Bio of Golfer Lou Graham, U.S. Open Winner

Cover of Lou Graham golf book
Lou Graham was a steady if unglamorous golfer on the PGA Tour from the 1960s into the 1980s, with a game built around straight driving and course management. "If you try to fight the course, it will beat you," was one of his principles of play. And that served him well in one of the biggest tournaments in golf — the U.S. Open, which he won once.

Full name: Louis Krebs Graham

Date of birth: January 7, 1938

Place of birth: Nashville, Tennessee

Graham's PGA Tour Wins

Graham is credited with six wins on the PGA Tour:
  • 1967 Minnesota Golf Classic
  • 1972 Liggett & Myers Open
  • 1975 U.S. Open
  • 1979 IVB-Philadelphia Golf Classic
  • 1979 American Optical Classic
  • 1979 San Antonio Texas Open
Three of Graham's PGA Tour wins were via playoff. At the Liggett & Myers, he beat David Graham (no relation), Hale Irwin and Larry Ziegler. At the IVB-Philadelphia Golf Classic, he defeated Bobby Wadkins. And his U.S. Open win was also via playoff.

Graham's 1975 U.S. Open Victory

Lou Graham was not playing well in the weeks leading up to the 1975 U.S. Open. Shortly before arriving in Chicago for the tournament, he was quoted saying, "I've got no business going to the U.S. Open this week and playing a hard course like Medinah."

Then he went out and won it with a final score of 3-over-par 287.

The tournament looked like it would belong to Tom Watson early on: Watson tied the then-U.S. Open 36-hole scoring record of 135, but faltered over the final two rounds. In the final round, Jack Nicklaus appeared in good position, one stroke behind with three holes to play. But instead of the opposition fading in the face of a Bear charge, it was Nicklaus who faded: he bogeyed the final three holes.

Graham had moved into the Top 10 with a 68 in the third round. He was five strokes worse in the final round, yet moved up the scoreboard, which gives an idea of how poor the scoring was that day.

Graham had a chance to win it in regulation, but couldn't get up and down from a bunker on the 72nd hole. That bogey left him tied with John Mahaffey at 287 and necessitated an 18-hole, Monday playoff.

For that playoff, Graham wore the same outfit he had worn in his third-round 68. He took the lead early with birdies on No. 4 and No. 5, and birdied the 10th to start the final nine. In the end, Graham defeated Mahaffey by two strokes, 71 to 73.

Graham's overall score was never under par at any point in the tournament — the first time in the post-World War II era a golfer won the U.S. Open without going below par. Graham also set a U.S. Open record that still stands for best comeback by a winner over the final 36 holes: He was 11 shots behind leader Watson after the second round.

More About Lou Graham

Graham was born in Nashville, a city he would be associated with for his entire life. He took up golf at age seven. By his teens, he was good enough to lead Father Ryan High School to the state high school golf championship in 1953, and to win the Tennessee individual championship in 1956.

He earned a golf scholarship to Memphis State University, and while there had his first start on the PGA Tour in 1958. But after three years of college, Graham was drafted into the United States Army. In the Army, Graham was part of the ceremonial Honor Guard that guards the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery.

He was also part of the All Army Golf Team, and was on the winning side in the 1961 Inter-Service championship tournament against teams representing other branches of the American military.

Once out of the Army in 1962, Graham turned back to golf. He turned pro in 1964 and made six starts on the PGA Tour that year. His first win happened at Hazeltine National Golf Club, the 1967 Minnesota Golf Classic. Graham finished 27th on the PGA Tour money list that year.

But he developed tendonitis in his left arm in 1968 and wasn't able to capitalize on the momentum built the previous year. Graham eventually underwent surgery on that arm and didn't win again until 1972.

In addition to his U.S. Open victory in 1975, Graham also that year partnered Johnny Miller as Team USA, and they won the team title in the World Cup.

That U.S. Open victory was Graham's only win in a major championship, but he had seven career Top 10 finishes in majors. His best stretch in majors was at the U.S. Open from 1974 through 1977. Those years, Graham finished in the Top 3 three out of four years: tied for third in the 1974 U.S. Open, winner in 1975, and solo second in the 1977 U.S. Open. He also had Top 10s in the PGA Championship in 1968 (tied eighth), 1977 (tied sixth) and 1979 (tied 10th), plus the 1977 Masters (tied sixth). Graham first played in a major at the 1963 U.S. Open, and last in the 1985 U.S. Open.

"Golf is a dumb game. Hitting the ball is the fun part of it, but the fewer times you hit the ball the more fun you have. Does that make any sense?" — Lou Graham
He didn't win again for four years after the U.S. Open (although he was runner-up in the 1978 Players Championship), but in 1979 Graham won three times. Before 1979, he had three career wins; in the span of less than three months in 1979, he earned another three. In one of those wins, at the IVB-Philadelphia Golf Classic, Graham shot 64 in the final round, then beat Bobby Wadkins in a playoff. Graham was named Comeback Player of the Year by Golf Digest (affiliate link) for 1979, but he never won again on the PGA Tour.

From 1971-79, Graham finished in top 30 of the PGA Tour money list each year, inside the Top 20 in five of those years. He was a career-best 11th in 1977, when he didn't win but had nine Top 10s and 17 Top 25s, including one second and one third.

Various muscle pulls and back aches set him back in 1980, and he never got back to the heights, but following the 1980 season he ranked 15th on the PGA Tour career money list.

Along the way, Graham was part of Team USA in the 1973 Ryder Cup, 1975 Ryder Cup and 1977 Ryder Cup. His overall record was 5-3-1, and he was a perfect 3-0-0 in fourballs. In singles Graham lost to Tommy Horton, 2 and 1, and beat Neil Coles, 5 and 3 (he didn't play singles in 1973).

For his PGA Tour career, Graham made 623 starts, 450 cuts and had 95 Top 10 finishes. In addition to his six wins, he had 10 second-place finishes and 11 thirds. He first played a tour event in 1958, and last in 1987.

Graham played the Champions Tour for multiple seasons after turning 50, but never won. He made 239 starts on the senior circuit, last playing in 2001, with 31 Top 10 finishes.

Graham was inducted as a charter member to the Tennessee Golf Hall of Fame in 1990. He also authored a golf instructional book, Mastering Golf (affiliate link), published in 1978.

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