Three Great Lives

February 9, 2015 -

They say that sad things often happen in threes. In the last 10 days golf has lost three of its heroes.

On January 29, Australian legend Kel Nagle passed away in Sydney at the age of 94. Nagle was one of the most prolific golfers in Australasian history having won 61 tournaments on what is now the Australian Tour. No one has ever won more events Down Under. Nagle was a late bloomer who did not turn professional until the late 1940’s after having served in World War II.

Nagle would win the Australian Open and six Australian PGA Championships, and seven New Zealand Opens to go along with seven New Zealand PGA Championships. The last of those NZ PGA Championships was in 1974, when a 55 year old Nagle beat all his younger opponents to record win #60 on the Australasian circuit.

The long hitting Nagle was a raw talent in his early days being known as a long hitter who didn’t know how to make friends with a fairway. He honed those skills after spending 1951 in the US, where he focused on improving his chipping and putting, talents which would define his playing career.

Nagle won the 1960 British Open at St. Andrews when he triumphed over Arnold Palmer by a single stroke at the home of golf. In 2007, the soft spoken Nagle was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. Those of us who had the great privilege to know “Mr. Modesty” would tell you that he would have been inducted into a far greater arena.

Mr. Nagle was one of Life’s most gentle, good and wonderful human beings; he was in every way, a great man.

On Tuesday, February 4, Charlie Sifford passed away in Ohio. He was 92 years old and his life had been filled with a series of “firsts”.

Sifford was the first black member of the PGA Tour when he joined in 1961 and past his prime at the age of 38 but was still very competitive. He had won 6 National Negro Opens before the PGA changed its whites-only bylaws.

His 1992 autobiography “Just Let Me Play”, detailed just how difficult it was when Sifford played professionally in the 1960’s. Sifford was ostracized by Tour organizers and sponsors and denied entry to many of the hotels and restaurants the other players would frequent. On the course spectators and sometimes even other players would direct racial slurs at him and even move his ball into unplayable lies. All this, he would overcome.

 

Sifford won two tournaments on the PGA Tour, the 1967 Greater Hartford Open and the 1969 Los Angeles Open, being the first black man to do so. He would win the 1975 PGA Seniors Championship and was a stalwart in the early days of what is now known as the Champions Tour.

Sifford was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame (naturally the first black man to be so honored) and in 2014 President Obama awarded him the Medal of Freedom. He was only the third golfer to be bestowed the nation’s highest civilian honor, following Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.

On Saturday, February 7 at his home in Springville, Utah, 83 year old legend, Billy Casper, breathed his last.

Casper may be the most underrated player in the history of professional golf. He won 2 U.S. Open Championships and the 1970 Masters and his total of 51 victories on the PGA Tour ranks him 7th on the all-time win list.

And he accomplished this in the game’s golden age of professional players who were all in their prime. Those players included Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Lee Trevino, Gene Littler and Doug Sanders.

Casper was overshadowed most by the “Big Three”, Nicklaus, Palmer and Player who were all marketed by IMG. Paying tribute to Casper, Nicklaus said that “Billy was a fantastic player, and I don’t think he gets enough credit for being one.”

Casper won more Ryder Cup points, 23 ½, than any American player in history (he played on eight teams) and he was the winning Captain in 1979. Casper was the PGA Tour’s leading money winner twice and 5 times the winner of the Vardon Trophy which is given to the player with the best year-long scoring average. In 1978, he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.

First and foremost in his life was always his family. As Nicklaus would continue to say: “He had such a wonderful balance to his life. Golf was never the most important thing in Billy’s life — family was”. Casper is survived by his beloved wife of 62 years, Shirley, 11 children, 71 grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

All three of these amazing men, did great things on the golf course but even much greater things, with their lives.

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