Golfer Al Watrous Biography

professional golfer Al Watrous
Al Watrous was a professional golfer who won multiple PGA Tour tournaments in the 1920s and 1930s, and played in the first two Ryder Cups. He was a long-serving pro at a famous golf club, and continued winning as a senior golfer, including three senior majors.

Full name: Albert Andrew Watrous

Date of birth: February 1, 1899

Place of birth: Yonkers, New York

Date and place of death: December 3, 1983, in Royal Oak, Michigan

Watrous' Biggest Wins

Watrous is credited today with eight PGA Tour wins:
  • 1922 Canadian Open
  • 1925 South Central Open
  • 1925 Corpus Christi Open
  • 1927 Michigan Open
  • 1929 Michigan Open
  • 1932 Mid-South Open (finished tied with Henry Picard and Al Houghton, no playoff)
  • 1932 Mid-South Best Ball (team tournament, partnered by Tommy Armour)
  • 1933 Lakeland Open
At the state open/PGA of America level, Watrous won close to 20 more tournaments, including the Michigan Open six times (two of those years it counted as a PGA Tour event) and Michigan PGA Championship nine years.

In senior golf, Watrous won the biggest tournament that existed in his era three times:

  • 1950 Senior PGA Championship
  • 1951 Senior PGA Championship
  • 1957 Senior PGA Championship

In the Majors

Watrous never won a major, but he probably should have won the 1926 British Open. With a third-round 69, Watrous took a 2-stroke lead over Bobby Jones. He was still two ahead of Jones with five holes to play, and led by one going to the 16th hole. But Jones pulled level on that hole.

On the 17th, Jones hit a poor drive up into the dunes and into tall dune grasses. With Watrous safely on the green in two, Jones hit what in its time was considered one of the most-famous recovery shots, a 175-yarder out of tall dune grass that finished closer to the hole than Watrous' ball. It shocked everyone, including Watrous, who proceeded to three-putt. Jones parred to take the lead.

Watrous wound up in second place, two behind Jones. It was Jones' first win in the Open Championship.

Watrous played in 55 majors and made the cut in 49 of them, with 11 Top 10 finishes. Those included third place in the 1935 PGA Championship (he lost in the semifinals to Tommy Armour), seventh in the 1937 Masters, and tied for eighth in both the 1923 U.S. Open and 1929 British Open.

He tied for 11th in the first Masters in 1934, and also reached the quarterfinals of the 1934 PGA Championship (beating, along the way, defending champ Gene Sarazen in the second round). During the 1932 PGA Championship, Watrous was involved in the one the most-famous collapses of its time. See the "More About" section below for details.

More About Al Watrous

Al Watrous was a respected PGA Tour player in the 1920s and 1930s, but he was also a legend in Michigan. Between the Michigan Open and Michigan PGA Championship, he piled up 15 wins. Then he won the Michigan PGA Senior Championship another five times. All the while, Watrous served as pro and head pro at Oakland Hills Country Club, a major championship course in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, from 1930 through 1967.

He didn't start out in Michigan, though. Born in the last year of the 1800s, Watrous' family was from Yonkers, New York, but they moved to Michigan when Watrous was young.

After a stint in the Navy, Watrous turned pro around 1920, and just two years later earned what turned out to be his biggest win: the 1922 Canadian Open.

He also embarked on his club pro career, first at Redford Golf Club in Redford, Mich., and then The Highlands Country Club in Grand Rapids, Mich. His next job was at Oakland Hills, where he stayed for nearly four decades.

The same year he won the Canadian Open, Watrous first won the Michigan PGA Championship. His record of 15 wins between the Michigan Open and PGA Championship wasn't bettered until the 2010s.

Watrous wasn't a huge winner on the PGA Tour, but he had his moments, including two wins in 1925. But his fellow-competitors held him in high record, and his swing was much-admired.

