Golfer Chick Harbert: PGA Championship Winner, Ryder Cup Captain

golfer Chick Harbert pictured in 1959
Chick Harbert was a Michigan golf great who won a PGA Championship in the 1950s and reached the championship match in the PGA two other years. He won multiple times on the PGA Tour (once beating Ben Hogan in a playoff), many times in Michigan state tournaments, and also captained Team USA in the Ryder Cup.

Full name: Melvin Robert Harbert

Date of birth: February 20, 1915

Place of birth: Dayton, Ohio

Date and place of death: September 1, 1992 in Ocala, Florida

Nickname: Chick, of course. He was nicknamed after the great amateur Chick Evans, who, one year after Harbert was born, became the first golfer to win the U.S. Amateur and U.S. Open in the same year.

Harbert's Biggest Wins

Chick Harbert is credited with seven wins in official PGA Tour events:
  • 1941 Beaumont Open
  • 1942 Texas Open
  • 1942 St. Paul Open
  • 1948 Jacksonville Open
  • 1948 Charlotte Open
  • 1949 Inverness Invitational Four-Ball (with Bob Hamilton)
  • 1954 PGA Championship
Harbert also won the 1957 Puerto Rico Open, not a PGA Tour tournament at the time. He won 10 state titles in Michigan:
  • Michigan Open: 1937, 1942, 1948, 1953
  • Michigan PGA Championship: 1946, 1947, 1949, 1950, 1953, 1959

His PGA Championship Win and 2 Other Finals Appearances

In the 1954 PGA Championnship, Chick Harbert beat another Michigan pro (and the defending champ), Walter Burkemo, in the championship match. It was a matchup of two finalists who both later became members of the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame.

Harbert lost three of the first four holes of the 36-hole championship match. But over the next 29 holes, he lost only one. On the 19th and 20th holes, Harbert wedged shots to within inches of the cup, and his 3-up lead after that wasn't challenged.

Harbert got into that championship match with a 1-up semifinal victory over Tommy Bolt that he earned by sinking a 15-foot birdie putt on the final hole. Harbert beat Mike Krak in his opening match, then John O'Donnell, Ed Oliver, Jerry Barber, Bolt and Burkemo.

The 1954 victory also made Chick the first-ever son of a PGA Professional to win the PGA Championship. His father, E.W. "Pop" Harbert, never played in the PGA Championship himself, but did play in the Senior PGA Championship numerous times.

In his title defense in 1955, Harbert lost in the second round to Johnny Palmer.

That championship match in the 1954 PGA was the third one Harbert played in. He lost in the finals in both 1947 and 1952.

At the 1947 PGA Championship, Harbert defeated Ted Neist, Clayton Heafner, Ed Oliver, Leland Gibson and, in the semifinals, Vic Ghezzi (6 and 5). In the championship match, Harbert fell to Jim Ferrier, 2 and 1.

That year, the tournament was played at Plum Hollow Country Club in Southfield, Michigan, where Michigan fans overwhelmingly cheered the home boy, Harbert. A crowd of 7,000 was expected for the title match, at a time when simple crowd control measures (such as staking-and-roping the fairways) were not yet in place. Ferrier was so worried about rogue fans possibly helping Harbert (kicking his ball into a better position, for example) or hurting his own golf ball's position that he hired off-duty cops to patrol both sides of the fairway. (There were no incidents, but the move probably helped Ferrier's mental game that day.)

At the 1952 PGA Championship, Harbert defeated Denny Shute, Leonard Schmutte, Henry Williams, Fred Haas, and, in the semifinals, Bob Hamilton, 2 and 1. In the championship match against Jim Turnesa it was all square through 35 holes, but on the last hole Harbert hooked his drive into trouble. Turnesa won, 1-up, with a par.

In the history of the PGA Championship's match play era, only Walter Hagen, Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Jim Barnes and Gene Sarazen played in more championship matches than Harbert's three. Harbert holds another tournament record: longest match scheduled for 18 holes. In the second round of the 1948 PGA Championship, Harbert needed eight extra holes, 26 holes total, to beat Eddie Burke.

More About Chick Harbert

The hallmark of Chick Harbert's game was his length off the tee. He was known as one of the long drivers of his era, but he sometimes got into trouble missing fairways.

It was common at PGA Tour tournaments of his day for the tournament's start to be preceded by a long-drive contest. Even majors, including The Masters and PGA Championship, held long-drive contests leading up to the start of the tournament. Harbert, by some counts, won more than 50 such contests before tour events, including at the PGA Championship, Western Open, and twice at The Masters.

In the 1960 book Golf Magazine's Pro Pointers and Stroke Savers (affiliate link), Harbert was tapped to write the chapter on increasing distance off the tee.

