Biography of Golfer, PGA Tour Winner Al Besselink

Al Besselink was a PGA Tour winner in the 1950s and 1960s, but is perhaps best-remembered today for his hijinks and love of gambling — including on himself to win golf tournaments.

Full name: Albert Cornelius Besselink

Nickname: Bessie

Date and place of birth: June 30, 1922 in Merchantville, New Jersey

PGA Tour Wins by Al Besselink

  • 1952 Sioux City Open
  • 1953 Tournament of Champions
  • 1957 Kansas City Open
  • 1964 Azalea Open
Book cover of Al Besselink biography
Besselink won more than a dozen other pro tournaments that were not PGA Tour events at the time he won them. Those include the 1946 Azalea Open (as an amateur), the 1952 International Mixed Two-Ball Open in which he partnered Babe Didrikson Zaharias, the 1955 West Palm Beach Open, 1956 Havana Open and 1957 Caracas Open. He also has the distinction of winning the same pro tournament twice in the same year: The Venezuela Open was played in February 1965 and in November 1965, and Bessie won them both. His last win in a significant pro tournament was the 1969 Philadelphia PGA Championship.

Besselink In the Majors

Besselink played in fewer majors than one might imagine for a PGA Tour winner of the 1950s and 1960s: Only five Masters, nine PGA Championships and 10 U.S. Opens. His best finish was a tie for third at the 1952 Masters, the first of three consecutive Top 10 finishes for Bessie in The Masters. He also had a sixth-place finish in the 1951 U.S. Open.

Al Besselink Biography

Al "Bessie" Besselink was one of the breed of partiers/gamblers/characters that were common in golf in the 1950s and 1960s (and surely are today, today's players just keep quiet about it). He was tall (around 6-foot-4) with wavy blonde hair and what have been described as "movie star looks" — only appropriate, since he often hung out with (and sometimes dated) celebrities. He was sometimes referred to as "the dapper Adonis" — in fact, that was an alternate title of a biography of Besselink, The Prince of Merchantville, written by C.F. Stewart.

"I don't know what 'It' is, but I've got it," he once said.

Many stories are told about Besselink's hijinks. One famous example revolves around how he got his college scholarship.

After growing up in Merchantville, N.J. (and spending three years as an Army Air Corps radio operator), Besselink headed south to try to get a golf scholarship to the University of Miami in Florida. But he was a high school dropout — what could he do? He came up with a plan, as related in the book Rub of the Green Revisited by Bob Arnett.

Besselink showed up one early Sunday morning at the university president's on-campus house, the story goes, and knocked on the door. When the president opened the door, Bessie told him that he badly needed Besselink on his golf team. The president told him to talk to the athletic director.

But Bessie took the man by the arm and led him into the man's front yard, which just happened to be adjacent to a wall of the football stadium. Four golf balls were lined up in the president's yard, and Besselink proceeded to tee up each one and knock it into the stadium.

Bessie and the president then entered the stadium to find the four balls each more than 275 yards from where they'd been hit, and each within a few yards of each other. An amazing display of distance, accuracy and gumption. The university president told Besselink on the spot that he had his scholarship, according to Arnett's book.

The catch? It was all a set-up: Besselink had placed four golf balls inside the stadium before he'd ever knocked on the president's door.

But don't get the idea that Besselink, often called a "glamour boy" in those days, was all show. He was a terrific golfer: He was the first Miami golfer to win a national tournament. He won one of the major amateur tournaments of the time, the Southern Invitational, two years running. After the second time, in 1949, he turned pro.

He went on to win four times on the PGA Tour, the first of those victories happening at the 1952 Sioux City Open. His biggest win was the 1953 Tournament of Champions, an event still played on the PGA Tour today but played for the very first time in 1953. His final PGA Tour win was in 1964, but he won non-tour events for years to come. He eventually played on the Champions Tour in its early days.

Besselink was best-known for his wedge play. He once had this to say about wedges:

"A wedge has to have the right loft, the right grip size, the right swing weight, the right shaft. You have to try 10 wedges before you find the right one. I wanted a wedge that I thought respected me."

There are many golfers over the years about whom the story is told that they were once seen grinding down the sole of a wedge by holding it against the road while in a moving car. Ky Laffoon might be the earliest such example. But Arnold Palmer liked to tell a story about seeing Besselink do that.

Always active on the dating scene, Besselink was married three times and divorced three times. In 2002, he was inducted into the University of Miami Sports Hall of Fame.

On How Bessie Loved to Gamble

In the book Money Golf: 600 Years of Bettin' on Birdies, author Michael K. Bohn wrote, that Besselink was "famous for gambling on golf and enjoyed betting on himself to win." Playing in a conference championship tournament while in college, Bohn wrote, "Bessie bet the team's expense money — $500 — on himself to win the individual title, which he did in extra holes."

Normandy Shores golf course in Miami Beach was a hangout for Besselink as his pro career got started, and it's where he won a lot of money. He once claimed that during his heyday, he was spending $100,000 a year while only making $5,000 to $10,000 a year from the tour. All that extra cash? Money games.

But Besselink bristled if anyone suggested he'd ever been a hustler.

"I never had to cheat anybody," Besselink told Bohn. "My best game was playing hustlers, playing the guys who cheated and tried to take advantage of everybody. I wanted to play either them or multimillionaires. I never tried to beat anybody who didn't have any money."

One of Besselink's biggest payoffs from betting on himself also showed his willingness to share his winnings with others. When he showed up to play in the 1953 Tournament of Champions, Bessie bought himself in the tournament Calcutta for $500. When he won the tournament, he won $22,500. The first-place check for the tournament was worth $12,500 less than the Calcutta.

He donated half the tournament prize to a cancer charity in honor of his friend Babe Didrikson Zaharias, whose cancer had recently returned. They had won the 1952 International Two-Ball Championship together as partners.

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