The British golf writer Bernard Darwin once wrote of Watrous that, "He had no tremendous power, but he had all the American virtues of smoothness and rhythm, and he was a very fine putter."

Watrous himself, in an interview in 1977, talked about his swing this way:

"I developed (my swing) from observation, you might say. I saw Bobby Jones when he was very young and Walter Hagen. I saw Harry Vardon. He was my idol. I was told I had a lot of Vardon's swing concepts."
How well-respected Watrous was by his peers is seen in the fact that Watrous played for Team USA in the very first two Ryder Cups, in 1927 and 1929. But he also played for Team USA in the "unofficial Ryder Cup" of 1926, when Walter Hagen led an American team against a British team at Wentworth one year before Samuel Ryder was ready to present his trophy.

In the 1927 Ryder Cup, the first official one, Watrous, then 28 years old, partnered Gene Sarazen to victory against Arthur Havers and Herbert Jolly; and, in singles, defeated Fred Robson, 3 and 2. In the 1929 Ryder Cup, Watrous played only in singles and lost to Henry Cotton, 4 and 3.

But Watrous was also involved in a famous "what-was-I-thinking" moment. In the 1932 PGA Championship, Watrous was 9-up on opponent Bobby Cruickshank in their 36-hole match with only 13 holes to play. On the sixth hole of their afternoon 18, Watrous, perhaps feeling sorry for Cruickshank, who had been moaning about the terrible beating he was taking, conceded a 6-foot putt to his foe. Had Cruickshank missed, Watrous would have gone 10-up with 12 to play. Instead, Watrous wound up losing the match. Cruickshank won the next three holes, and kept making putts, including a 70-footer on the 15th hole and a long birdie on the 18th to draw all square. They went to extra holes and halved the first three, then Cruickshank won the match — the match he trailed 9-down with 13 to play — on the fourth extra hole.

Watrous had some near-misses on other big titles, including finishing second in the 1924 Western Open, 1932 Canadian Open, and 1933 St. Petersburgh Open Invitational. His last PGA Tour win was the 1933 Lakeland Open, but he also won the Maple Leaf Open (a non-Tour event) in Toronto in 1944 when he was 45 years old.

And Watrous was piling up wins in Michigan for years to come. His Michigan Open wins were in 1926-1930, plus 1943 and 1949. His Michigan PGA Championship wins were in 1922, 1924, 1932, 1936, 1938-39, 1941, 1952 and, at age 55, in 1954.

There was no Champions Tour when Watrous turned 50. The biggest national tournament for "senior" golfers was the Senior PGA Championship (then called the PGA Seniors' Championship). Watrous won it in 1950, 1951 and 1957.

Two of those wins (1951, 1957) came in 18-hole playoffs, including beating Jock Hutchison 75 to 81 in 1951. Watrous was the second golfer to earn three wins in the tournament, and shared the tournament record for most wins until Sam Snead broke it in 1970. Watrous was also runner-up in the Senior PGA in 1950 and 1954.

After his last win in 1957, Watrous then won the World Senior Championship over John Burton, 8 and 6. (That was a "tournament" that paired the American and British senior champions in a one-vs.-one match.)

He also won the PGA Quarter Century Championship, for pros who've been PGA members for at least 25 years, in 1957 and 1958. Watrous' last significant tournament victory was 1961 Michigan PGA Senior Championship, when he was 62 years old. It was his fifth win in that event, which he had also won in 1953, 1954, 1956 and 1957.

Watrous retired from his position at Oakland Hills Country Club in 1967, when he was 68. He was 84 when he died in 1983.

Watrous was inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame in 1962, and was a charter member of the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame when it was created in 1982. Watrous was inducted into the PGA of America Hall of Fame in 2021. He also belongs to the National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame.

Today, the Michigan university Saginaw Valley State awards a golf scholarship named after Watrous, and each year hosts the NCAA tournament named the Al Watrous Memorial Intercollegiate.

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