George Bayer, One of the Longest Drivers in PGA Tour History

golfer George Bayer in a MacGregor ad
George Bayer was a four-time PGA Tour winner in the 1950s and 1960s, but he was much more famous for his drives than his all-around game: He is considered one of the longest — perhaps the longest — drivers in PGA Tour history. He also once scored 17 on a hole after he chipped the ball down the fairway with a 7-iron.

Full Name: Harold George Bayer

Date of birth: September 15, 1925

Place of birth: Bremerton, Washington

Date and place of death: March 16, 2007 in Palm Springs, California

Nicknames: "Seattle Slugger" and "The Human Howitzer" because of his drives; also "The Brute" because of his size.

List of Bayer's PGA Tour Wins

Bayer is credited with four wins in official PGA Tour tournaments:
  • 1957 Canadian Open
  • 1958 Havana International Invitational
  • 1958 Mayfair Inn Open
  • 1960 St. Petersburg Open Invitational
Bayer also won the 1973 Michigan Open, not a tour event.

In the Majors

George Bayer never won a major. His best finish was a tie for third place in the 1962 PGA Championship. He was no lower than third place the entire tournament and finished tied with Jack Nicklaus, three strokes behind winner Gary Player.

That was Bayer's only Top 10 finish in a major. He never played the British Open; his best finish in The Masters was tied for 15th in 1965, in the U.S. Open, tied for 11th in 1964. His first major was the 1954 U.S. Open, his last the 1973 U.S. Open.

Bayer did, however, win the Masters Par-3 Contest in 1963.

George Bayer's Long — Very Long — Drives

A golf encyclopedia published in 1975 began its George Bayer entry by saying he was "generally regarded as the longest hitter in the history of golf."

At 6-foot-5 and somewhere around 240-250 pounds, Bayer was a huge man for his era of professional golf. Peter Alliss, in The Who's Who of Golf (published 1980), called him "one of the most massive men ever to have been a top golfer."

How far did he hit the ball? The PGA Tour's driving distance stats didn't appear until 1980. Most sources from Bayer's era that cite numbers, however, place his average drives in the 280 yards to 295 yards range. And that was with Bayer dialing back to try to hit more fairways. Remember, too, we're talking about the 1950s and 1960s, persimmon-headed drivers and wound golf balls. For the sake of comparison, in 1980 (the first year PGA Tour driving distance stats are available), the leader in driving distance was Dan Pohl with an average of 274.3 yards. John Daly first led the tour in driving distance in 1991 with a 288.9-yard average.

But when Bayer wanted to let loose, he could smash the ball much farther. According to Allis, Bayer twice hit drives during PGA Tour events that were measured out at over 420 yards. His Associated Press obituary stated that Bayer "once set a record ... with a tournament drive of 436 yards." At the Tucson Open one year, with a tailwind, Bayer drove past the flagstick on a 445-yard par-4.

And once, playing in Australia with a tailwind and firm fairway, Bayer came within 50 yards of the green on a par-5 hole that was 589 yards long.

But Bayer wasn't all that enamored of his prodigious length. He hated people — fans, media, other golfers — treating him like a one-trick pony. The attention his power got didn't help his game — he was trying to dial it back to improve his accuracy, but he was followed by large galleries constantly urging him to go all-out.

A Sports Illustrated article about Bayer in 1961 described his motion:

"Bayer brings the club back loosely in a long, lazy arc, sometimes even past the horizontal position on the back-swing, but his left foot is firmly planted on the ground. When he unwinds, he scarcely seems to put any effort into the shot; in fact, he claims he seldom uses more than 75% of his potential. Still, this easy, graceful, upright swing of Bayer's can produce a clubhead speed that may be close to the maximum that human beings are capable of delivering to a golf ball with the equipment now available. As the ball leaves the tee and recedes into the distance, the gallery exhales an appreciative 'ooooh.'"
Bayer swung the longest driver of his era, and one of the heaviest (he used an E2 swingweight). His height, his forearm and hand strength, the length of the driver and wide arc of swing all combined to produce lots and lots of yards.

This video features Bayer among several players spotlighted:

More About George Bayer

Bayer was raised near Seattle, Washington, and first got into golf through caddying. But in school, it was other sports he played, and excelled, at: football, baseball, basketball. But before he could head to college, Bayer enlisted in the Navy.

Once out of the Navy, Bayer played football on the University of Washington team from 1946-49, and was invited to the 1949 East-West Shrine Game. A lineman, he was drafted by the NFL's Washington Redskins in the 20th round. But Bayer quit the team during preseason following a salary dispute with the team's owner. After a year in the semi-pro American Football League, he moved to California and started selling cars at a Ford dealership.

Bayer's golf to this point was only recreational. But he started entering a few amateur tournaments and in one caught the eye of one of the most-famous men in the world: entertainer Bob Hope. Hope invited Bayer to play a round with himself, fellow entertainers Danny Kaye and Gary Cooper, and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black.

Also through Hope, Bayer met golf pro Toney Penna, who signed Bayer to a retainer with MacGregor Golf. Hope helped Bayer get into the 1953 National Celebrities tournament, and Penna helped him get a position as a club pro at a New York golf club in 1954.

Bayer entered some local tournaments in New York, had success, and decided to try the big-time. He was 29 years old when he first joined the PGA Tour in 1955.

His prodigious length immediately made him a fan favorite and also a favorite for promoters and companies looking to put on exhibition matches. He made nearly as much money from those in some years as he did from tournament play.

Bayer had some anger control issues early on, and had a hard time shaking off poor shots. He had a penchant for fast play — many times he played shots without even making a practice swing — and had a hard time hiding his frustration with slow play.

His anger boiled over during the 1957 Kentucky Derby Open, when, on the 17th hole, he chipped his ball up the hole with a 7-iron. Bayer took 17 strokes to get the ball in the hole, which remains today one of the highest single-hole scores in PGA Tour history. Bayer was suspended by the tour for 30 days, but after apologizing had his punishment reduced to a fine and 90 days probation.

About three months later, Bayer earned his first PGA Tour win at the 1957 Canadian Open.

Two of Bayer's four PGA Tour wins were via playoff, including his last, the 1960 St. Petersburg Open Invitational, where he defeated Jack Fleck. More impressively, Bayer beat Sam Snead in a playoff for his second win at the 1958 Havana International Invitational in Cuba. Bayer hit his drive into a bunker fronting the green on the 374-yard hole, then won the hole when Snead three-putted.

Bayer also lost twice in PGA Tour playoffs, at the 1957 Western Open (won by Doug Ford) and the 1961 Ontario Open (won by Eric Monti). Bayer finished in the Top 60 on the money list from 1955 through 1964, with a high showing of 14th in 1962. He had some close calls after 1960, including runner-up at 1963 Indianapolis 500 Festival Open and Sunset-Camellia Open tournaments.

Bayer's last Top 10 finish was in 1965, and the last year he played 10 or more tournaments was 1968. He made his last appearance in a PGA Tour event in 1983. In 374 career starts, Bayer had four wins, 12 seconds, seven thirds and 65 Top 10 finishes.

He was the head pro at Detroit Golf Club from 1972 through 1983 (and is a member of the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame). Bayer played the Champions Tour without any official wins, but did, with partner Jim Ferree, win the 70-and-over division at the 1997 Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf. In 187 Champions Tour starts, Bayer had eight Top 10 finishes.

Bayer died at his home in Palm Desert, Calif., during dinner with his wife, golfer Bob Goalby and Goalby's wife. Bayer, age 77, suffered a heart attack.

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