That Time Gene Sarazen Chased an Intruder Out of His Hotel Room With His Driver

Golfer Gene Sarazen pictured in his putting stance
You probably know that Gene Sarazen won the 1935 Masters in a playoff after scoring his famous double eagle in the final round. That's how the tournament ended for Sarazen. But do you know how that tournament started for Sarazen? It started with him using his driver to chase a thief out of his hotel room at 4 in the morning.

When Sarazen arrived in Augusta, Georgia, for the 1935 Masters, he checked into the Bon Air Hotel downtown. The Bon Air was a stately, fancy, manor-house-type of lodging. It was the place to be in Augusta for those travelers well-off enough to afford it.

The Depression was still raging, and Sarazen, like most Americans, was watching his money. But he was also better-off than many Americans, and the Bon Air was where he stayed during The Masters. The night before the first round of the tournament, he tucked into bed early, looking for a good night's sleep.

And he was having one until the wee hours of the morning. As famous sportwriter Grantland Rice put it, in a column a week after the tournament, Sarazen "woke up at 4 a.m. ... to hear the hotel door open and find a strange figure in his room."

According to the 2002 book Tales from Augusta's Fairways (affiliate link), Sarazen asked the intruder, standing at the end of his bed, two questions: "Who are you? What do you want?" When the intruder didn't reply, Sarazen made a grab for his golf bag and pulled out the first club he laid hands on, which turned out to be his driver.

In this version of the story, a female voice replied, "I beg your pardon, I must be in the wrong room," and, embarrassed, she departed. But this version contradicts the original story that appeared in the Augusta Chronicle newspaper the day after the incident occurred (as well as Rice's version), which, relaying Sarazen's version of events, had him chasing the intruder out of his room and down the hall.

The headline on that Augusta Chronicle story was "Gene's Club Is Handy." The newspaper described Sarazen awakening to the sight of someone in his room this way:

"Being awakened by a noise in his room at a local hotel during the early hours of Thursday morning, Sarazen opened his eyes to find someone peering at him over the foot of his bed. His first thought, he said, was that he was dreaming, but after pinching himself gently, he realized that he was quite wide awake."
The quite-startled Sarazen wasn't so much concerned with his personal safety but with making sure the money he had out on the dresser didn't get away.

Sarazen told Rice, "It was the queerest experience I ever had. But I was thinking of the forty dollars I had left on my dresser. These are tough days. I can use that forty dollars to feed my four cows."

After Sarazen grabbed his driver, the female intruder fled from the room. He ran out after her and chased her down the hallway. After she headed down a stairway, Sarazen headed back to his room, having realized he was not properly dressed to be running downstairs toward the lobby.

Who was she, and what were her intentions? There are some reports that the Bon Air Hotel, at that time, was experiencing a series of thefts. Speculation was that Sarazen's intruder was the, or at least one of the, perpetrators.

But the woman who crept into Sarazen's hotel room at 4 a.m. was never caught, and her identity remains a mystery.

While Sarazen called it "the queerest experience" he'd ever had, we can't really say that the unnerving experience affected him during the first round of the 1935 Masters later that same day. He shot 68, one stroke off Henry Picard's first-round lead.

Sarazen remained tied for second after the second round, then dropped to fourth after the third round, three strokes behind leader Craig Wood. Then came "the shot heard 'round the world," his double eagle on the 15th hole in the final round, and, the next day, his playoff victory.

Photo credit: The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. (1860 - 1920). Gene Sarazen Retrieved from

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