Walter Hagen: The ‘flamboyant’ golfer who ‘poked the eyes of the golfing aristocracy’

When Hagen arrived at the club, and in order not to mess around with the 27-pound trophy, he paid a taxi driver to take him to his hotel.

It was the last trophy he saw.

Wanamaker never arrived at his hotel, and although Hagen knew he no longer owned it, he kept it to himself.

At the following year’s PGA Championship, when asked to present the trophy as a returning champion, Hagen said with his typical bravado, “I’m going to win it anyway, which is why I didn’t bring it.”

Of course, he won it. And in 1927 he won it for the fourth time in a row. It wasn’t until 1928, when he was knocked out by Leo Diegel, that he was forced to admit that he no longer had the trophy.

The replacement was made before the 1931 original mysteriously showed up.

Hagen playing in the 1940 Masters at the Augusta National Golf Club.


Hagen was born into a “working class family” in 1892 in Rochester, New York, explains Tom Clavin, author of Sir Walter: Walter Hagen and the Invention of Professional Golf.

Hagen’s early days in golf were spent as a caddy at a Rochester country club.

By his teenage years, Hagen was a skilled player and helped run the club’s pro shop. He made his professional debut at the age of 19 at the 1912 Canadian Open.

Hagen makes a throw at the Short Hills in Rochester.

Playing in his debut major tournament, the 1913 US Open, Hagen shocked many when he finished in fourth place. But on his return to Rochester, he spoke of abuse from other professionals.

“They pushed me off my shirt and said I could train when they got through,” he said. said.

So he made them a promise. “I’ll be back next year and win this tournament.”

And he did just that.

Hagen in action during the Ryder Cup at Moortown, Leeds in April 1929

“He represented the barbarians at the golf gates”

Golf was not the only sport that Hagen mastered. From an early age, he also excelled at baseball.

But his baseball talent and thriving golf career left Hagen in a dilemma.

Baseball is a team sport. Walter liked having all the attention on him,” Klavin explained. “So he didn’t want to share the spotlight with a pitcher, first baseman, or catcher.

“I think a big part of it was that not only was he good at it, he probably figured he would be better as a golfer than a baseball player, and he could control his shots, so to speak. .

“He didn’t have to depend on anyone. Either he won because he was the best on the field, or he lost because he wasn’t. . “

As Clavin describes, when Hagen took his first steps in golf, the sport was in its infancy in the United States. And Hagen, as an aspiring professional, saw huge potential for growth, both for the game and for himself.

Hagen and his wife aboard the Aquitaine.  at Southampton in May 1923.

His professionalism annoyed many in golf.

“He kind of poked the aristocracy in the eye. And there were a lot of people in the aristocracy who really despised Walter Hagen because of what he represented,” Klavin explained.

“He represented the barbarians at the golf gates and he took that as motivation and they despised him even more when he kept winning.”

In the town

With a large income from the sale, Hagen sought to enjoy the fruits of his labor.

He also briefly tried to get married, but Klavin says it “didn’t work out very well”.

As a result of his choice of “an extravagant lifestyle,” as Clavin describes it, winning became a necessity.

“He wanted to win that first place prize, he wanted to go on these paid tours, he wanted to do promotional deals and advertise cigarettes and other products,” Clavin said.

“And so it’s obvious that if he couldn’t win as often as he did, he would have to face the reality at some point: ‘I can’t live this lifestyle because I just can’t afford it. “.

During his illustrious career, Hagen won 11 major titles – the most to date – as well as 45 PGA Tour wins.

Hagen holding a claret pitcher at the first tee during an exhibition match with Joe Kirkwood in Llanwern, South Wales, 1937

What’s even more remarkable is that the Masters weren’t founded until Hagen peaked.

Many of the stories told about Hagen are stories of how he got into town and showed up at the play the next day disheveled.

However, Klavin believes that Hagen did not actually go out the night before and was trying to lower his opponents’ guard. Klavin calls Hagen “the first great sports psychologist”.

“For example, let’s say it’s a big tournament, his limousine comes to him, and he gets out of the limo in a wrinkled tuxedo,” Clavin said.

“For everyone to think, ‘Oh, poor Walter, he must be hungover. Today it won’t matter.” Then he would go to the dressing room, change, go out to the first tee and hit right in the middle of the fairway.

“He knew before he hit his first ball, he knew, ‘I’m the winner and these guys are going to lose because they scared me a little. They can’t understand me.” He had a mental edge unmatched at the time by his competitors.”

Hagen, winner of the British Open golf championship at Hoylake, kisses his wife.


Hagen earned the favor of his fellow golfers by always paying the bill at the bar. His pioneering nature when it came to proving that golf was a reliable source of income also took its toll on others.

His rivalry with Bobby Jones while also doing a lot to popularize the sport, the couple traveled the world to compete in lucrative one-on-one events.

They both made it more commonplace to advertise golf equipment to players and helped make the sport more accessible to everyone.

Hagen (right) stands with Gene Sarazen (left) aboard the RMS Aquitania upon arrival at Southampton, 21 June 1933.
Gene Sarazen, who was 10 years younger than Hagen and won seven major tournaments in his career, said golfers should thank Hagen for his impact on the sport.

“All professionals…should silently thank Walter Hagen every time they slip a check between their fingers. It was Walter who made professional golf what it is.”

Not only that, he played a vital role in the creation of the Ryder Cup, participating in its first draws and being a six-time captain of the US team, winning it four times and losing only twice.

Hagen was a pioneer in the professionalization of golf.

So, given all that Hagen has done for the sport, Klavin thinks it’s no exaggeration to call him “the father of professional golf.”

“Walter Hagen was very aware of what a pioneer he was. He could look around and realize that there were very few professional golfers, but of those few golfers, he was the most successful.

“And so he understood the responsibility that he had to keep playing well, and even playing well, not for his own purposes, to win tournament purses, but to be something like that Johnny Appleseed of golf; he really went on these world tours that no one else had done before.

“Not Bobby Jones, not anyone else. To go on these world tours more than once, which took him to Africa, took him to Asia, took him to Europe, obviously took him to almost every continent except Antarctica, to play these exhibition matches and spread the word about golf and introduce with him countries in which he has never been.