Norman Von Nida: Bio of the Australian Golfer

Australian golfer Norman Von Nida photographed in 1934

Norman Von Nida was an Australian pro golfer who made a big mark on the British PGA circuit in the late 1940s. He also won dozens of top tournaments in his home country from the 1930s into the 1960s. He had a stellar short game and sometimes-abrasive personality.

Full name: Norman Guy Von Nida

Date of birth: February 14, 1914

Place of birth: Strathfield, Australia

Date and place of death: May 20, 2007 in Gold Coast, Australia

Nickname: "The Von"

Von Nida's Biggest Wins

Von Nida won 14 times on the British PGA circuit: Von Nida won another 34 times in Australia, including four wins in the Australian PGA Championship and three wins in the Australian Open. The full list of his wins in Australia is at the bottom of this article.

Von Nida also won the Philippine Open in 1938 and 1939.

In the Majors

Von Nida played in The Masters five times, the U.S. Open only twice, and never in the PGA Championship. His best finish in those appearances was a tie for 27th place, which he achieved at both the 1950 Masters and 1952 Masters.

He played in The Open Championship more often, although still infrequently, but had four Top 10 finishes. That included a stretch of three Top 6 finishes consecutively in 1946-48.

Von Nida was fourth in the 1946 British Open, five behind the winner, Sam Snead. He was part of a four-way tie for the lead after 54 holes of the 1947 Open Championship, but a final-round 76 left him four strokes back of the winner, Fred Daly.

His best finish in a major was a tie for third in the 1948 British Open, where his final-round 71 was the second-lowest score of the round. But he still finished six shots behind the winner, Henry Cotton.

Von Nida's last Top 10 in the Open was in 1952. His first appearance in a major was at the 1939 U.S. Open, and his last start in a major was in the 1968 British Open.

More About Norman Von Nida

He can be considered the godfather of Australian golf: Before there was Adam Scott, Greg Norman or Peter Thomson, there was Norman Von Nida, carrier of the Australian flag in pro golf beginning in the 1930s. By the time of his final win in the 1960s, proteges such as Thomson had taken up the mantle.

Von Nida picked up golf after becoming a caddie at the Royal Queensland Golf Club at age 9 in 1923. He began playing in caddie tournaments, and at age 18 he won the Queensland Amateur Championship. He also learned, playing with the caddies, how to gamble on golf, and gambling — both on golf and on horses — always played a large part in his life and his income. Von Nida once said, "I made more money playing golf with the bookies and betting on the horses than from golf."

After winning the Queensland Amateur in 1932, Von Nida turned pro. There was no organized professional golf tour in Australia at the time, so Von Nida played as a pro in any pro-am tournaments he could find.

In the mid-1930s, Von Nida scraped up enough money to challenge Gene Sarazen, visiting from America, to a match. And when Von Nida won the 18-hole match, he decided he was good enough to try playing outside of Australia.

He wound up journeying to play the U.S. Open in 1939, where he finished 59th. By that point he had won multiple championships at home, including the Queensland Open in 1935-37 (he eventually won that title seven times). He had also won the Philippine Open twice. But Von Nida had to put golf on hold for five years while serving in the Australian Armed Forces during World War II.

After the war, Von Nida returned to golf, and after a 5-week trip by boat arrived in England in 1946 to play on the British PGA circuit. He won twice in Britain that year, seven times in 1947 and five times in 1948; he won 16 times total, between the British PGA and Australian tournaments, in 1947-48. In 1946, Von Nida finished second on the British Order of Merit. 1947, Von Nida won the Harry Vardon Trophy as the British circuit's Order of Merit leader.

Von Nida stuck mostly to Australian golf from 1949 on, with occasional forays to Britain. He won the Australian Open three times (1950, 1952, 1953) and was runner-up six other times (1938, 1939, 1949, 1951, 1954, 1955). The next-biggest event in Australia was the Australian PGA Championship, which was a match-play tournament for most of the years Von Nida played it. He won it four times total, three times (1946, 1948, 1950) beating Eric Cremin in the championship match. In his final Aussie PGA win, Von Nida dispatched Ossie Pickworth in the championship match. He also lost in the finals in 1960.

