By: Claudia Mazzucco – On this day, September 2, 1940, Byron Nelson captured the 23rd P.G.A. Championship by defeating Sam Snead 1 up in the 36-hole final match at the Hershey Country Club, in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
Nelson won the first hole of the match at the par 5, 579-yard, sixth hole, where he dropped a putt for a birdie from about 18 feet. Snead had just missed a twenty-five feet putt for a half. He went 2 up on the ninth. Both players were on the green with their tee shots but Snead made three putts, missing the second from about two feet. At the 11th, Snead drove into the rough. He recovered to the corner of the green but Nelson, who was on the green in two, ran down a putt from nine feet for birdie and went 3 up. Snead finally won a hole at the 15th, where Nelson made his only bogey of the morning. He was struggling with an uncontrollable hook, which became apparent at the eighth.
Sam, who was trying to bring his bride of two weeks the title, was 3 down in the morning round; he squared the match with a birdie putt from six feet on the 30th; both made birdie 4 on the 31st and Sam went ahead for the first time on the 32nd (par 3, 189 yards). But, at least six of his putts either grazed or hopped out of the cups.
Nelson birdied the next two holes. From four feet after playing a brilliant iron-7 to four feet from the flag at the 16th (34th); Snead’s putt from fourteen feet for a half was in the cup but crawled out. Nelson then hit a niblick to within six feet of the flag on the 17th (35th) hole, and got it down after Sam’s eight feet putt skinned the hole. With a 1 up lead going into the final hole, Nelson then hit an iron 3 at the long par 3, 190-yard, 18th (36th) hole, which stopped six feet above the cup. Snead put his shot twenty-five feet away but off the green, and missed the approach shot. Nelson’s first putt hung on the lip, but all he needed was a par 3 to match Snead and end the match.
The scoring cards of both players were:
Nelson: 71 – 70 = 141, 5 under par.
Snead: 73 – 67 = 140, 6 under par.
This 67 was the lowest round of the entire championship, which included a conceded hole at the par 3, 27th hole, where Nelson hooked to the water and gave Sam a twenty feet putt for a two.
Thus Nelson won the title that escaped him in the first extra hole in 1939 during the final match against Henry Picard. The title also gave him a record of victories in the PGA Championship, the U.S. Open, the Western Open, the Metropolitan Open and The Masters Tournament. Between 1939 and 1945, he was in the final match five of the six times the PGA was played.
The Hershey C.C. was Ben Hogan’s home course. He won his first three matches, but was beaten in the quarter-finals by Ralph Guldahl, 3 and 2.
Hagen’s Last Victory
In his opening match, Walter Hagen, at age 48, played the final five holes in 1-under-par to edge Sellers. When he had not arrived at the tee at the appointed time, Victor Ghezzi went into the clubhouse to find him sipping Scotch at the clubhouse bar. Hagen looked out the window and saw raindrops. “Why don’t you begin to play?” Hagen asked Ghezzi, “I’ll join you on the third hole.” But Hagen wasn’t allowed to concede the opening holes. He finished his Scotch and went to the first tee. Ghezzi, visibly upset, won the first two holes. Hagen recovered to win 2 and 1. It was Hagen’s 40th match victory in 50 outings, including the inaugural PGA Championship in 1916. Hagen lost in the next match to Harold “Jug” McSpaden, who won on the 18th hole by 1 up. McSpaden went to defeat Paul Runyan in the quarterfinals 8 and 6. In 1942, Hagen played another PGA, but did not advance out of the stroke-play qualifier.
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