Who Was the First International Winner of The Masters Tournament?

Did you know it took nearly 30 years before The Masters Tournament was won by a golfer who was not American in nationality? It's true, the first international winner of the tournament didn't happen until 1961. And can you guess that winner? We bet you can.

Gary Player Was The Masters' First International Champion

South African golfer Gary Player won the 1961 Masters, becoming the first non-American to claim the Green Jacket.

The 1961 Masters was the fifth one played by Player. He had previously finished 24th in 1957, eighth in 1949 and sixth in 1960 (he missed the cut in 1958). And he was already a major champion: Player won the 1959 British Open.

Player led by four strokes going into the final round in 1961, but doubled the 13th and bogeyed the 15th. That allowed defending champ Arnold Palmer to take the lead.

And Palmer led Player by one on the 18th hole, until Arnie made a mess of things. He hit into a bunker, bladed the bunker shot off the green, then chipped well past the hole. He double-bogeyed.

Player hit into the same bunker, but got up-and-down for par and the win, becoming the first international Masters champion.

Internationals Before and After Player at The Masters

Today there are many years when there are more international golfers in the Masters field than Americans. That is common. But international golfers were uncommon for most of the tournament's early history.

Even the year of Player's breakthrough win, 73 Americans were in the field, only 15 internationals.

Prior to Player's 1961 win, there had been three Masters in which golfers born outside the United States were runner-up: Harry Cooper in 1936 and 1938, and Jim Ferrier in 1950.

And after Player? The next international winner was ... Gary Player in 1974. And after that? Yep, Player again, in 1978.

It wasn't until Seve Ballesteros won in 1980 that a non-American other than Gary Player won The Masters. After Seve's win, however, international champions became a common occurrence in The Masters.

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