Golfer Skee Riegel: Big Wins and Fun Facts

Golfer Skee Riegel
Skee Riegel didn't even start playing golf until he was in his 20s. But in the second half of the 1940s he was one of the best amateur golfers in the world. Later, he played on the PGA Tour and was a longtime, highly respected PGA professional.

Full name: Robert Henry Riegel

Nickname: Skee, which derives from Riegel's childhood when he would strap boards to his feet and slide down a snowy hill near his family's house.

Date and place of birth: November 25, 1914, in New Bloomfield, Pennsylvania

Date and place of death: February 22, 2009, in Paoli, Pennsylvania

Significant Wins by Skee Riegel

Riegel's biggest wins were all at the amateur level. Those include:

  • 1942 Florida State Amateur Championship
  • 1946 Trans-Mississippi Amateur
  • 1947 U.S. Amateur Championship
  • 1948 Trans-Mississippi Amateur
  • 1948 Western Amateur
As a pro, Riegel posted multiple wins at the state and local level after he stopped playing a full PGA Tour schedule. Those include the Pennsylvania Open Championship in 1957 and 1959.

In the Majors

Riegel's biggest claim to fame while a member of the PGA Tour was finishing runner-up to Ben Hogan at the 1951 Masters, two strokes behind. Riegel also finished tied for 10th in the 1951 U.S. Open.

Before turning pro, Riegel finished tied for 13th place in the 1948 Masters, earning low amateur honors. He was also low amateur the next year in the 1949 U.S. Open, tying for 14th place.

In all, Riegel played The Masters 11 times (1947-57), the U.S. Open 16 times and the PGA Championship nine times. His final appearance in a major was at the 1964 U.S. Open.

More About Skee Riegel

As a 15-year-old, Riegel was in attendance at Merion when Bobby Jones won the U.S. Amateur during Jones' Grand Slam year in 1930. But Riegel wasn't even a golf fan at that point: He didn't start golfing himself until age 23 because his wife was a golfer. (Skee and Edith were married for 60 years. She died in 1996.)

Riegel began playing some amateur tournaments in the late 1930s. During World War II, Riegel served as a flight instructor in the U.S. Army Air Corp. It was while attending flight school himself in Florida that Riegel first tasted tournament success by winning the 1942 Florida State Amateur.

When the war ended, Riegel's golf career took off. He entered the 1946 U.S. Amateur at Baltusrol, and in the two qualifying rounds (that whittled the field prior to match play), he was medalist with a record-setting score of 136. That record stood for more than 30 years.

Riegel's crowning achievement in tournament golf was his 1947 victory in the U.S. Amateur, which took place at Pebble Beach that year. He defeated Don Cherry in the first round and future PGA Championship winner Bob Rosburg in the quarterfinals. In the 36-hole championship match, Riegel dispatched Johnny Dawson, 2 and 1. He sank a 30-foot putt on the 24th hole to stay even, then made a 20-footer on the 25th hole to take the lead for good.

Riegel played for Team USA in the 1947 Walker Cup (at The Old Course) and 1949 Walker Cup. He went undefeated with a combined 4-0 record.

An article that appeared on the USGA's website included a story about the ship voyage home (aboard the Queen Elizabeth) from the 1947 Walker Cup:

"On the trip home, 'after a few drinks and whatnot,' according to Riegel, a couple of the players bet him that he couldn’t climb up a smokestack pole in the dining area. Riegel, not one to back down, completed the feat, in formal attire no less, to hearty laughter. Riegel later passed out on the ship, leading officials to call out 'man overboard' when no one could find him.

"I remember (team captain Frances Ouimet) didn’t look that amused, and neither did the USGA president at the time, who was also on the ship,' said Riegel. A mural of the incident (now) hangs in the Skee Riegel Room at Cape May National Golf Club."

Riegel turned pro in 1950, when he was already 35 years old. He never won a PGA Tour title, but played full-time only through 1953. He still made winter tour appearances for many years afterward, however. In his final full-time year on tour, Riegel finished eighth on the PGA Tour money list in 1953.

"Skee" then took a job as head pro at Radnor Valley Country Club, outside Philadelphia, a position he held from 1954-61. Later, he was part owner of York Road Country Club in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, then, late in life, was named "pro emeritus" by the builders of Cape May National Golf Club in Cape May, New Jersey.

The Philadelphia chapter of the PGA of America still plays the Skee Riegel Senior Open tournament every year at Radnor Valley.

In 1999, at age 84, Riegel shot an 82 at Pebble Beach, where he'd won the U.S. Amateur 52 years earlier.

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