b. Dec. 21, 1892, Rochester, NY
d. Oct. 6, 1969
"All the professionals who have a chance to go after the big money today should say a silent thanks to Walter Hagen each time they stretch a check between their fingers," Gene Sarazen once said. "It was Walter who made professional golf what it is."
Hagen was the most colorful and most exciting golfer of his era. He had a loose swing and hit a lot of bad shots, but he seemed always to be able to make the great shot under pressure when he needed it.
After finishing fourth in the 1913 U. S. Open, behind a three-way tie for first, Hagen won the tournament in 1914. He shot a course record 68 on the first round and never trailed. In the 1919 Open, he was five strokes behind Mike Brady going into the final round, but he managed a tie and then beat Brady 77-78 in the playoff.
Hagen also won four British Opens, in 1922, 1924, 1928, and 1929. The 1924 victory showed Hagen at his best as a showman. He had to sink a six-foot putt on the final hole to win. Without bothering to line up the putt, he strode to the ball, hit it, and turned his back on the shot, tossing the putter to his caddie. The putt dropped in, of course, and the British gallery loved it.
His greatest accomplishment was probably winning five LPGA Championships, including four in a row, when it was a match-play tournament. He won in 1921, didn't play in 1922, lost to Gene Sarazen in the final in 1923, then won each year from 1924 through 1927. During those six years of competition, he lost just one match against the best professionals in the United States.
Hagen's eleven major championships is third on the all-time list, behind Jack Nicklaus and Bobby Jones. Since he got to play in only three of the six tournaments that have been considered majors, that eleven may well be better than Jones's thirteen and very close to, if not better than, Nicklaus's twenty.
The impact Hagen had on professional golf goes far beyond the tournaments he won. He was a star who commanded amazing amounts of money for playing exhibitions and he spent the money freely and conspicuously. He toured the country in a caravan of automobiles, with suitcases full of cash. He dressed handsomely and he threw champagne parties to celebrate victories.
During the 1920s, Hagen's celebrity status brought the spotlight onto professional golf, and he helped bring professionals out of the shadow by refusing to accept second-class treatment. Professional golfers at the time weren't allowed to use locker rooms at exclusive country clubs. In fact, they were basically treated as servants, especially in England.
Hagen helped to change that by refusing to accept servant status. He embarrassed promoters of the 1920 British Open by parking outside the clubhouse in his limousine and changing his clothes in the car. The same year, he and British professional George Duncan said they would boycott the French Open unless professionals were allowed into the locker room, and they won their case, because tournament promoters knew they needed golfers like Hagen and Duncan to draw spectators.