Joe Turnesa: Profile of the Golfer and His Wins

Golfer Joe Turnesa pictured in 1924
Joe Turnesa won more than a dozen PGA Tour tournaments in the 1920s and 1930s, becoming the winningest member of the famous family of golfing brothers. He came close to winning two majors, too, only being denied by two of the biggest names in golf history.

Full name: Joseph Richard Turnesa

Date of birth: January 31, 1901

Place of birth: New York, New York

Date and place of death: July 15, 1991 in Sarasota, Florida

Turnesa's Biggest Wins

Turnesa is credited with 14 PGA Tour wins:
  • 1924 Augusta Open
  • 1925 Texas Open
  • 1925 Pennsylvania Open Championship
  • 1926 Metropolitan PGA
  • 1926 Sacramento Open
  • 1927 Shreveport Open
  • 1927 Ridgewood Country Club Open
  • 1927 Sacramento Open
  • 1930 Metropolitan PGA
  • 1930 Massachusetts Open
  • 1931 Miami Open
  • 1932 Metropolitan PGA
  • 1932 Grassy Sprain Course Tournament
  • 1933 Mid-South Open
The 1932 Grassy Sprain tournament was a team event and Turnesa was partnered by one of his brothers, Mike Turnesa. The 1933 Mid-South Open ended in a 3-way tie between Turnesa, Willie Macfarlane and Paul Runyan; there was no playoff.

Turnesa won once on the British PGA circuit:

  • 1929 Yorkshire Evening News Tournament
Other wins by Turnesa include the Long Island Open in 1934, 1938 and 1940; the Connecticut PGA Championship in 1935 and 1936; plus the 1929 Lannin Memorial Tournament and 1931 Florida Open (tied with Wiffy Cox, no playoff).

In the Majors: Near-Misses vs. Hagen, Jones

Joe Turnesa did not win a major, but it took Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen to prevent him from it. Turnesa finished second to those two giants of the game at the 1926 U.S. Open and 1927 PGA Championship, respectively.

After opening 71-74 in the 1926 U.S. Open, Turnesa stood a stroke off the lead. A third-round 72 moved him into first place, two strokes in front and three ahead of third-place Jones.

A slow start left Jones farther behind, and Turnesa held a four-stroke lead as he headed to the back nine. But on their respective back nines, Jones was steady while Turnesa began to falter. Turnesa bogeyed five out of six holes from the 12th through the 17th. Jones birdied No. 12 and bogeyed the 14th, and Turnesa recovered to birdie No. 18. But Jones reached the par-5 18th green in two, then two-putted for birdie and the victory.

Jones shot 73 in the final round, Turnesa 77, and finished at 293, Turnesa 294. Jones had won the 1926 British Open earlier, and he thus became the first golfer to win both the British and U.S. opens in the same year.

At the 1927 PGA Championship, Hagen was going for his fourth consecutive and fifth overall win in that major. In the championship match, Turnesa took a 2-up lead after the morning 18, and got it to 3-up on the 19th hole. But Hagen began turning the tables from that point.

When Hagen birdied the 29th hole, the match was square. Turnesa, who had been putting solidly all match, began showing nerves on the greens and missed several short putts over the closing holes. Hagen went 1-up on the 31st hole, and that's the score by which he wound up winning.

Turnesa made it to that championship match by beating Charles McKenna in the first round; coming from 6-down to win 1-up over Willie Klein in Round 2; beating Gene Sarazen, 3 and 2, in the quarterfinals; and Johnny Golden, 7 and 6, in the semifinals.

Turnesa first played in a major at the 1922 U.S. Open. His final appearance in a major was at the 1940 PGA Championship. In total, he played in 27 majors, with four Top 10 finishes and and 10 Top 25 finishes. His other Top 10s were a tie for sixth in the 1928 U.S. Open and a tie for ninth in the 1935 Masters.