After Von Nida won the New South Wales Close Championship in 1954, he went seven years without a significant victory. Then he won the last of his seven Queensland Open titles in 1961, which turned out to be his last win overall, too.

In the 1975 Encyclopedia of Golf (affiliate links used in this post), the authors describe Von Nida this way:

"Short of stature and weighting about 126 pounds, he could not rely on outstanding length, although using a full swing he hit a good average length. The strength of his game lay in his accuracy and in his short game, which he had practised with fierce intensity as a young man."
"He was as hard as flint," the Encyclopedia authors continued, "and fearless in saying what he thought." That was a polite way of saying that Von Nida sometimes rubbed others the wrong way, sometimes had angry outbursts, sometimes came off as irascible. He made one effort to play the U.S. tour, in 1948, but it ended shortly after the El Paso Open and the negative publicity he generated there. Von Nida, angry about the way PGA Tour pro Henry Ransom marked his scorecard, got into a fight with Ransom outside the clubhouse. The local sheriff had to separate them.

Von Nida's abrasive reputation was referenced in the subtitle to an autobiography that was published in 1957, Golf is My Business: Golf's Controversial Champion Tells His Story.

"He is said to have snapped more than one putter in anger," Peter Alliss once wrote about Von Nida, who also was known to throw putters into the shrubs when he missed a putt. Near the end of his playing days in the 1970s, he was plagued by the yips and tried putting with a driver in a few tournaments.

Von Nida's eyesight began failing in the 1960s, and by the late 1960s his professional playing days were mostly over. Suffering from macular degeneration, Von Nida lost sight in one eye by the mid- to late 1970s, and later in life went completely blind.

After his playing days ended, Von Nida served as a club professional and owned racehorses. Over the years, he was a coach or adviser to many great golfers, including Peter Thomson, David Graham and Bruce Crampton.

Even after losing his eyesight, Von Nida continued helping golfers. An article published at the time of his death in 2007 cited a 1998 incident in which Von Nida, by just listening to Nick Faldo's swing, could tell Faldo was gripping the club too tightly.

He was 93 years old at the time of his death. During his life, and posthumously, Von Nida was given multiple honors in his home country. In 1985, he was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia. From 2003 through 2008, the PGA Tour of Australasia ran a developmental tour named the Von Nida Tour. He was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1991.

In addition to the autobiography mentioned above, Von Nida wrote an instructional book titled Golf Isn't Hard, published in 1949. In 1989, his final book was published, titled How To Play Golf: The Von Nida Story.

Von Nida's Australian Wins

  • 1935 Queensland Open
  • 1936 Queensland Open
  • 1936 New South Wales PGA
  • 1937 Queensland Open
  • 1938 Lakes Open
  • 1939 New South Wales Open
  • 1939 Lakes Open
  • 1940 Queensland Open
  • 1946 Australian PGA Championship
  • 1946 New South Wales Close
  • 1946 New South Wales PGA
  • 1947 New South Wales Close
  • 1948 Australian PGA Championship
  • 1948 New South Wales Close
  • 1948 New South Wales PGA
  • 1949 Queensland Open
  • 1949 McWilliam's Wines Tournament
  • 1949 Adelaide Advertiser Tournament
  • 1950 Australian Open
  • 1950 Australian PGA Championship
  • 1951 Australian PGA Championship
  • 1951 New South Wales PGA
  • 1951 McWilliam's Wines Tournament
  • 1952 Australian Open
  • 1952 McWilliam's Wines Tournament
  • 1952 Ampol Tournament
  • 1953 Australian Open
  • 1953 Queensland Open
  • 1953 New South Wales Close
  • 1954 New South Wales Close
  • 1961 Queensland Open
  • 1965 North Coast Open
Photo credit: Public domain/Collections of the State Library of NSW

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