Chuck Kocsis: Michigan Golf Icon, PGA Tour Record-Holder

Chuck Kocsis was an American golfer, a lifelong amateur, who was once voted the greatest Michigan amateur golfer of the 20th century. He never won the biggest amateur title, the U.S. Amateur, but earned many other victories. And one of those other victories makes him the youngest winner in PGA Tour history.

Full name: Charles R. Kocsis

Date of birth: January 27, 1913

Place of birth: Newcastle, Pennsylvania

Date and place of death: May 30, 2006 in Royal Oak, Michigan

Nickname: Most commonly Chuck, but also Charley

Kocsis' Biggest Wins

Kocsis' two biggest wins included his lone PGA Tour victory (playing as an amateur) and the NCAA title:
  • 1931 Michigan Open
  • 1936 NCAA Championship
But Kocsis won a lot of other tournaments, most of them in Michigan. Those include:
  • Michigan Amateur: 1930, 1933, 1934, 1937, 1948, 1951
  • Michigan Amateur Medal Play: 1955, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962
  • Michigan Open: 1931, 1945, 1946
He also won the Chicago Amateur in 1944 and the Dogwood Invitational, a prominent amateur tournament, in 1960.

In the Professional Majors

Between 1934 and 1961, Kocsis appeared in 20 professional majors — he was invited to The Masters (by Bobby Jones, who appreciated top amateurs who didn't turn pro) 11 times, and played his way into the U.S. Open nine times.

Three times, Kocsis earned low amateur honors: when he tied for 14th in the 1936 U.S. Open, when he tied for 16th in the 1951 U.S. Open, and when he tied for 14th in the 1952 Masters. The Masters introduced a silver cup as a trophy for earning low amateur honors in 1952, making Kocsis the first recipient.

His best finish in one of the pro majors, however, was a tie for 10th place in the 1937 U.S. Open. (He wasn't low amateur in that event because Johnny Goodman placed eighth.) Kocsis' first appearance in a pro major was in the 1934 U.S. Open; his last, in the 1961 Masters.

More About Chuck Kocsis

Chuck Koscis first made a splash in the golf scene at the 1930 U.S. Amateur where, at the age of 17 (his high school principal has submitted the entry form for him), he defeated Francis Ouimet in the first round of match play. That same year, he won the Michigan Amateur championship for the first of a record six times. (He remains today the youngest winner of the Michigan Amateur.)

Just a year later, Kocsis beat reigning British Open champ Tommy Armour in an 18-hole playoff to win the 1931 Michigan Open. Kocsis was 18 years old. Today, the PGA Tour recognizes the 1931 Michigan Open as a tour event, and, therefore, credits Kocsis with one career PGA Tour win. More importantly, that makes Kocsis the youngest winner in PGA Tour history.

You might expect a golfer whose career was off to that kind of start to quickly turn pro and start earning money. But few golfers of that era were strictly tournament golfers (the money wasn't yet good enough), and Kocsis had other plans. After winning the Michigan state high school championships of 1928 and 1929, he wanted to go to college.

At the University of Michigan, Kocsis helped lead his team to four Big 10 Conference titles and two NCAA championships. Individually, he won the Big 10 Conference championships of 1934 and 1936, and won the NCAA Championship in 1936.

Kocsis very briefly tried the PGA Tour life, but quickly gave it up and regained his amateur status. While pursuing his amateur golf career, he earned a living as a car salesman.

Kocsis never won the big one, the U.S. Amateur, however. He came close in 1956, reaching the championship match before falling to Harvie Ward, 5 and 4. To make that final, Kocsis' match wins included beating Dick Chapman in the third round, Dale Morey in the fourth and Rex Baxter in the quarterfinals, all top players of the era. In the final against Ward, Kocsis, age 43 at the time, led 1-up after the morning 18. But Ward played spectacular golf in the afternoon 18, bombing drives and firing at pins. Ward's display led Kocsis to say to him, late in the match when the outcome was assured, "Take it easy on an old man, Harvie."

Kocsis first played in the U.S. Amateur in 1930 (after beating Ouimet, he made it to the Round of 16 before losing) and last in 1964. He reached the quarterfinals in 1935 before falling to Johnny Goodman, and in 1958 before losing to Tommy Aaron. In addition to 1930, Kocsis went out in the Round of 16 four other times. Kocsis played the British Amateur only once, making it to the Round of 16 in 1938.

Kocsis was a member of Team USA in the Walker Cup in 1938, 1949 and 1957, posting an overall record of 2-2-1. In singles play, Kocsis lost to Charlie Stowe in the 1938 Walker Cup, and defeated Arthur Perowne, 4 and 2, in the 1949 Walker Cup. His other match win was in foursomes, with partner Frank Stranahan, in 1949.

The 19 years that passed between Kocsis' first Walker Cup selection in 1938 and his last in 1957 is the third-largest such gap ever on Team USA.

There weren't a lot of big tournaments for senior golfers when Kocsis hit his 50s, but he did record some wins in 50-and-over tournaments. He won the U.S. National Senior Open (not to be confused with the U.S. Senior Open, which did not yet exist) in 1969, 1970 and 1979.

His senior wins also included the International Seniors Championship, a tournament for amateurs staged by the International Seniors Amateur Golf Society, four times, in 1970, 1973, 1980 and 1988. That tournament was originally played at Gleneagles in Scotland, and when Kocsis won it (by 21 strokes) in 1970, his score of 271 was then a tournament course record at Gleneagles.

Kocsis was one of 14 children of Hungarian immigrant parents who moved the family from Pennsylvania to Michigan when Chuck was very young. Six of his brothers were also golfers. One, Sam Kocsis, won the 1955 U.S. Public Links Championship and the Michigan Amateur; another, Emerick, won the Michigan Open and Michigan PGA titles.

In addition to being voted the Michigan amateur golfer of the century (for the 20th century) by the Golf Association of Michigan, Kocsis is also a member of the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame. The esteem in which he was held in Michigan golf circles was evidenced by his inclusion alongside legend Walter Hagen and 8-time PGA Tour winner Al Watrous in the first class of inductees, in 1982.

Vartan Kupelian's biography of Kocsis, titled Forever Scratch: Chuck Kocsis, An Amateur for the Ages (affiliate link), was published in 2007.

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