Tom Kerrigan: Golfer Hit First Shot in PGA Championship History

portrait of golfer Tom Kerrigan
Tom Kerrigan was an American golf professional who won tournaments on the fledgling pro tour in the 1920s, and who had a 50-year-run as club pro at Siwanoy Country Club in New York. He also has the distinction of playing the first stroke in the history of the PGA Championship tournament.

Full name: Thomas Francis Kerrigan

Date of birth: October 10, 1895

Place of birth: Quincy, Massachusetts

Date and place of death: May 6, 1964 in Bronxville, New York

Nickname: Tee Shot

Kerrigan's Biggest Wins

Kerrigan had three wins that today are counted as official PGA Tour victories:
  • 1920 Westchester Open
  • 1922 Asheville Open
  • 1922 Massachusetts Open
His other wins included the 1918 Brae-Burn Invitational and 1924 California Golf Club Invitation.

Teeing Off the Very First PGA Championship

The 1916 PGA Championship was the debut for that major championship. It was first played Oct. 10-14, 1916, at Siwanoy Country Club in New York, where Tom Kerrigan was the head professional.

And because he was the host pro, Kerrigan was given the honor of teeing off the tournament. His first-round match against Charles Adams was the first one on the tee sheet. And Kerrigan was the one who teed up first in that match.

When Kerrigan played his drive, it was the first shot in PGA Championship history. The PGA Championship was the third of the four tournaments that today are called the "major championships" to come into existence. The British Open was the first, the U.S. Open was the second. When The Masters debuted in 1934, today's quartet of majors was set. (Related: Who hit the first shot in Masters history?)

Kerrigan wound up winning that 36-hole, first-round match against Adams, 6-and-4. He then beat Tom McNamara in the second round. But in the quarterfinals, Kerrigan fell to Jim Barnes, who went on to win the championship.

More About Tom Kerrigan

Tom Kerrigan had three brothers and a sister growing up in Massachusetts. He got into golf through caddying, and, like him, his brothers William and George also grew up to become golf pros. George, like Tom, even won a handful of PGA Tour tournaments (making the Kerrigans one of the earliest pairs of brothers who won on the PGA Tour).

Before he was 20 years old, Tom went to work as a club professional at Dedham (Mass.) Country and Polo Club. It was in this early part of his career he acquired the nickname "Tee Shot," given him because of his long drives.

In 1914, Kerrigan was hired at Siwanoy Country Club. His first brush with tournament success at a big event was finishing runner-up to Jim Barnes at the 1916 North & South Open Championship.

He spent 1918 in the U.S. Navy during World War I, but was stationed at a naval base on the New York coast. From there, he open played exhibitions, along with other prominent pros, to raise money for the Red Cross.

In 1920 Kerrigan got his first big win at the Westchester Open. Making a name for himself, the following year he was included on a Team USA that traveled to the U.K., prior to the British Open, for an informal team match against a squad of British pros. The Brits won handily, but the experience convinced some, including Walter Hagen, that such a tournament could become a regular thing. In 1926, another informal USA vs. Britain match took place. The next year it was formalized as the inaugural, 1927 Ryder Cup. So you can say that Kerrigan, like the others in that 1921 event, played a small role in the creation of the Ryder Cup.

Kerrigan stayed on to play the 1921 British Open and wound up with his best finish in a major. He was tied for third after an opening 74, but a second-round 80 ultimately proved his undoing. Consecutive 72s in Rounds 3 and 4 nearly got him back to the top, however. He finished on 298, in solo third place, one stroke out of the playoff between Jock Hutchison and Roger Wethered (which Hutchison won).

Kerrigan had first played in a major at the 1914 U.S. Open. At the 1915 U.S. Open, he tied for 10th place. He had three other Top 10 finishes, all in the PGA, including that quarterfinal showing in 1916. He also made the quarterfinals in 1922 and 1925. His final appearance in a major was a tie for 36th place in the 1937 Masters.

The year 1922 was Kerrigan's best in competition. He won twice on the PGA Tour, at the Asheville Open and Massachusetts Open, and he was second by one stroke to Al Watrous at the Canadian Open. Kerrigan was runner-up again in the Canadian Open in 1923.

As the head professional at Siwanoy, Kerrigan played the golf course a lot — and set a lot of records over the years. Already sharing the course record of 68 with Jess Sweetser, in 1922 he lowered it to 67. In 1929, he got it down to 66. In 1931, Kerrigan carded a 29 over nine holes, the first golfer to break 30 on either the front or back nine at Siwanoy. In 1939, Kerrigan was still setting Siwanoy course records, but this time with a 62. In 1943, he lowered it again, to 61.

During his 50-year tenure as Siwanoy's head pro, Kerrigan also had a reputation as a great teacher, and among those he helped with their games was Sweetser. He also had a reputation for developing fine golf professionals in his shop, and his assistants over the years included future Masters champ Art Wall Jr. and PGA Tour player and Winged Foot pro Tom Nieporte.

A 1953 article in the industry magazine Golfdom focused on the new pro shop at Siwanoy, which was considered a showpiece at the time, and began, "The 38th year of Tom Kerrigan as professional at Siwanoy CC, Bronxville, N.Y., finds the sprightly Thomas in a new shop and it's one of the finest shops ever designed." The "sprightly Thomas" was 57 years old at the time.

In 1964, the club had a 50th anniversary celebration planned for Kerrigan. But he went into the hospital with an illness and never made it out. Kerrigan died at the age of 68 a few days before that anniversary party was scheduled.

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