Golfer Chandler Harper: PGA Champ, Longtime PGA Tour Record-Holder

cover of book by golfer Chandler Harper
Chandler Harper was a winner on the PGA Tour in the 1950s and a golfer who set victory records in his native Virginia. Harper won a PGA Championship, and he also set a PGA Tour scoring record that stood for nearly 60 years.

Full name: John Chandler Harper

Date of birth: March 10, 1914

Place of birth: Portsmouth, Virginia

Date and place of death: November 8, 2004 in Portsmouth, Virginia

Nickname: Old Bones

Harper's Biggest Wins

Chandler Harper is credited with seven official PGA Tour victories:
  • 1942 Miami Biltmore International Four-Ball (partnered by Herman Keiser)
  • 1950 Tucson Open
  • 1950 PGA Championship
  • 1953 El Paso Open
  • 1954 Texas Open
  • 1955 Virginia Beach Open
  • 1955 Colonial National Invitation
In addition, Harper won the Virginia state open (called the Virginia Open in some years, the Virginia PGA Open in others) 10 times: 1932 (as an amateur), 1938, 1940, 1941, 1952, 1960, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970.

He also won the Middle Atlantic PGA Championship in 1954. In senior tournaments, Harper won the Senior PGA Championship and the World Senior Championship in 1968.

His PGA Championship Win and Other Majors

At the 1950 PGA Championship, when the tournament still used the match-play format, Harper opened the match-play bracket with wins over Fred Annon and Dick Metz. Then, in the third round, he beat Bob Toski.

That set up a quarterfinal match with Lloyd Mangrum, a U.S. Open champion. It was considered an upset when Harper won the match, 1-up. Waiting in the semifinals was Jimmy Demaret, who earlier in the year had become the first three-time champion of The Masters. But Harper pulled off the upset again, beating Demaret 2-and-1.

Waiting in the championship match was Henry Williams Jr., a matchup of a 2-time PGA winner (Harper) and a golfer who'd yet to win on tour (Williams). (Harper wound up with seven PGA Tour wins, Williams with just one.)

Harper won the first hole of the championship match and never trailed. He had a 3-up lead following the morning 18. In the afternoon 18, Williams bogeyed the 30th overall hole to give Harper the 4-up lead. Harper closed it out on the 33rd hole, winning the 1950 PGA Championship, and his only major championship title, by a final score of 4-and-3.

Aside from the year of his victory, Harper never reached the quarterfinals in any other PGA Championship. He had only two other Round of 16 appearances, in 1949 and 1956, in the match play era. (He played only a handful of times in the stroke-play era.)

His best finish in any other major was a tie for eighth place in the 1947 Masters. Harper's only other Top 10 in a major was a tie for 10th in the 1953 Masters. He never played the British Open; in the U.S. Open, his best finish was tied 15th in 1946. Harper's first appearance in a major was in the 1935 U.S. Open, and his last in the 1971 PGA Championship.

More About Chandler Harper

Chander Harper grew up in Virginia and lived his whole life in Virginia. He played on the golf and baseball teams in high school, after taking up golf at age 9. While still in high school, at age 16, he won the first of three Virginia State Amateur Championships. Those titles were in 1930, 1933 and 1934 (he lost in the championship match in 1931).

He won his first pro tournament (playing as an amateur) in 1932 at the Virginia Open. And he made his first PGA Tour start (playing as an amateur) in 1933, playing as an amateur and finishing 19th in the Virginia Beach Cavalier Open.

Harper's nickname was "Old Bones," and despite the "old," it was given to him in his youth: he was tall, skinny, lanky. Despite his height, he was a short hitter off the tee, but he made up for that around the greens.

When the New York Times published an obituary of Harper in 2004, it included this:

"Harper was a tall, wiry man whose precise short game and putting offset a lack of distance off the tee. ... Ben Hogan called him the best putter on Tour and Sam Snead said Harper 'could get it up and down from inside a shoe box'."
At age 20 in 1934, Harper turned pro. His first glimpses of victory in PGA Tour events were several runner-up finishes: at the 1936 Virginia Open; at the 1938 St. Petersburg Open after losing a playoff to Johnny Revolta; at the 1941 Thomasville Open.

To that point Harper had played in only a handful of tour events each year. In 1942, for the first time, he played a double-digit number of PGA Tour events with 14 starts. And that's the year of his first PGA Tour win, in a team tournament. Harper and partner Herman Keiser won the 1942 Miami Biltmore International Four-Ball.

