By John Coyne
Special to ARMCHAIR GOLF
IN HIS HISTORY OF THE PGA, Gerald Astor tells how Fred Corcoran first met George May behind the 18th green during the USGA amateur championship at Winged Foot. Then at a banquet celebrating the 1940 Chicago Open played at the Tam O’Shanter Club, May, the president and principal owner of the club, announced the prize money for the following year would be bumped from $5000 to $11,000, settling it a notch above the $10,000 offered by Los Angeles and Miami for their Opens. May further surprised the audience by declaring admission prices would be slashed to the level of grandstand seats at the ballpark, $1.10.
May did much more to cause excitement at his tournaments. He had pros shoot from the front tees; lower scores, he reasoned, would impress people. His first four-day tournament drew 41,000, including 23,000 on the final day.
May was also ahead of his time — and the PGA Tour’s time — in ways besides prize money. He held concurrent events for amateurs and women professionals. He invited foreign players to his tournaments, and Roberto De Vicenzo, Flory Van Donck, Peter Thomson and Bobby Locke all played at Tam.
It was at May’s tournament that African-Americans pros were allowed to play in a PGA event. Ted Rhodes and Bill Spiller teed up with the white pros, as did Joe Lewis, who, May said, qualified because of his boxing record. Some say, that it was because of May’s tournament that the PGA first enacted the Caucasian-only clause in their bylaws to keep blacks off the tour.
George May: The P.T. Barnum of Professional Golf
The Telecast That Changed Golf
John Coyne is the author of The Caddie Who Knew Ben Hogan and The Caddie Who Played with Hickory. Learn more at John Coyne Books.