia Ko, the New Zealander is the most recent amateur to win on the LPGA, securing the Canadian Open in both 2012 and 2013 as a teenager, surely one of the most impressive achievements in golf that we've seen this century.

The landscape has undeniably changed from those past days of Jones and Ouimet, but sometimes, even in living memory, the amateurs can upset the odds when competing against the world's best players.


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