But then World War II intervened. Harper joined the U.S. Navy and didn't play a tournament again for three years.

It was eight years before Harper won again on tour, but he had a nice run in the first half of the 1950s. The 1950 Tucson Open was that second career win, then came his PGA Championship victory. In the victory in Tucson, Harper needed only 21 putts in the third round, which, at the time, was the PGA Tour record.

Harper was runner-up at the 1951 Miami Open. In 1953, Harper won the El Paso Open and finished fourth on the money list. He was so high on the money list with just one win because he was also runner-up at four other tournaments: the Tucson Open one week before El Paso, plus the Tournament of Champions, World Championship of Golf and Eastern Open.

In one of those, he was victimized by last-hole heroics: Al Besselink sank a long putt to win the Tournament of Champions.

In another, Harper was victimized by a famous golf hole-out that at one time was considered one of the most-famous shots in golf history. At the World Championship of Golf, the high-dollar tournament (its first-place prize of $25,000 was larger than the total purses of almost all other tournaments) at Tam O'Shanter in Chicago, Harper had the clubhouse lead and most observers at the tournament figured him for the winner. But then Lew Worsham holed-out a wedge approach for an eagle on his final hole, stealing the tournament title away from Harper. What made Worsham's shot so famous? That tournament was the very first one nationally televised in the United States, and it ended with a hole-out for the win.

Harper put his name in the record books, however, at the 1954 Texas Open, at the time a tournament known for producing very low scores. In his victory that year, Harper set a PGA Tour record for lowest score for three consecutive rounds in a tournament. Over the second, third and fourth rounds, Harper shot 63, 63 and 63 — a 189 total for the last 54 holes.

That score for three consecutive rounds in a PGA Tour tournament wasn't matched until 1996, and it remained the all-time PGA Tour record until Steve Stricker finally lowered it — carding 188 over three rounds in the 2010 John Deere Classic — nearly 60 years later.

Harper's winning 259 in the 1954 Texas Open also tied the PGA Tour 72-hole scoring record at the time, but that record was broken by Mike Souchak the very next year ... at the Texas Open.

In addition to the win in Texas, Harper posted another two seconds, at the Thunderbird Invitational and Baton Rouge Open, in 1954.

He had another two PGA Tour wins in 1955, at the Virginia Beach Open and Colonial National Invitation, but those turned out to be his last wins on the tour. He was runner-up at the 1955 Kansas City Open — two wins and a second in a six-week stretch on tour.

Harper played in the Ryder Cup once — he was a member of Team USA at the 1955 Ryder Cup. A tournament rookie at age 41, Harper lost the only match he played, a foursomes. With partner Jerry Barber, Harper fell, 1-down, to John Fallon and John Jacobs.

The years 1950 (20) and 1953 (24) were the only ones in which he made as many as 20 PGA Tour starts. By 1956, he was back to the single digits for starts on tour, and he made only four starts total after 1963. In all but two years, he truly was a part-time tour player.

For his PGA Tour career, Harper played in 245 tournaments and made 227 cuts. In addition to the seven wins, he had 10 runner-up finishes and nine thirds, with 60 Top 10s.

Along the way, Harper still played back home in Virginia, where he was a club pro. He still holds the Virginia Open tournament record with 10 wins, his first at age 18 in 1932 and his last at age 56 in 1970.

There were few tournaments for senior (50-and-over) golfers in Harper's day. But he did win the Senior PGA Championship in 1968. That got him into the World Senior Championship (basically a glorified exhibition match), where he defeated Max Faulkner for the win.

Harper's club pro jobs included Glensheallah Golf Club in Virginia Beach; and Elizabeth Manor Golf and Country Club in Portsmouth, Virginia, which he helped build and where he was the first pro. In 1955, Harper began building Bide-A-Wee Golf Course in Portsmouth, and the course opened in 1956. Harper remained the manager of the course until his retirement in 1992. Today it is a municipal golf course.

Along the way, Harper was well-known as a golf instructor. Among his pupils was Curtis Strange, whom Harper began working with when Strange was 14 years old.

In 1994, Harper published an autobiography titled My First 70 Years in Golf (affiliate link). One of the things he discussed was his friendship with Bobby Jones. Harper owned a portrait of Jones that was painted by and given to him by President Dwight Eisenhower.

Harper was 90 years old when he died in 2004. Today, he is a member of the Virginia Golf Hall of Fame, Virginia Sports Hall of Fame, PGA Middle Atlantic Section Hall of Fame, and the PGA Hall of Fame, into which he was inducted in 1969.

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