Happy Birthday Hale Irwin!
By: Claudia Mazzucco – On this day, June 3, 1945, Hale Spencer Irwin Jr. was born in Joplin, Missouri, to Mabel M. Phillips and Hale Irwin Sr. His father was an excavation contractor. He grew up to age 14 at Baxter Springs in Kansas and then moved to Boulder, where he met his future wife, Sally Jean Stahlhuth, who was from Kirkwood. They married on September 14, 1968 and had two children.
After graduating from the University of Colorado with a degree in marketing, he joined the PGA Tour that year. He was a self-taught golfer. He began playing golf in a nine-hole public course with sand greens at age of six or seven through his father, who spent countless hours showing Hale the technique and etiquette of the game. He got his first half-set of golf clubs when he was 12. When he was 14, he had played on grass greens only three times, twice in Joplin and once while on vacation in Boulder.
At age 26, in 1971, Irwin edged Bob Lunn by one stroke to win his first Tour event, The Sea Pines Heritage Classic, in the Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. He led all the way on the final day and finished with a record of 279, five under par. Three years later, he won the 43 rd Bing Crosby pro-Am Tournament at Pebble Beach. He birdie the par 5 18 th hole where his hooked drive that was heading for the Pacific Ocean struck a rock down the seaside cliff and bounced back up on the fairway. Irwin tied with Canadian Jim Nelford and then beat him with a birdie on the second hole of the playoff.
Sometimes you have to create your own luck. pic.twitter.com/CETR7nR3WU
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) February 8, 2017
Hale Irwin was the first player to win the U.S. Open wearing glasses. He said, “I’ve come away bloodied, bruised and kicked, but I’ve enjoyed Winged Foot. It’s been good to me.”
In 1974, Irwin captured the 74 th U.S. Open at Winged Foot. He was not a birdie machine and very much preferred a course where par was good. He opened with rounds of 73-70 which put him at the top of the leaderboard with Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Raymond Floyd. He continued to practice his consistent game, and after 54 holes, Irwin was one stroke behind Tom Watson, the leader. The last two holes were the key to his victory, finishing par-par where he had played well over par in his previous three rounds. He won by two over an obscure golfer named Forrest Fezler. His final score was 287, 7 over par (73-70- 71-73), the second highest winning score in the last half century.
In 2016, Michael Bamberger wrote in Men in Green, “In his ability to get his ball to follow directions, Hale Irwin is likely as close to Ben Hogan as any golfer after Hogan and before Tiger Woods.” In 1900, at age 45, Irwin became the oldest winner of the U.S. Open at Medinah. He qualified through a special exemption given by the USGA. His goal was to make the top fifteen.
On the 11 th hole in the final round, 15 players were ahead of him. But he played the last eight holes in five under, making four birdies in a row to get into the top four. After hitting a 7-iron to the front of the green, he knocked in an improbable 45-foot putt (with a good seven feet of right-to-left break and a large hump directly between him and the hole) on the 72 nd hole to force an 18-hole playoff with Mike Donald, which he won with a ten-foot putt for birdie on the 19 th hole. On
Sunday, after Irwin made his long putt, he jumped up, pumped his fists in the air, and circled the green, slapping high-fives with everyone he could reach in the gallery. He also picked up his largest purse, $ 220,000. Then he won the Buick Classic to earn $ 838,249.
He has won the United States Open three times (just one short of Bob Jones, Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus), as well as two the U.S. Senior Open and three PGA Seniors Championship. He may be unanimously recognized as the greatest player in Champions Tour history, where he won a record of 45 events. ( A number Bernhard Langer is closing in on.)
From 1975 through 1978, he played 86 tournaments without missing a cut. The only golfers to surpass this achievement are Byron Nelson (113), Jack Nicklaus (105) and Tiger Woods (142). His career highlights also include playing in five winning U.S. Ryder Cup teams as well as being inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1992. Irwin was captain of the American team in the inaugural Presidents Cup in 1994. In 2002 he earned a record $3,028,304 to become the first man to win $3 million in a season.
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