More About Joe Turnesa

Joe Turnesa was the third of the seven Turnesa brothers of New York, all born between 1898 and 1914, all prominent golfers. Four of the Turnesas won PGA Tour tournaments, and Joe had the most such wins with 14. Joe and Mike Turnesa both had close calls with major championship wins, but their little brother Jim Turnesa finally got the family a major at the 1952 PGA Championship.

In 1947, Golfdom reported (after hearing the story from a Long Island sportswriter) that Joe had placed a $50 bet with a bookie on his brother, Willie Turnesa, to win the British Amateur Championship. When Willie hoisted the title, Joe won $2,000.

The Turnesa brothers' father worked at Fairview Country Club in Westchester County, New York, as the greenskeeper, and Joe, like his brothers, got into the game first as a Fairview caddie. (He later spent time at the club as its golf pro.)

His second win on the PGA Tour, at the 1925 Texas Open, probably rates as his biggest. He beat second-place Macdonald Smith by one stroke.

Turnesa won the very first Metropolitan PGA Championship in 1926, at a time when it counted as a tour event. At the 1927 Shreveport Open, he beat runner-up Tommy Armour by three in Armour's U.S. Open year.

In 1929, in the U.K. for the Ryder Cup, he entered a couple tournaments while there. And Turnesa won one of them, the match play Yorkshire Evening News Tournament. In the 36-hole title match, he defeated Herbert Jolly on the first extra hole.

At the 1932 Grassy Sprain Course Tournament on Long Island, a match play tournament, Joe partnered brother Mike to victory. In the championship match, they beat another Turnesa, Phil, who was playing with Tony Manero as his partner.

The last of Joe Turnesa's wins that are today counted as official PGA Tour victories was in the 1933 Mid-South Open, where he defeated Johnny Revolta in a playoff.

Among Turnesa's runner-up finishes on tour were the 1931 Texas Open and 1934 Hershey Open. He continued winning state championships and non-tour events into the 1940s (some of which are listed above).

Turnesa played twice for Team USA in the Ryder Cup, including in the inaugural 1927 Ryder Cup. He lost both his singles matches, to George Duncan, 1-down, in 1927; and, in the 1929 Ryder Cup, to Aubrey Boomer, 4 and 3. He did get a win in foursomes, however, partnering Johnny Farrell to an 8-and-6 victory in 1927 over Duncan/Archie Compston.

Turnesa did something unusual for a brief time during his career: He putted one-handed. In fact, in 1948, Turnesa recommended that Sam Snead, struggling mightily with the yips, give it a try. In Snead's book The Education of a Golfer (affiliate link), he quoted Turnesa saying this:

"Everything went black on me one time. In desperation I went to one hand (for putting). Won the Long Island Open on those tricky greens at Lakeville right after that."
Alas, Joe's trick didn't help Snead.

In Tommy Armour's How to Play Your Best Golf All the Time (affiliate link), Armour explained that it didn't work long for Turnesa, either: "Joe Turnesa once won ... putting one-handed, after which many golfers around the New York Metropolitan district began putting one-handed. Then, Joe began missing too many putts one-handed and went back to putting two-handed." A familiar story for golfers: We try something new and it works ... until it doesn't.

During and after his years winning on the PGA Tour, Turnesa worked as a club pro. In addition to Fairview Country Club, clubs where Turnesa served as pro included Rockville Country Club and Old Belleclaire Golf Club on Long Island; Wampanoag Club in Connecticut; Grossinger Country Club in New York; and the Jungle Club in Florida.

In the 1970s and 1980s, after moving to Florida, Turnesa gave lessons out of Sara Bay Country Club, where he was an honorary member, in Sarasota. That club still holds a Joe Turnesa Memorial Scholarship Tournament and awards scholarships to Sarasota County high school students.

Joe Turnesa was 90 years old when he died in 1991. He is a member of the Metropolitan PGA Hall of Fame.

Photo credit: Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive. Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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