FIFTY YEARS AGO AFTER A LONG HISTORY as a match-play tournament, the PGA Championship became a stroke-play event. The 1958 PGA Championship was also the first major to be televised (although parts of other majors had been televised).
The winner of that first stroke-play PGA Championship, which was played at Llanerch Country Club in Havertown, Pennsylvania, was Ohio native Dow Finsterwald.
Before Arnold Palmer was Arnold Palmer, Finsterwald, along with players such as Gene Littler and Mike Souchak, was considered to be a rising star. Dow and Arnie became (and remain) close friends.
Finsterwald’s victory at the PGA Championship turned out to be his only major win, although he had several close calls in a career that produced 11 PGA Tour titles. He is the retired director of golf at Broadmoor Country Club, site of this past week’s U.S. Senior Open.
Golf Talk with Dow
I’ve gotten acquainted with Dow on the legends circuit in the past year or so. Last fall I called him at his home in Orlando to talk about life on tour in the 1950s. Following are some snippets.
“What do you remember about your first tour win at the 1955 Fort Wayne Open?” I asked.
“Certainly, it was a big step to win your first tournament,” Dow said.
“At that time it entailed an invitation to the Tournament of Champions. I don’t remember if that was a full-year exemption or not at that time. But it put me pretty well into position where I was going to finish on the money list in such a way that I would be exempt. It was a big step in my golfing tournament career.”
“What are your recollections of playing the tour in the 1950s and early 1960s?”
“I think the players then were probably a closer knit group in that there was a lot of travel by car,” Dow said.
“There weren’t the outside opportunities to do outings, and we all showed up at the golf course for practice rounds. A lot of times, we shared cars for driving. We even shared rooms. I don’t think you see much of that out there now. And because of that situation, some very close friendships were developed.”
And I asked him about Ben Hogan. I always ask these guys about Hogan.
Said Dow: “I think the best description was he was a very private person. An example I try to give to exemplify that is we were invited to his home, maybe five or six players, Palmer, Souchak, to dinner at his home at Shady Oaks, which was in the late 50s. It was about a 4,000 square foot home, as I remember. He had one bedroom. One bedroom.”
−The Armchair Golfer