1937: Denny Shute defends his PGA Championship title over Harold “Jug” McSpaden


Shute defends hit title at the 1937 PGA Championship

By: Claudia Mazzucco – On this day, May 30, 1937, Densmore “Denny” Shute defeated Harold “Jug” McSpaden on the first extra hole final match of the 20th PGA Championship at the Pittsburgh Field Club, in Fox Chapel, a suburb northwest of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In view of 5,000 onlookers, McSpaden sprint into a 3 up lead with three birdies in the first five holes. Shute squared the match at the ninth. He was 3 up at the eighteenth.

It seemed a disadvantage impossible to overcome, but McSpaden made pars and birdies in rapid succession and at the twenty-seventh hole he was 1 up. Shute bought himself even again with a par at the twenty-eighth. McSpaden won the thirty-one and thirty-two to go 2 up but he bogeyed the thirty-fourth and double-bogeyed the thirty-fifth and the match was even again with a hole to play. At the thirty-sixth, McSpaden got virtually the championship in his hands, but he missed his birdie putt from four (1,2 m) feet to the right of the hole. On the thirty-seventh, Shute closed the match by holing from two feet to win the title with par to McSpaden’s bogey 5. His triumph brought him $1,000. McSpaden earned $500.

Shute underwent another terrific strain upon his nerves but passed the test to become the first player to collect consecutive PGA titles since Leo Diegel in 1928 & 1929. He had won the title in 1936 at Pinehurst N0. 2. Shute held this record during 63 years until Tiger Woods won back-to-back PGAs in 1999 & 2000. He had also captured the Open Championship at Saint Andrews in 1933. He claimed twelve additional PGA events and competed on three Ryder Cup teams. 

Shute was not as flamboyant as Walter Hagen. He was so quiet, shy and reserved in the public eye that he sometimes had his wife Hettie accept a trophy and paycheck on his behalf. He earned the nickname “The Human Icicle.”

Born in 1904, Shute was the son of an English golf professional, Hermon, who had immigrated to the United States in 1902, and taken a club pro job in Huntington, West Virginia, where he helped found Spring Valley Country Club. The boy began hitting golf balls at 30 months of age and grew into a steady and studious player, not particularly long but accurate and unlikely to make big mistakes. Golf becomes as natural as walking, talking, and eating with a knife and fork. He was considered one of the really great iron players of his days. “If he ever had the fever to play tournament golf, he’d have been the equal to me,” Sam Snead once said.

Errie Ball, who played in the first Masters with Shute, remembered that “He didn’t open up too much on the golf course. He was just concentrating on his game. He wasn’t paying much attention to you. It was a good trait to have. He didn’t play around much. He’d get on the golf course, and you knew you had someone tough to beat.”

Usually played later in the schedule, this PGA Championship was in late May, the first of three times it was held before the U.S. Open and Open Championship. Prior to World War II, the PGA Championship was most often played in September, but ranged from late May (1937, 1942) to early December (1929). Since 1969, it has been held in early to mid-August, except for 1971 (February) and 2016 (July).

Claudia Mazzucco

Claudia M. Mazzucco is a researcher at Golf Channel and teacher of History of Golf at the PGA of Argentina, in Buenos Aires. She is the author of Legendary Lessons (2016), El Golf de los Tiempos, A Novel (2002) and The Guide of Golf Courses in Argentina (2003). She received the PGA Award from the PGA of Argentina in 2005

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