On this day: In 1956, Pro golfer John Weitzel was killed in a car accident on the way home from a Pro-Am tournament


John Russell “Johnny” Weitzel

Johnny Weitzel was born in 1923. He grew up in Reading, Pennsylvania and fought in World War II. Weitzel was a veteran of the Anzio Beach campaign among other battles. He went to work as an assistant pro at the Manor Country Club for Buddy Heckman when he returned from the service. After that he was the head professional at the Colonial Country Club for three years before becoming the professional at the Hershey Country Club in 1952, one year after Ben Hogan left.

In the 1950s he was one of the leading players in the Section. In 1950 he began to show that he could compete with the touring pros when he won the Anthracite Open while competing against a number of touring pros that were here for the Reading Open. In a three-week period in early 1954 Weitzel finished third in both the Phoenix Open and the Mexican Open. That year he won $1,678 on the PGA Tour plus $1,387 at the Mexican Open while holding the head pro position at Hershey Country Club. Weitzel qualified for four PGA Championships and four U.S. Opens and he played in the 1955 Masters Tournament. In 1955 and 1956 Weitzel won the Pennsylvania Open on his home course and in 1954 he finished second in both the Section championship and the Philadelphia Open. In September of 1956 Weitzel died from injuries suffered in an automobile accident on the way home from a golf tournament. After Johnny’s death his brother Jay came back to the Section to take over as the head professional at Hershey. He had been working for Jack Grout at the Sciota Country Club. Jay held the position at Hershey for over 30 years.

Article from the Lebanon Daily News Sept 19, 1956

Johnny Weitzel, widely known 31 year old golf professional at the Hershey country clim died last night in the Lancaster General Hospital. His death resulted from injuries sufferd in an automobile accident on the night of September 9 in Elizabethtown when he was returning home after playing in a pro-amateur golf tournament at the Conestoga Country Club near Lancaster.

Weitzel, the father of five small children was driving his own station wagon when it collided with a cattle truck driven by roy E Fidler of Woodward, Center County. The Hershey golfer suffered a severed pancreas gland, other internal injuries and cuts of the face and knee in the crash. His condition has been critical every since his admission to the hospital. In fact he underwnet a four hour operation on Monday sept 10 and hospital surgeons at no time expressed confidence in his chances for recovery.

It was generally accepted that only his excellent physical condition kept hi in a losing fight for life the past nine days.
A native of Berks County he was the son of Mr and Mrs Earl Weitzel, and was one of eight children. He first attained some golfing prominence when he won the PA Interscholastic Athletic Assoc championship at State College in 1942 whil representing Wilson High School at West Lawn. He too up the sport actively after starting in as a caddy at the manor Golf Club a the age of ten and is well recalled by local golfers who played that course some years ago. The Hershey golfer then entered the service and served in the US Army for twenty two months, mostly in the Italian campaign of WWII. During actual combat in that campaign he was severly injured when German shell fragments pierced a knee and hospitalized him for three months.

After World War II

After his return from war service he took up golf professionally in 1946 and for three years operated the Manor Golf Club as the owner – professional. He then accepted the position of golf pro at the Colonial Country Club in Harrisburg at the age of 24. He remained there three years. He was named to the Hershey post on March 1, 1952, to succeed Walter Hall, who had preiously succeeded to the position vacated by Ben Hogan after a ten year tenure.

It is coincidental that Hogan almost lost his life ian an auto crash in TX in 1948 while still associated with the Hershey Country Club.
Weitzel began playing so-called bigtime golf as long back as 1951, and through four years qualified for the National PGA Championship tournament. His record also includes impressive performances in qualifying for the US Open Championship Tournament for three years (1952-54) and just this year he set the qualifying pace in area competition at North Hills and Whitemarsh near Philadelphia.
He is survived by his wife the former Annalee McGee, of Harrisburg and five children, Shawnee, 6, Judy 5, Mary Ann 4, Johnny 2 and Jimmy three months old who live at Hummelstown R.D. He is also survived by his parents, residing in Montello, five brothers, Jay (Jackie), an asst golf pro at Scioto Country Club in Col OH, Bobby of New York a former leading Berks County amateur golfer, Charles, Paul and William and three sisters, Mrs Harry Uhler, Mrs Earl Kocher and Miss Marion Weitzel.

Josh Morris

Josh Morris is the Editor of Golf History Today. A proud USGA Volunteer and golf enthusiast. In his free time he enjoys being a weekend caddie as well as playing as much as he can.

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