Harbert grew up in a golfing family. His father, Pop Harbert, served as pro at several country clubs in the Midwest before settling the family in Michigan. For a time Chick's father was the pro while his mother was the club manager at Battle Creek (Mich.) Country Club.

By 1922, just six years old, Chick was already being mentioned in print. Golfers Magazine wrote, "Among the golfing marvels of quite the youngest generation is Melvin (Chick) Harbert, 6-year-old son of E.W. Harbert, professional for the Marion, Indiana, Country Club. Young 'Chick' has a perfect stance, plays naturally and gracefully and seldom makes a mistake on the links, either in judgment or execution." The magazine explained that Chick learned by watching his father's swing, and was hitting his drives 75 to 100 yards. "In a short time," the magazine concluded, Chick was "going to challenge anyone his size or age." (View a photo of the 6-year-old Chick here.)

In 1937, when Chick was a 22-year-old amateur, he won the Michigan Open tournament with a then-record score of 268. He reached the championship match of the Michigan State Amateur in 1938 and won the Trans-Mississippi Amateur in 1939.

Harbert turned pro in 1940 and began playing on tour in 1941. His first PGA Tour win came that year in the Beaumont Open.

One of his biggest wins (outside of the PGA Championship) was the 1942 Texas Open. He finished 72 holes tied with native Texan Ben Hogan, then beat Hogan by four strokes (72 to 76) in an 18-hole playoff. Harbert won twice on tour in 1942, and also finished second to Sam Snead in the St. Petersburg Open.

His career took a break when the United States entered World War II. Harbert served in the U.S. Army Air Forces during the war.

Back in the golf world after the war's end, Harbert had two wins and two second-place finishes in 1948. He teamed with Bob Hamilton to win the Inverness Four-Ball in 1949. In 1950, he lost a playoff to Henry Ransom at the high-dollar World Championship of Golf.

Harbert didn't win again in an official PGA Tour tournament after his PGA Championship victory in 1954. He had several more runner-up finishes, however, including to Gary Player in the 1958 Kentucky Derby Open. That was Player's first win on the PGA Tour. He made only a handful of starts per year on the PGA Tour after 1958.

Harbert had 10 Top 10 finishes total in majors. In addition to his three championship match appearances in the PGA, he reached the quarterfinals in 1948. He finished solo third in the 1948 Masters and tied fifth in the 1953 Masters, and also had Top 10 Masters finishes in 1942 (t10) and 1946 (t7). His best showing in a U.S. Open was tied for eighth in both 1946 and 1957. He shared Masters low amateur honors in 1938 when he tied for 18th place. Harbert never played in the British Open.

PGA Tour records credit Harbert with 248 career starts in official tour events and 231 cuts made. In addition to his victories, he had 13 runner-up finishes and 12 third-place finishes, with 80 Top 10s total.

His first appearance in a PGA Tour tournament was the 1935 U.S. Open; his first in a non-major, the 1935 Western Open, both while still an amateur. Harbert's last appearance in a tour event was at the 1968 Doral Open Invitational. (He started the 1973 PGA Championship but withdrew.)

Harbert was involved in two Ryder Cups, including once as Team USA captain. In the 1949 Ryder Cup, he played one singles match, beating Sam King, 4 and 3. As team captain at the 1955 Ryder Cup, Harbert led Team USA to victory. But he was a playing captain and also won another singles match, 3 and 2 over Syd Scott.

Also in 1955, Harbert and Ed Furgol made up the Team USA that played in the World Cup (then called the Canada Cup). They won the team trophy by nine strokes over the Peter Thomson/Kel Nagle Team Australia.

Harbert was 65 years old by the time of the official start of the Champions Tour, and played in only two Senior Tour tournaments. He played the Senior PGA Championship about a dozen times, however, last in 1979 when, at age 64, his second-round 67 tied for the tournament's low round. His best showing was third place, in 1965 and again in 1975.

Throughout Harbert's time playing on the PGA Tour, he also served as a club professional. He was the longtime pro at Meadowbrook Country Club in Northville, Michigan. And within Michigan, he was a very successful player in state championships. He won the Michigan Open four times, the Michigan PGA six times; his first win in those events was the 1937 Michigan Open (as a 22-year-amateur), and his last the 1959 Michigan PGA when he was 44. The 265 score with which he won the 1948 Michigan Open wasn't tied until 2012 and, through 2022, had not been bettered.

Harbert was also involved in administration, serving four years on the PGA Tournament Committee, two years as chairman, and as vice president of the PGA in 1952.

Harbert resigned his position at Meadowbrook in 1960 and moved to Florida to became the golf director (and later a vice president and director of public relations) for a land development company.

He was 77 years old when he died in 1992. Today, Chick Harbert is a member of the PGA of America Hall of Fame (1968), Michigan Golf Hall of Fame (1984) and Michigan Sports Hall of Fame (1989).

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