Golfer Al Balding Biography

Al Balding was a Canadian golfer who won multiple times on the PGA Tour in the 1950s, as well as many national titles in his home country over several decades. He was the first golfer from Canada to win a PGA Tour tournament played in the United States.

Full name: Allan George Balding

Date of birth: April 29, 1924

Place of birth: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Date and place of death: July 30, 2006 in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada

Nickname: The Silver Fox, after his hair turned gray at an early age

Balding's Biggest Wins

Balding is credited with four official wins on the PGA Tour: Balding also won the 1963 Mexican Open, not a PGA Tour event, and, with partner George Knudson on Team Canada, won the team and individual titles at the 1968 World Cup.

Playing in Canada, Balding earned multiple provincial and national championships:

  • 1952 Quebec Open
  • 1952 Canadian Match Play
  • 1955 Canadian PGA Championship
  • 1956 Canadian PGA Championship
  • 1958 Canadian Match Play
  • 1961 Canadian Match Play
  • 1963 Canadian PGA Championship
  • 1970 Canadian PGA Championship
  • 1973 Alberta Open

In the Majors

In 18 career starts in majors, Balding recorded only two Top 10 finishes: a tie for eighth place in the 1967 British Open, and ninth place in the 1968 British Open. He played the British Open three times, the U.S. Open seven times and The Masters eight times. His first appearance in a major was at the 1956 Masters, and his last in the 1970 U.S. Open. Balding's best U.S. Open finish was tied for 12th in 1967; his best Masters finish, tied for 16th in 1957.

More About Al Balding

Al Balding was called by Gene Littler "a truly fine iron player," and was known particularly for his prowess with the long irons. He was noted for a swing so smooth even Sam Snead admired it, to the point that Snead often sought out Balding for practice rounds.

Canadian golf writer Lorne Rubenstein described Balding this way:

"Balding played elegant golf, even while nagged by ailments and injuries for much of his career. He was tall and swung in balance, time after time. ... There's no hint of effort in his swing. ... (H)is swing was languid, yet powerful."
Balding grew up across the road from Credit Valley Golf Club in Etobicoke, Ontaria (part of the Toronto metropolitan area), and learned the game when he started caddying there.

His progression in golf was interruped by service in World War II (after which he suffered hearing problems), but he took up golf again upon his return to Canada. Balding turned pro in 1950, and by 1952 was ready to give the PGA Tour a shot.

He played the tour part of the year, while other parts of the year running the pro shop at Credit Valley Golf Club out of a trailer. He was able to upgrade from that trailer after his win in the 1955 Mayfair Open in Florida, his first PGA Tour victory.

And it was a significant win for Canadian golfers. There had been a few Canadians prior who had won tournaments in Canada that counted as PGA Tour wins. But no Canadian golfer had ever won in the United States on the PGA Tour until Balding did it at that 1955 tournament in Florida.

The mid-1950s were Balding's best years in golf. Not only was he winning on the PGA Tour, but he won Canadian national championships in 1954, 1955, 1956 and 1958 during that time period. Balding was named the Ontario Athlete of the Year in both 1955 and 1957.

The 1957 season, when he played full-time on the PGA Tour, was his finest. Balding won three PGA Tour tournaments and finished a career-best sixth on the money list. He also had runner-up finishes that year to Arnold Palmer at the San Diego Open, to Dick Mayer at the World Championship of Golf, and to Ken Venturi at the Miller High Life Open.

Balding never won again on the PGA Tour (although he kept winning in Canada and posted other international wins). But he came close many times. Finishing second to Palmer almost became a habit. Balding lost a playoff to Palmer at the 1961 San Diego Open, and was runner-up to Palmer in the 1961 Texas Open and 1963 Los Angeles Open.

He lost a playoff to Don Whitt at the 1959 Memphis Open, and was second to Peter Thomson in Japan at the 1962 Yomiuri International. At the 1964 Fresno Open Invitational, Balding lost a playoff to his countryman George Knudson, the first all-Canadian playoff in PGA Tour history.

Balding and Knudson were great friends, as well as competitors on the PGA Tour and in Canadian national tournaments. They faced each other in an episode of Shell's Wonderful World of Golf (affiliate link) in 1965. In the 1968 World Cup, Balding and Knudson formed Team Canada and produced their country's first win in that tournament, beating runner-up Team USA (Lee Trevino and Julius Boros) by two strokes. And Balding won in the individual title by five strokes. In all, Balding represented Canada in the World Cup 12 different times.

Throughout his career, Balding's golf was sometimes interrupted by injuries or health issues. Early on, he had muscular problems. Beginning in the 1970s, there were numerous issues including a cancer diagnosis in 1975, and shoulder problems that kept recurring.

Balding was also plagued at various times during his career with the putting yips and with the bunker yips. He still managed to make 20 or more starts on the PGA Tour annually from 1956 through 1964, and lastly in 1969. Balding played in two PGA Tour tournaments in 1971, then not again until 1980. His final PGA Tour appearance was in 1982.

From 1978-80, Balding provided commentary on the Canadian television series Par 27, a golf competition show. Balding was in his mid-50s when the Champions Tour was created in 1980, but he played full seasons in 1983-87. His last Champions Tour appearance was in 2001.

Balding never got an official win on the Champions Tour, coming closest with a second-place showing in the 1985 United Hospitals Senior Golf Championship. But he did partner with Jay Hebert to win the Demaret Division (70-and-over) in the 1994 Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf. At age 76, in 2000, Balding won the Canadian PGA Seniors Championship.

Balding was 82 years old when he died in 2006. Today there is a street in Toronto named after him, and he is a member of the Canada Sports Hall of Fame (induced 1968), Canadian Golf Hall of Fame (1985), Ontario Golf Hall of Fame (2000) and PGA of Canada Golf Hall of Fame (2014).

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