Sam Byrd: From New York Yankees to Pro Golf Champion

Professional golfer Sam Byrd
After his Major League Baseball career ended, Sam Byrd embarked on a new career as a professional golfer. And he was a pretty good one, winning a half-dozen times on the PGA Tour. He challenged Byron Nelson multiple times in Nelson's record-setting 1945 year, including in the final match of the PGA Championship. And Byrd has the distinction of being the only person who has played in both baseball's World Series and golf's Masters Tournament.

Full name: Samuel Dewey Byrd

Date of birth: October 5, 1906

Place of birth: Bremen, Georgia

Date and place of death: May 11, 1981 in Mesa, Arizona

Nicknames: Sammy, Babe Ruth's Legs

His Biggest Wins

Sam Byrd is credited with six victories on the PGA Tour: He also won several more pro tournaments that were not part of the PGA Tour, including:
  • 1939 Philadelphia Open
  • 1942 Pennsylvania Open
  • 1944 Michigan Open
  • 1944 Michigan PGA Championship
  • 1945 Michigan PGA Championship

Byrd In the Majors

Sammy Byrd's best shot at a major championship win was the 1945 PGA Championship, where he advanced to the 36-hole title match against Byron Nelson. Byrd had the best of the morning 18, making four consecutive birdies at the end to take a 2-up lead.

He got the lead to 3-up over the first few holes of the afternoon 18. But from the 5th through 14th holes of the afternoon session, Nelson scored 6-under par to turn the match around. When he won the 29th overall hole, Nelson went 1-up. It was the first of four consecutive holes won by Nelson, which sealed the match. In the end, Nelson beat Byrd by a 4-and-3 score.

It was Nelson's ninth consecutive win on the PGA Tour in his record-setting streak that eventually reached 11 wins in a row.

In Round 1 of match play in the 1945 PGA Championship, Byrd beat Augie Nordone, 4 and 3; in the second round, Johnny Revolta, 2 and 1; in the quarterfinals, Vic Ghezzi, 7 and 6. Revolta and Ghezzi were both previous PGA Championship winners. And in the semifinal, Byrd beat Clarence Doser, again by 7 and 6.

Byrd played in 20 majors overall, with four Top 10 finishes. He was third in the 1941 Masters and fourth in the 1942 Masters. He also had a Round of 16 appearance in the 1944 PGA Championship. His first major played was the 1938 U.S. Open, and last the 1951 U.S. Open.

Byrd's Baseball Career In Brief

Byrd signed his first pro baseball contract in 1926, and got called up to majors in 1929 by the New York Yankees. But when he arrived, the Yankees' outfield consisted of Bob Meusel, Earle Combs, and a fellow named Babe Ruth, considered one of the greatest outfields ever. That left little playing time for Byrd.

And that is what led to Byrd's nickname, "Babe Ruth's Legs." After hitting .312 as a rookie in 170 at-bats, Byrd never got more than 248 at-bats with the Yankees, despite getting into as many as 115 games in New York. That's because he was frequently used as a pinch-runner or late-inning outfield replacement for Ruth. In 1933, for example, got into 85 games but only had 107 at-bats.

Byrd was traded to the Cincinnati Reds in 1935, became a starter, and that year played in the first night game in Major League Baseball history. But he also got injured in that game, and after appearing in only 59 games for the Reds in 1936, when he was 28 years old, Byrd decided to retire from baseball.

For his career, he hit .274 over 744 games, with 101 doubles and 38 home runs. He played for the Yankees in the 1932 World Series, making one appearance as an outfield replacement, but without an at-bat.

More About Sam Byrd's Golf Career

Sam Byrd was born in Georgia, but his family moved to Birmingham, Alabama, when he was very young, and he was much more associated with Alabama over the course of his life.

It was during his baseball career that he became a scratch golfer. Once, in 1930, Bobby Jones' Grand Slam year, the Yankees played an exhibition in Atlanta. Jones requested permission from Yankees manager Joe McCarthy for Byrd, a fellow Georgia native, to join him on the golf course. Using borrowed clubs, Byrd tied Jones at 1-under for the round.

Byrd particularly impressed Jones with his driving, and that remained the strength of his game once he got onto the tour later in the decade. But putting was a weakness, and Byrd often battled the yips on the green.

Once Byrd's baseball career ended, he knew he wanted to start a new career in golf. He began by taking an assistant pro position under Ed Dudley at Philadelphia Country Club in the late 1930s. He also began entering tournaments at that time, and had his first big successes in 1939. Those included a runner-up finish in the PGA Tour's Texas Open, plus a victory in the non-tour Phildelphia Open.

All of Byrd's pro tournament wins happened in the war years of 1942-45, when PGA Tour fields were depleted by golfers serving in the Armed Forces. In addition to tournament play, he participated in challenge matches in the war years as fund-raisers. For example, in 1943 Byrd lost to Jug McSpaden in such an exhibition; in 1944 he had wins over McSpaden, Craig Wood and Byron Nelson.

Byrd's first PGA Tour win was the Greater Greensboro Open in 1942. Other significant victories, in important, if not major championship, tournaments, included the 1943 Chicago Victory National Open and the 1945 Texas Open. In the Texas Open, his winning score of 268 was the tournament record at the time.

In that 1945 Texas Open, the runner-up was Byron Nelson. But Nelson won 18 times total that year. It was Byrd's best year, too, with two PGA Tour wins (the other was the Azalea Open) plus a win in the Michigan PGA Championship. Byrd also finished second five times on the PGA Tour that year, all five times to Nelson. Three of those tournaments were part of Nelson's 11-tournament win streak.

In addition to his six PGA Tour wins, Byrd had 14 second-place finishes on the tour. His last win was in 1945; he posted three runner-up finishes in 1946 but did not challenge again on tour.

Byrd turned 50 in 1956, but there was no Senior Tour at that time. He did play the Senior PGA Championship several times, however, with a best finish of 16th.

Byrd was a popular player with his fellow pros and also with members at the clubs where he worked. Many sought him out for advice, including some celebrities. One of those was John George Vanderbilt Henry Spencer-Churchill, 11th Duke of Marlborough, who was Byrd's partner in the 1947 Seminole Golf Club Pro-Am in Florida. Boxing legend Joe Louis was another famous golfer Byrd assisted.

In 1944, Columbia Pictures released the instructional short Follow Thru with Sam Byrd for theaters. Byrd thought of the baseball swing and golf swing as having the same fundamentals, just on different planes. Famous sportwriter Grantland Rice one suggested that Byrd should write a book about the differences in the two swings. Byrd replied, "That's going to be a very short book."

By the time Byrd stopped winning on tour, he was the head pro at Plum Hollow Golf Club near Detroit. He left that position in 1948 to return home to Alabama. In 1952, Sammy and his brother Curdy (who was also a PGA Professional and spent 37 years as the head pro at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama) began building a driving range in Birmingham.

By 1959, Byrd was building the first nine of 18 holes at his Sam Byrd Golf Center in Birmingham, and his facility had a miniature golf course plus he had added lights to his driving range. He later served as the pro at two other Alabama golf clubs, until retiring from Anniston County Club in Anniston, Alabama, in 1978.

Byrd was 74 years old when he died in 1981. Today he is a member of the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.

Photo credit: [Photograph 2012.201.B0119A.0328], photograph, 1942; ( accessed March 7, 2022), The Gateway to Oklahoma History,; crediting Oklahoma Historical Society.

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