One-Hit Wonder John Barnum Achieved a Couple of PGA Tour Firsts

John Barnum was a part-time tour golfer in the 1950s and 1960s who, at a late age, finally won a PGA Tour tournament. And although that was his only win on the top-level golf tour, he set a tour record there and also achieved another notable first.

Full name: John O. Barnum

Date of birth: October 6, 1911

Date and place of death: October 30, 1996 in Palm Beach, Florida

Nickname: Big John

Barnum's Biggest Wins

Barnum won one PGA Tour tournament:
  • 1962 Cajun Classic
He also won multiple other pro tournaments that were not tour events:
  • 1950 Michigan Open
  • 1957 Michigan PGA Championship
  • 1958 Michigan Open
  • 1958 Michigan PGA Championship
  • 1960 Michigan Open
  • 1961 Michigan Open
  • 1961 Michigan PGA Championship
  • 1963 Jamaica Open

In the Majors

Barnum was the solo, first-round leader by two strokes after carding a 66 in the 1962 PGA Championship, but fell to 57th after scores of 77-81 in the final two rounds.

He first played in a major at the 1949 U.S. Open, and last played in one at the 1965 PGA Championship. Barnum appeared in 11 major championships total, all U.S. Opens or PGAs, making the cut in six of them. His best finish was a tie for 16th in the 1958 PGA Championship.

More About John Barnum

A tall, thick golfer, Barnum's nickname was "Big John" and a 1951 newspaper article referred to him as a "hulking 220-pound pro." He was also noted as a very fast driver on the roads, back when tour pros all drove from tournament to tournament. Once, according to Herbert Warren Wind's Golf Book (affiliate link), that got him into trouble: He walked up to the first tee to begin a tournament round only to find a state trooper waiting to hand him a speeding ticket.

In amateur golf, Barnum's biggest wins were back-to-back titles in the Mexican Amateur in 1939 and 1940. The year 1940 was also when he made his first PGA Tour appearance, although he remained an amateur for nearly another 10 years. In the 1941 Trans-Mississippi Amateur, Barnum reached the championship match before falling to Frank Stranahan. Another runner-up came in the amateur division of the 1947 All American Open at Chicago's Tam O'Shanter Golf Club.

Barnum began appearing in PGA Tour events more frequently, although still only a handful of times per year, in the late 1940s. The year 1951, when Barnum was already 40 years old, was the first in which he made more than 10 PGA Tour starts.

By that time, Barnum was head golf professional at Blythefield Country Club near Grand Rapids, Michigan, a position he held until 1973. He worked at the club and played PGA Tour tournaments or regional PGA events when he had the opportunity.

And Barnum was a force in Michigan golf. He won the Michigan Open in 1950, 1958, 1960 and 1961, and also won the Michigan PGA Championship three times in that span.

In 1952, Barnum played 13 PGA Tour events with four Top 10s; he played 14 times on tour in 1955, 14 in 1960, and in 1961, the year he turned 50, he played 15.

Barnum's Record-Setting Win

And that brings us to 1962 and Barnum's first — and only — PGA Tour win. It happened at the Cajun Classic in Louisiana, where Barnum won by six strokes over runner-up Gay Brewer.

In winning that tournament, Barnum set an all-time PGA Tour record that still stands: he is the oldest first-time winner in Tour history. Barnum was 51 years old at the time, and was only the second golfer over the age of 50 to win on the PGA Tour.

And the "notable first" that Barnum also achieved in that tournament? He won using a Ping putter, the first-known time a Ping putter was used in a PGA Tour victory. Barnum gave that putter to Blythefield Country Club, where it remains on display today. There is also a putter in the Ping Putter Vault that commemorates the win.

The Rest of Barnum's Career

He was already old enough for senior tournaments, but Barnum had a "regular," but non-PGA Tour win, left to go. It was at the 1963 Jamaica Open, part of what was called the Caribbean Tour, a series of tournaments loosely affiliated with the PGA Tour. In another such event in 1963, the Maracaibo Open in Venezuela, Barnum lost in a playoff to Jim Ferree.

For his career, Barnum entered 179 PGA Tour events, made the cut in 167 of them, had one win, two third-place finishes and 25 career Top 10 finishes. He last appeared in a PGA Tour event in 1966.

By that time Barnum had been making noise for several years in senior golf. Once again, he was a major player in Michigan, winning the Michigan PGA Senior Championship five times.

And he had three near-misses in the Senior PGA Championship. He was second by two strokes to Herman Barron in 1963; second by three strokes to Sam Snead in 1964; and second by two strokes to Fred Haas in 1966. Barnum also finished fifth in 1967.

Today, Barnum is a member of the Grand Rapids Sports Hall of Fame (elected 1972), the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame (elected 1984) and the Michigan PGA Hall of Fame (elected 2016).

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