Arnold Palmer's First PGA Tour Tournaments and Pro Debut

Arnold Palmer posing with golf club in his Coast Guard uniform
Arnold Palmer wound up with 62 PGA Tour victories in his career, seven of them major championships. But he had to start somewhere. That's what you'll read about below: the first PGA Tour tournament that Palmer ever played, which happened while he was still an amateur; and when and where he made his professional debut on the PGA Tour.

First PGA Tour Event Played by Palmer

Arnold Palmer was a 19-year-old amateur when he first got into a PGA Tour tournament. It was the 1949 Dapper Dan Open, played at Alcoma Golf Club in Pittsburgh, Pennsyvlania. (The Alcoma golf course still exists under the name 3 Lakes Golf Course.) It was an easy trip for the Latrobe, Pa., native: It would have taken Palmer less than an hour to make the drive into Pittsburgh.

And how did Palmer fare in that 1949 Dapper Dan Open? He got off to a nervous start, shooting 40 on the first nine he ever played on the PGA Tour. But he played all four rounds, scoring 76-75-76-75 for a 15-over-par total of 303.

The tournament concluded on July 18, 1949. Palmer finished 29 strokes behind the winner, Sam Snead.

Less than a month later, Palmer won his second title in the West Penn Amateur Championship, played at Oakmont. A newspaper article about the victory, began, "Golf experts needed no further proof today that Arnold Palmer, 19-year-old golf master of Latrobe, Pa., has a brilliant future on the nation's links."

That future was soon put on hold by a tragedy, however.

More of His Amateur Finishes on Tour

Arnie did not play another PGA Tour event for four years, until getting into the 1953 U.S. Open, which was Palmer's major championship debut (he missed the cut).

The reason for the gap? Palmer went to Wake Forest University on a golf scholarship. But late in 1950, Palmer's best friend on the team, Bud Worsham (brother of Lew Worsham), was killed in a car accident. Distraught, Palmer quit school and joined the U.S. Coast Guard.

Even while in the Coast Guard, however, Palmer began returning to the game. He played in one other PGA Tour event in 1953, then played in five (including the U.S. Open) in 1954. In the 1954 Azalea Open Invitational, Palmer had his best finish as an amateur on the PGA Tour, and his only Top 10 as an amateur on tour: He opened with a 65 and finished at 8-under 280, tying for seventh place.

He also won the 1954 U.S. Amateur. By the end of the year, Palmer was ready to turn pro.

Palmer's Pro Debut on the PGA Tour

Palmer turned pro late in 1954. When the 1955 PGA Tour season began in February, he was ready for his professional tour debut.

Arnold Palmer's first PGA Tour tournament as a pro was the 1955 Phoenix Open, which concluded on February 6. And he made it a good one. He was in contention the first two rounds with scores of 69 and 68. In the final two rounds, Palmer shot 71-73. He finished at 1-over-par 281, good for a tie for 10th place. That was six strokes behind the winner, Gene Littler.

Palmer did play in a tournament the week before that the PGA Tour includes in its records, but it was an unofficial tournament. (That basically means that the tour acknowledges it had some affiliation with the PGA Tour, but that the participants and winner don't get credit for an official tour victory, and that they didn't have the money earned counted toward their season total.)

That tournament one week before the 1955 Phoenix Open was the Imperial Valley Open. Palmer tied for 17th there; the winner was Mike Fetchick. But the Phoenix Open is what counts as Palmer's pro debut on the tour.

Palmer got his first PGA Tour win later that year. In the 21st tournament on the PGA Tour schedule, Palmer won the 1955 Canadian Open.

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Photo credit: U.S. Coast Guard, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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