Ross 'Sandy' Somerville: Golfer Made First Ace at The Masters

Ross Somerville on a Canadian magazine cover
Ross Somerville, often known by the nickname Sandy, was a Canadian amateur golfer who won many provincial and national titles in his home country from the 1920s into the 1960s. He has the distinction of being first at a couple notable achievements: Somerville was the first Canadian golfer to win the U.S. Amateur Championship; and he scored the first hole-in-one in the Masters Tournament.

Full name: Charles Ross Somerville

Date of birth: May 4, 1903

Place of birth: London, Ontario, Canada

Date of death: May 17, 1991

Nickname: Sandy, sometimes "Silent Sandy." Often referred to in print during his tournament days as "C. Ross Somerville."

His Biggest Wins

Somerville was a career amateur. He won the Manitoba Amateur in 1926; the Ontario Amateur in 1927, 1928, 1929 and 1937; and he won the Canadian Amateur six times: 1926, 1928, 1930, 1931, 1935 and 1937. Somerville won the U.S. Amateur in 1932. After reaching age 50, he won the Canadian Seniors Golf Association Championship four times: 1960, 1961, 1965 and 1966.

Somerville's U.S. Amateur Win

Ross Somerville won the 1932 U.S. Amateur Championship, played at Five Farms Club in Baltimore, Maryland. In the semifinals, Somerville dispatched 1921 champ Jesse Guilford by a 7-and-6 score. That set up the 36-hole championship match against Johnny Goodman.

Following the morning 18, Somerville held a 1-up lead. But Goodman — who one year later won the 1933 U.S. Open — recorded four birdies on the first nine of the afternoon to take a 2-up lead. But after cutting the corner of the dogleg 12th hole by clearing a large stand of oak trees, Somerville won the hole to regain the lead. He scored even-par over the final eight holes, and that was enough to close out the match on the 35th hole for a 2-and-1 victory.

Not only was Somerville the U.S. Amateur's first Canadian champ, he also became the first golfer to win both the Canadian and U.S. amateur championships. He was the fourth non-American winner of the tournament, the first since 1911.

More About Ross Somerville

Ross Somerville was known to his friends as Sandy, and he was sometimes called "Silent Sandy" because — although he was a very friendly, witty guy in general — he preferred not to talk on the golf course. One contemporary recalled that Somerville would greet an opponent with "How do you do?" on the first tee, then not talk again until offering a "thank you very much" on the final green.

Somerville was born into a prominent family (true of many of the famous lifetime amateurs of the first half of the 1900s) in London, Ontario. His father was a businessman and financier, and onetime mayor of the city. Dad had memberships at the London Hunt Club and at Royal Dornoch in Scotland, among other golf clubs. Ross started playing golf at age five, and his interest was further stirred by a visit to Pinehurst, in North Carolina, at age 6 — a visit during which he received encouragement from famous golf course designer Donald Ross.

And Somerville built his game at the family's home London Hunt Club. But his interest was split between many sports and, in fact, Somerville developed into one of Canada's greatest all-around athletes of the first half of the 20th century.

An article that once appeared (but, alas, no longer does) on the website of Golf Ontario (an RCGA provincial golf association) included this description of Somerville's athletic prowess:

"For a time he was considered one of the finest centremen in Canadian amateur hockey and was an above-average football player at the University of Toronto. Following graduation, Somerville reportedly turned down contract offers from both the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Toronto Argonauts. But it was the game of cricket in which he most excelled. Somerville earned the highest-ever score for a school cricketer in Canada — 212 not out — before touring England with a select 11 players. Lamented his cricket coach at Ridley College: 'Unfortunately, Sandy took up golf'."
But Somerville only really got serious about golf when he reached his 20s. And having gotten serious about it, he quickly became one of the best golfers in Canada.

His first national notice followed runner-up showings in the Canadian Amateur in 1924 and 1925. He was was also runner-up in 1934 and 1938. So in the period from 1924 through 1938, Somerville won the CanAm six times and was second four times. One of those victories, in 1930 over American J. Wood Platt, was by an 11-and-10 score.

Also in 1930, Somerville was the first-round opponent of Bobby Jones in the U.S. Amateur, the last tournament Jones needed to win to complete his Grand Slam. Jones defeated Somerville in that match, 5 and 4 (which was actually the closest match Jones had in that tournament).

Sandy Somerville newspaper cover

With all his success in Canada, including provincial titles in Ontario and Manitoba, Somerville set his sights on becoming the first Canadian winner of the U.S. Amateur. One problem he faced, which might surprise modern readers, is that the golf ball was different sizes in Canada and the United States. Canada played under R&A rules, which meant using the slightly smaller "British ball." Locations under USGA rules used the slightly larger "American ball."

To prepare, Somerville spent all of 1932 competing with the American ball, which hurt him in Canadian tournaments. But it definitely paid off with his victory at the U.S. Amateur that year. When he returned home to London, Ontario, he was given a parade and the key to the city. He was also named Canada's Male Athlete of the Year by the Canadian Press.

In his U.S. Amateur title defense in 1933, Somerville beat Chick Evans in the first round, but eventually lost in the third round to Lawson Little.

When The Masters Tournament debuted in 1934, Bobby Jones extended an invitation to Somerville. It was the second professional major in which he appeared, having missed the cut in the 1929 U.S. Open. In the 1934 Masters, Somerville finished tied for 43rd. He also finished 28th in the 1933 British Open, and 36th in the 1938 Masters. Those were his only appearances in professional majors.

But Somerville wrote his name in the majors record book: In 1934, Somerville scored the first hole-in-one in Masters history. It happened in the second round. He used a mashie niblick to hole out from 145 yards. The hole? It was the No. 7 hole at the time, but, because the nines were flipped the following year, today it is the 16th hole. (Before that Masters began, there was an unofficial foursomes competition at Augusta National; Jones chose Somerville as his partner for it.)

Somerville's last shots at tournament glory were reaching the finals of the Canadian Amateur in 1938, and the semifinals of the British Amateur the same year.

In 1950, the Canadian Press named Somerville Canada's best golfer of the first half-century. In 1957, he served as president of the Royal Canadian Golf Association.

Upon turning 50, Somerville returned to competition and posted four wins in the Canadian Senior Golf Association championship. He continued playing golf into his 80s. One later article about him reported that during his age 77 year, Somerville matched or bettered his age 37 times. Somerville was 88 years old when he died in 1991.

Somerville was inducted into the Canada Sports Hall of Fame in 1955. He is also a member of the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame (inducted 1971), Canadian Amateur Athletic Hall of Fame (1975), Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame (1985), Toronto Sports Hall of Fame (1987), Ontario Golf Hall of Fame (2000), and London Sports Hall of Fame (2002).

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